Courtesy Larry Chowning
Accordiing to an article in the National Fisherman by Larry Chowning, Virginia state legislation to protect commercial fishermen and their boats from harassment from sport fishermen at sea was approved 8-0 by the state House Courts of Justice – Criminal Subcommittee on Feb. 2 and will move on to the next level of the House in Richmond, Va.
Virginia House Bill 928, sponsored by Delegate Hillary Pugh Kent, increases penalties for harassing watermen to a Class I misdemeanor which is confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both. Anyone convicted will forfeit Virginia’s hunting and fishing licenses for one year on first offense, and three years on a second offense.
The bill was prompted by a dangerous engagement between a jet skier and an Ocean Harvesters menhaden fishing crew that occurred on September 23, 2023, which was documented in a video by a menhaden spotter pilot.
The incident occurred approximately 1.5 miles east of Buckroe Beach off Hampton, Va., in Chesapeake Bay. As an Ocean Harvesters’ crew was making a set, the rider of the jet ski ran his boat between the two purse boats and was able to get inside the set and out before the set was completed. This was the third harassment issue by a recreational boater occurring last year, said Monty Deihl, CEO of Ocean Harvesters, a U.S. fishing company that has a long-term contract to harvest and deliver menhaden for Omega Protein.
HB 928 is supported by the Virginia Waterman’s Association (VWA). VWA president J.C. Hudgins says his organization has been lobbying in support of the bill.
“This is not just an Omega (menhaden) problem,” says Hudgins. “Gillnetters and crab potters are often harassed by sport fishermen and by waterfront land owners who think crabbers are fishing pots too close to their docks.”
“Most of the problems seem to happen in the warmer weather months during the rockfish and Spanish mackerel gill net and crab pot seasons,” he says. “We do not seem to run into many problems with the public in the winter when oystering.”
“We face all kinds of different levels of harassment and threats from people complaining because our boat engines going out the creek to work wake them up at 5 a.m. in the morning – to people screaming and hollowing at us because they think we are catching all of their fish and crabs. Usually, they go away but we do not know how far it might escalate and in what manner, and that concerns us.”
“We feel this bill has the teeth to make someone think twice about doing something dangerous or outrageous to our watermen and their boats,” says Hudgins