Marnee Banks

March 9, 2020

Virginia Governor Signs Legislation to Strengthen Menhaden Conservation

Recreational fishing and boating groups applaud new bipartisan law

Following vocal support from recreational fishermen, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bipartisan bill improving menhaden management in the Atlantic.

The legislation transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden—a small oily baitfish that feeds sportfish like striped bass—to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth.  Now that the bill has been signed into law, the legislation puts Virginia on a path toward compliance with the regional fishery management plan, which Omega Protein violated last year.

“This new law will pave the way for stronger management of the Atlantic menhaden recognizing its critical role in the entire marine ecosystem and its benefits to the recreational fishing economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We want to thank Governor Northam, the bill sponsors, Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler, and the recreational fishing sector for working together on this legislation.”

“There is a growing need for more robust conservation practices in our fisheries – including menhaden and all forage fish – this law 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 forage fish and sportfish stocks is essential for recreational activities in the Chesapeake Bay and across the country and we thank Governor Northam for taking action to that ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy for generations to come.”

“Thanks to the signature of Governor Northam, menhaden will now be managed by fisheries experts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Adequate menhaden populations are key to striped bass and other sportfish that support Virginia’s $583,806,000 saltwater recreational fishing economy. This important shift in management authority will help ensure a future of science-based management of menhaden that accounts for their important role in the ecosystem.”

“This commonsense legislation will help fisheries in not just Virginia, but along the entire Atlantic Coast,” said Chris Edmonstron, vice president of government affairs for Boat US.  “Anglers and boaters should all applaud this long overdue change in fisheries management and encourage more science-based management practices be developed and implemented. BoatU.S., along with our 28,000 Virginia members, applaud the passage of this legislation.”

“This decision by Governor Northam and the Virginia General Assembly, which was decades in the making, recognizes the importance of science-backed conservation efforts in maintaining the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.  “Having menhaden fisheries managed by the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, like all other fisheries in the state, will make significant steps towards creating a healthier Chesapeake Bay.  We thank the assembly, and Governor Northam for their leadership on this legislation, which will be felt by boaters and anglers all along the Atlantic coast for years to come.”

“On behalf of the Virginia Saltwater Sportsman’s Association and striped bass fishermen everywhere, I would like to thank Governor Northam and his administration, especially Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler, for leading the fight to conserve menhaden,” said John Bello, chairman of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association Government Relations Committee.  “Menhaden are far too valuable to the ecosystem and to the recreational fishing economy to allow one foreign company to continue sucking up hundreds of millions of forage fish per year.  Thank you, Governor.”

For more information about menhaden conservation click HERE.

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Virginia General Assembly Passes Legislation to Strengthen Menhaden Conservation

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.

Marnee Banks

February 5, 2020

U.S. House Passes Bill to Continue Historic Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Support for this legislation is a critical step forward for hunters and anglers in America’s largest estuary

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed legislation that preserves the economic and recreational value of the Chesapeake Bay.

The bipartisan Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1620) fully funds the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program by authorizing $455 million over the next five years. This program hasn’t been formally authorized since 2005, so this legislation will provide much-needed certainty to state, federal, and nonprofit partners working to restore the water quality of the Bay and its tributaries.

“The Chesapeake Bay is the iconic home to incredible fisheries, migrating waterfowl, and powerful economic opportunity, and some of the best hunting and fishing around,” said Steve Kline, chief policy officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and women want to thank Congresswoman Elaine Luria and the cosponsors of this legislation for their work ensuring that Bay watershed states can keep working together to brighten the future of the Chesapeake.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act is also part of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE Act) which was passed by the Senate unanimously in January.  In addition to the Bay provisions, the ACE Act includes a host of fish and wildlife conservation priorities and House floor passage of the ACE Act represents the clearest way for these key legislative efforts to get to the President’s desk. We urge the House to pass the ACE Act, which also:

  • Reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act at $60 million annually through Fiscal Year 2025. The Act has improved over 30 million acres of wetlands, making it one of the nation’s most effective voluntary conservation programs.
  • Establishes a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-led task force to address the spread of chronic wasting disease.
  • Codifies the National Fish Habitat Partnership. Since 2006, the Partnership has overseen over 840 projects to benefit fish habitat and populations.

Marnee Banks

January 29, 2020

Fishing & Boating Groups Back Virginia Legislation to Improve Menhaden Management

Eight major recreational fishing and boating groups are asking the Virginia General Assembly to advance legislation that transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden, a key food source for striped bass and other recreational fish, to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, BoatU.S., Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and National Marine Manufacturers Association are banding together in support of House Bill 1448 and Senate Bill 791, which shifts management authority to the Commission. Currently menhaden are the only finfish in Virginia not under the Commission’s purview.

The legislation would bring Virginia back into compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) after the Commonwealth was found in violation of ASMFC’s fishery management plan for failing to enforce the Chesapeake Bay harvest cap.  This finding was the result of industrial fishing giant Omega Protein exceeding the cap by approximately 30 percent last year.  The groups are raising concerns because when the menhaden population declines, it impacts striped bass, cobia, bluefish, and summer flounder.

“These valuable recreational fisheries are major contributors to America’s economy and support many fishing-dependent businesses within Virginia and across our industry,” the groups wrote.  “In Virginia alone, the annual value of striped bass has declined from $240 million to $120 million in the past decade while associated jobs have declined from 3,950 to 1,830 in the same time period.”

The groups called on the General Assembly to pass the legislation, saying it’s important because it gives full time fisheries managers the authority to manage menhaden.

“Your support will demonstrate clear leadership to the thousands of Bay anglers and the hundreds of businesses they support and bring the Commonwealth of Virginia back into compliance,” the groups added.

Over 50 local businesses, including charter boat operators have also thrown their support behind the legislation.

The coalition’s letter of support can be found HERE.

Marnee Banks

December 19, 2019

Commerce Secretary Sides with Recreational Fishermen in Menhaden Case

Industrial fishing giant strikes out twice as it breaks the rules in the Chesapeake Bay

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross today issued a decision cracking down on overfishing in the Chesapeake Bay and paving the way for better management of the menhaden fishery.

Ross found the state of Virginia out of compliance after foreign-owned Omega Protein willfully violated the fishing cap on menhaden, a key food source for striped bass, in the Chesapeake Bay.

“Secretary Ross made the right move in standing with recreational fishermen,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Reduction fishing for menhaden threatens the livelihoods of thousands of hard-working fishing guides and tackle shop owners and impacts everything from striped bass to whales. Today’s decision holds Omega accountable and sets the stage for improved management of this important forage fish.”

“U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross’ decision to hold Omega Protein accountable for their actions demonstrates clear conservation leadership to the sportfishing and boating industry and anglers along the Atlantic Coast,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “This decision comes at a critical time because menhaden’s top predator, Atlantic striped bass, is currently in poor condition and the Chesapeake Bay is the primary spawning and nursery area for the species. We thank Secretary Ross for recognizing the value menhaden brings to the recreational fishing community and America’s outdoor recreational economy.”

“The ASMFC’s Policy Board has some of the finest fishery managers in the country on it and they unanimously found Virginia out of compliance with the Menhaden Fishery Management Plan. Upholding the ASMFC’s non-compliance finding for Virginia was simply the right thing to do,” said David Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland. “We applaud Secretary Ross for defending both the management system and the forage base in the Chesapeake Bay.”

Since October, tens of thousands of recreational anglers, dozens of business and organizations, and nine Governors along the east coast, including Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, have all requested that the Secretary take action on this issue.

According to a recent scientific study, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30 percent decline in striped bass numbers. The striped bass fishing industry contributes $7.8 billion in GDP to the economy along the Atlantic coast.

 

Photo by Courtesy of John McMurray.

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