December 8, 2022

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission adopted a Memorandum of Understanding with Omega Protein for menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay at its meeting on Tuesday.

Menhaden fishing has been a perennial issue in Virginia for several years. The drama was rekindled over the summer following a series of fish spills by trawlers working for the Reedville based company, which spoiled beaches at Kiptopeke and Silver Beach on holiday weekends.

In a 5-4 vote at the Commission on Tuesday, Omega Protein and two bait fisheries agree to not fish in state waters of the Chesapeake Bay around Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day and within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

The MOU also states the menhaden fishery will work collaboratively with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s office and the Virginia General Assembly to maintain a buffer on fishing in waters in more densely populated areas along the Eastern Shore, as well as elsewhere in the bay.

The Eastern Shore’s two representatives on the VMRC, Ed Tankard and Heather Lusk, both Ralph Northam appointees, voted against the agreement.

“In 16 years of service on the VMRC, I have never run into an MOU. Our legal counsel made it clear this was a non-binding agreement, so I saw it as kicking the can down the road,” said Tankard.

Tankard said the scope of the meeting was to mitigate spills on the Eastern Shore, which have happened on average of three times a year over the past 5-6 years.

“I felt the Governor’s proposed regulation was a good first step to mitigate these spills,” he added. “I would have voted in favor if it was actual regulation. It was a good plan, just not binding.”

Lusk concurred, saying in an email “I voted against the proposal because it essentially is not enforceable, and I do think it does enough to hold responsible parties accountable for fish spills.”

Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles called the agreement with the menhaden industry a “good potential path forward.” 

During the five-hour discussion on the topic, VMRC Chief of Fisheries Management Pat Geer said the proposed regulations would have prevented Omega from setting about 6.4 percent of its nets in the Bay. 

Those fishing for recreation wanted the fishery shut down because they say overfishing of menhaden is leading to the depletion of other species like striped bass.

Localized depletion is another issue at hand, the scientists don’t have a sense if that’s a phenomenon or not.

The latest’s stock assessment of the Atlantic Marine States Fisheries Commission, which studies the stock health of several species of fish including menhaden, concluded the menhaden stock is healthy and is not being overfished.

Senator Lynwood Lewis & Delegate Rob Bloxom have indicated they will put in a bill in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly to study localized depletion of menhaden in the bay.

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December 9, 2023, 3:02 am
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