Suit Filed: Md. Watermen Say DNR Menhaden Catch Limit Threatens Livelihood

CAMBRIDGE, Md. (WJZ)— Fighting back. In a rare move, some Maryland watermen are suing the state to stop a new regulation.

Alex DeMetrick has more on the legal action that watermen say has livelihoods at stake.

A little fish has turned into a very big issue with watermen saying efforts to protect it are threatening them.

In Maryland waters, there aren’t many who use pound nets. But it’s how menhaden are caught.

Menhaden are small fish that are sold as bait to other watermen…until Maryland stopped the catch.

“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. We gotta do this lawsuit,” said Robert Newberry, waterman.

The suit challenges the state’s numbers.

Federal laws set a 5 million pound quota on menhaden. DNR says that number has been met.

“DNR’s saying we’re way over that number right now. They said we had 5 million pounds in June. No, we didn’t have 5 million pounds in June,” Newberry said.

The big haul of menhaden is made by factory ships from Virginia, whose quota is 600 million pounds used for pet food and fish oil supplements.

That was set when scientists said unrestricted harvests were threatening the species, which is a critical food source for larger fish like striped bass.

“The number of menhaden that we estimate in the ocean now is lower than it has been in 50 years,” said Lynn Feglery, DNR Fisheries.

Now it’s become a scarce bait in crab pots for Maryland watermen.

Those bringing suit view it as an ongoing action by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration to drive them off the water.

“There’s no science on these regulations. Their idea of science just doesn’t cut it. It’s a political process they’re taking with no science,” Newberry said.

The suit is asking for a restraining order against the state’s order, and to reopen Maryland waters to menhaden fishing.

Maryland’s attorney general says the watermen’s suit will be challenged and that quotas are based on hard science and strict federal guidelines.

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