Friday, December 20, 2019

Dept. of Commerce Whacks Virginia, Omega Protein for Overfishing Bay Menhaden

The Big News in the Chesapeake Bay newsfeed today, US commerce secretary Ross hands Virginia menhaden fishery its first moratorium
The federal government is putting Reedville, Virginia-based Omega Protein, America’s largest fish meal processor, on notice for taking too much menhaden from the Bay in 2019.

The U.S. Commerce Department has decided to uphold Atlantic fishery managers’ finding that Virginia is out of compliance with the Chesapeake Bay harvest cap. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) made the noncompliant finding in October, after Omega Protein announced it caught 30 percent more menhaden than the harvest cap allows.

In a letter to ASMFC, the Commerce Department says it concurs with the fisheries managers that Virginia has not implemented the 51,000 metric tons that NOAA Fisheries finds necessary to sustain menhaden in the Bay.

In the letter, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver writes, “The best available information shows that menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay are an important component of the overall health of the stock, and further that their role as forage for predator species in the Chesapeake Bay is critical to the marine environment.”

In other words, bigger species like crabs and striped bass (whose population is currently in trouble) rely on the small, oily menhaden for food. If the menhaden population gets too low, those predators will suffer.

Oliver goes on to say that the Commerce Department has notified the state it has until mid-June to get in compliance, or it will halt all menhaden fishing in Virginia. That would be a direct hit on Omega Protein, which harvests nearly three-quarters of all the menhaden caught on the East Coast, according numbers from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Oliver writes, “A moratorium on fishing for Atlantic menhaden in Virginia state waters and possession of and landing of Atlantic menhaden if harvested in Virginia state waters will be imposed effective June 17, 2020.”

The Commerce Department picked the June date to give the Virginia legislature time to bring state regulations back into compliance. Oliver reasons that the fishing season doesn’t start until spring, and there’s little to no chance that Virginia could reach the 51,000 metric-ton harvest cap by that early in the season.
It was time. Why have rules if they won't abide by them? More articles:

Federal government threatens to shut down Chesapeake Bay menhaden fishery if company doesn't comply with quotas - Baltimore Sun

Fish oil firm may be barred from fishing in Chesapeake Bay
(Minneapolis, Mn.) Star Tribune

US Commerce secretary Ross hands Virginia menhaden fishery its first moratorium - Undercurrent News

US slaps moratorium on MSC-certified menhaden fishery critical to Cooke's Omega Protein - IntraFish

U.S. Commerce Department takes action after Virginia menhaden limit exceeded - Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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