Second Annual Long Island Natural History Conference



The History of the Menhaden Fishery in New York
William Wise

ABSTRACT:  Today, there is a small seasonal fishery for Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) in New York, a gill net and pound net fishery that supplies the bait market.  At one time, however, the commercial fishery for menhaden dwarfed all other commercial fisheries, both in New York and in the nation.  What began in the years after the American Revolution as a beach seine fishery catching menhaden for use as farm fertilizer morphed in the latter decades of the 19th Century into an offshore fishery harvesting menhaden primarily for the oil it contains, with the residual matter (scrap) used as a component in prepared mixed fertilizers.  In the third decade of the 20th Century, menhaden scrap began to be used increasingly in commercial animal feeds, prompting a significant expansion of the fishery.  More latterly, menhaden oil has become a principal component in dietary health supplements.  Throughout this evolution, the technologies for catching and processing menhaden became ever more sophisticated and automated, and the growth of the industry attracted its share of critics, whether property owners living near the odorous reduction plants or groups concerned about the impact of such large removals of a key forage species on nearshore marine food webs.   This paper will trace this evolution as it took place in New York, highlighting the social, economic and technological factors and forces that drove it.

Mr. Wise received a bachelors (Biology) and masters degree (Marine Science) from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York and Stony Brook University, respectively.  Since 1986, Mr. Wise has been the Associate Director of Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.  He also directs the School's Living Marine Resources Institute (or LIMRI).  Prior to coming to Stony Brook, Mr. Wise was the Assistant and then Acting-Director of New York Sea Grant, then headquartered in Albany, New York.  In May 2013, he returned to New York Sea Grant, beginning a temporary stint as Interim Director of that organization.  His interests and expertise include fisheries and fisheries management, marine policy, aquaculture, and marine education.  Mr. Wise chairs a number of governmental and non-governmental bodies that advise on priority regional marine resource management issues and is a member of scads more such groups.