A subcommittee of the Virginia General Assembly has killed a bill to implement the new Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden, which caps the reduction harvest of menhaden in Chesapeake Bay for 5 years. The prospects for further legislative action were quashed by a "legal opinion" handed down by the state's Attorney General who, parroting arguments made by the industry (Virginia-based Omega Protein), claims the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's action exceeds its authority. It now appears Virginia will not comply with the menhaden regulation unless Governor Tim Kaine steps in and uses his executive authority.
By thumbing its nose at the ASMFC, including 14 other east coast states, as well as a federal law that enforces interstate plans, Virginia would be turning down a win-win situation for one in which the state can only lose. The cap is win-win because it holds harvests at recent levels, with no economic disruption, while concerns about overfishing the bay's forage base are studied in order to determine a safe, long-term catch level.
By blindly following the industry on this matter, the state can only come out a loser. If Virginia is found out of compliance by the ASMFC, and the Secretary of Commerce agrees, then federal law directs the Secretary to declare a moratorium on all fishing for menhaden in state waters. That includes the bait fishery.
If, on the other hand, Virginia is permitted to reject the cap, Omega Protein will be free to take as many fish from the bay as it wants. Since last year, the industry has been asking for a quota 25 percent higher than the approved cap. That level of effort would result in removing an additional 300 million pounds of menhaden from the food chain over the next 5 years. And that would directly threaten other fisheries for species such as striped bass that depend on menhaden as a primary source of food. (A new economic study, prepared for NCMC and its allies, shows that sport fisheries dependent on menhaden contribute over $235 million in economic activity to Virginia, compared to $45 million from the reduction fishery.)
Virginia residents are urged to let Governor Kaine know that Virginia MUST protect menhaden by adopting the ASMFC cap this year. Please write to Governor Kaine (see sample letter and submission instructions).