Governor Thomas Kaine says he wanted to do the right thing, what's best for the menhaden resource and the Commonwealth of Virginia, but he couldn't. His attempt to overrule the state legislature and impose a cap on menhaden harvest in Virginia waters of Chesapeake Bay was thwarted by the terms of the 2005 law giving him authority to take emergency action to conserve menhaden. The law states the governor must act at least 30 days before the start of the fishing season (May 1) and that the legislature must be out of session. Although the General Assembly earlier had killed bills to implement the cap -- part of a multi-state menhaden conservation plan -- and has no plans to take up menhaden again, the legislature is meeting for a special one-day session in early April. The governor decided his hands were tied because of the way the law is written.
A spokesman for the governor told the Associated Press that Kaine believes a menhaden limit is needed to protect the fish, and that he is disappointed the Virginia legislature did not pass one of the bills to restrict the catch of menhaden by the reduction industry to 105,000 tons. That cap was adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last year, and Virginia must implement it by July 1, 2006 or be found out of compliance.
The focus now returns to the ASMFC, which will review Virginia's inaction and likely recommend to the Secretary of Commerce a finding of non-compliance. If the Secretary agrees, he could shut down all fishing for menhaden in Virginia waters.
See "Much at Stake in Menhaden Showdown" for more background on the Virginia menhaden issue.