Bill supports recreational fishing economy and science-based management
With strong bipartisan support the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that improves menhaden management in the Atlantic.
The bill, which is headed to Governor Northam’s desk, transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth.
Once signed into law, the legislation puts Virginia on a path toward compliance with the regional fishery management plan which was flouted by foreign fishing giant Omega Protein.
“With this landmark decision, the Virginia General Assembly has acknowledged the critical role that recreational fishing plays in the Virginia economy and the need for science, and not politics, to guide management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “For too long, Omega has exploited the Chesapeake Bay at the expense of recreational anglers. This is a huge step forward for sound fisheries conservation in the Chesapeake. The recreational fishing community thanks the bill sponsors and Governor Northam for their leadership as well as the unfailing support of charter captains, fishing guides and other small businesses who rely on a healthy Chesapeake Bay for their livelihoods.”
In late 2019, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found Omega Protein had exceeded the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishing cap by 35 million pounds, a ruling upheld by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Conserving menhaden is particularly important because striped bass, which feed on menhaden, are in worrisome decline.
“As a critical food source for rockfish and other important recreational fisheries, menhaden must be managed sustainably to support their role in the ecosystem,” said Mike Leonard, the American Sportfishing Association’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “Allowing the fisheries management experts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to manage menhaden is a long-awaited step in ensuring science-based management of the resource. The sportfishing industry is particularly grateful to Governor Northam and leaders in the Virginia state legislature for prioritizing this bill and working diligently toward its passage.”
“There is a growing need for more robust conservation practices in our fisheries – not only with menhaden but all forage fish – and the passage of this bill is an important step towards better recognizing and correcting the harmful impacts overfishing can have on our communities,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Protecting menhaden is essential for recreational activities in the Chesapeake Bay and we thank Virginia legislators for taking action to that ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy for generations to come.”
Captain Chris Dollar is a professional fishing guide, tackle shop owner, all-around Chesapeake outdoorsman, and writer.