By Senator Lynwood Lewis

 

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As the General Assembly comes to its scheduled close, Bills that have been amended but not agreed upon by both the House and the Senate are headed for conference where lawmakers will attempt to reach agreeable compromises on Bill language. Budget conferees from the House and the Senate have been appointed and the looming question is what the final Budget Bill will look like.

There is a possibility that we may not have a Budget by adjournment on March 10. Because of the large discrepancies between the House and Senate Budgets – more than $600 million dollars – this is looking more and more like a real possibility. If that happens, we would likely either go into an extended Session or reconvene in a Special Session called by Governor Northam.

Outside of the Budget and dwindling Committee dockets, an issue familiar to many folks on the Shore has risen to the surface in a Bill passed down from the Governor’s office as a late filing: menhaden. The Bill, HB1610, attempts to bring Virginia into compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s decision from November 2017 that increased the allowable harvest of menhaden from the Atlantic Ocean while simultaneously decreasing the amount that can come from the Chesapeake Bay.

HB1610 increases the total allowable landings for menhaden from 168,937.75 metric tons to 170,797.17 metric tons per year. At the same time, the Bill reduces the annual menhaden harvest cap for the purse seine fishery to 51,000 metric tons from 87,216 metric tons. This places the Commonwealth in compliance with the November decision, which changed the allocation of menhaden harvest between mid-Atlantic states. Prior to the decision, Virginia was allowed 87% of the menhaden harvest granted to all ASMFC states. In an adjustment to bring slightly more parity, Virginia is now allowed 80% of the annual harvest under ASMFC regulation. HB1610 reflects these adjustments; however, the legislation also obligates the administration to appeal the ASMFC’s decision reducing the harvest cap for the Chesapeake Bay.

The obligation to appeal the decision was included to reflect concerns of the industry that this could hurt labor and productivity, while the adjustments included in the Bill demonstrate the importance of bringing Virginia into compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. If Virginia remains out of compliance, there is possibility of legal action to punish our fisheries with fines, further reductions or even a complete moratorium. This is an issue that has strong proponents on both sides, and we continue to work in Richmond with all parties affected to find and implement adequate solutions.

I have received significant input on this from constituents on the Shore, and on this and
other issues I encourage you to contact my office. While in Richmond, I can be reached by
telephone at (804) 698-7506 and at our legislative email District06@senate.virginia.gov.