On Friday afternoon, Senator Lewis called for and hosted a meeting in his office in Accomac with Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Jamie Green, Delegate Rob Bloxom, acting Secretary of Natural Resources Travis Voyles, Northampton County Administrator Charles Kolakowski and Northampton County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Betsy Mapp. The meeting was held in response to the multiple menhaden spills that occurred just off the coast of Northampton County during the month of July, resulting in thousands of dead bait fish – and in one spill, red drum bycatch – washing up on our beaches.
During this meeting, Senator Lewis pushed VMRC to take decisive action in response to these spills, asking for consideration of several preventative measures, including:
• A buffer of at least one mile for menhaden fishing operations to move them further offshore, and greater than one mile in highly utilized recreational areas
• Adoption of a regulatory provision that would ensure any spills count against the annual quotas put forth by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
• Strict requirements and timelines surrounding clean-up when and if spills do occur
In addition, Senator Lewis plans to introduce legislation directing state agencies to conduct a study on localized depletion of the menhaden fishery, as well as a budget amendment funding this study. This study will be critical moving forward and he hopes to garner bipartisan support around its inclusion in the Budget. Delegate Bloxom has also expressed his intention to move forward with the introduction of this study in the House of Delegates.
Upon the meeting’s conclusion, Senator Lewis offered the following statement:
“In 2020 when my Bill SB791 finally transferred the management of the menhaden fishery to VMRC, many of us on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Northam administration, considered it a major legislative success. I still believe this to be the case, and from this meeting with VMRC Commissioner Green, who has a difficult task ahead of him as a newly appointed Commissioner but has been communicative and forthcoming throughout this ordeal, I am hopeful that we will see VMRC action to hold Omega Protein accountable for these recent spills as well as the adoption of regulatory measures to ensure the prevention of future spills.
“However, I must be clear here: these spills were and will continue to be unacceptable. If this administration’s VMRC Board does not take sufficient action, I am absolutely open to legislative action to address these spills, and I will not hesitate to move forward accordingly.”