Chesapeake Bay landings of menhaden are coming in at a pace well below a controversial cap imposed by an interstate fisheries commission, Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Steven Bowman said. As of the end of June, landings for the so-called reduction fishery came in at 24,000 metric tons, Bowman told the management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission this week.
He said that meant landings this year would almost certainly come in below the 51,000-ton cap the interstate commission imposed last year — a cut of more than 40 percent that the General Assembly balked at adopting.
Bowman, joined by Maryland’s director of fisheries, asked the board to hold off declaring that Virginia was not in compliance with the cap because the General Assembly had not written the 51,000-ton limit into state law.
|Osprey with Menhaden|
That finding, if adopted by the commission and accepted by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, could shut down the menhaden fishery, which employs about 300 people working on Omega Protein’s fishing boats and its processing plant in Reedville, on the Northern Neck. While the cap applies only to menhaden caught by the big “purse seine” vessels Omega operates to catch fish to be processed for oil and fish meal, board members said a finding of noncompliance could shut down the bait fishery, in which smaller operators use a different technique to catch fish used by crabbers and in commercial fin-fisheries.
|Striped Bass with Menhaden|
Instead, Bowman and Blazer proposed that the commission find Virginia out of compliance if landings this year actually exceeded 51,000 tons.My question is why are the menhaden being caught at a rate such that they are unlikely to reach the cap. There are several possibilities, and they point to different problems. Are the Menhaden being caught at the maximum rate out in the ocean, and the Omega Protein has not needed to fish in the Bay? Have they been fishing in the Bay, and been unable to find enough fish to hit the cap? Is demand for the product (chicken feed and fish oil) down to the level that prices are low, and it's simply not worth trying hard enough? And why doesn't the article even attempt to figure that out?
That effort failed, but the board decided to delay until February acting on an alternative declaring Virginia out of compliance.
One of New York State’s representatives on the board, Emerson Hasbrouck, of Cornell University’s cooperative extension marine program, said finding Virginia out of compliance with the cap could be a problem, since interstate commission staff are on record saying fisheries science does not support a need for the cap to conserve the species.