Virginia State Senator Lynwood Lewis and State Delegate Ken Plum introduced two bills (SB791/HB1448) that would require the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to adopt regulations necessary to manage Atlantic menhaden. In response, NMMA applauded both pieces of legislation, calling the measures critical in the fight to protect forage fish.In Virginia, Menhaden are unique in that they are managed by the legislature, rather than the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates other fisheries. The legislature has been notoriously weak, owing to the economic and political clout of Omega Protein, the firm that nets Menhaden in the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. The Menhaden are not used for human food; the oil from the oily fish is rendered into fish oil, and the flesh is mostly ground for chicken feed.
In December, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a decision cracking down on overfishing in the Chesapeake Bay and paving the way for better management of the menhaden fishery. In a move celebrated by the recreational boating and fishing community, Secretary Ross found the state of Virginia out of compliance after Omega Protein willfully violated the fishing cap on menhaden – a key food source for striped bass – in the Chesapeake Bay.
According to a recent scientific study, the reduction in menhaden resulted in a nearly 30% decline in striped bass numbers. The striped bass fishing industry contributes $7.8 billion in GDP to the economy along the Atlantic coast.
A good start. If passed, it will be up to VMRC to restrict fishing to an ecologically reasonable level.