A Stinky Artificial Bait Could Protect Millions of Tiny Fish

Ocean Leadership ~

Menhaden, like this one, are commonly used baitfish (Credit: Joel boumje / Wikimedia)

(Click to enlarge) Menhaden, like this one, are commonly used baitfish (Credit: Joel boumje / Wikimedia)

When commercial fishers set off to trap blue crabs, they bring along buckets of small, frozen baitfish such as menhaden. They stuff the fish into the traps and lower them into the sea. The stinky, slowly rotting fish carcasses decay underwater, temping the prized crabs to crawl inside the traps.

(From Scientific American / by Roxanne Khamsi)– But catching large quantities of the tiny fish for bait could have grave ecological ramifications. A wide range of predators such as humpback whales, seals and dolphins eat the small prey. “Menhaden are sometimes called the most important fish in the sea,” says Joseph Gordon, manager of northeast U.S. oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts. They are a key link in the ocean food web.

Appetite for seafood has increased. So has the sale of omega-3 supplements. Both rely on small, oily fish such as menhaden. Not all of the small fish are doing badly, but in the past 20 years the number of menhaden has dropped to about half of what is was in the 20 years prior, according to data from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission recently established quotas on menhaden for the U.S. east coast, but Gordon says there is still a need to keep close watch on these and other baitfish species. Worldwide, as much as 40 billion pounds of baitfish are now captured to catch crustaceans such as lobster and crab, according to estimates by Anthony Dellinger, a research scientist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and his colleagues.

To alleviate this ecological strain, Dellinger has helped design an artificial bait the size and shape of a hockey puck that he hopes will replace the need for menhaden and other baitfish used to lure crustaceans. Dellinger’s group makes the calcium-based creation, called OrganoBait, by pouring a mineral-rich mixture into molds, much like a baker pours batter into a cupcake pan. The puck is seeded with engineered scents specially synthesized to mimic the foul smells such as “cadaverine” that are normally emitted by rotting baitfish like menhaden and herring. “It’s not something I would order off of the menu,” Dellinger says. And it is not something that crabs or lobsters eat, either. Rather, it simply attracts them into the traps.

Read the full article here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-stinky-artificial-bait-could-protect-millions-of-tiny-fish/

The post A Stinky Artificial Bait Could Protect Millions of Tiny Fish appeared on Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

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