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Jaclyn Higgins

December 7, 2022

VMRC Rejects Governor’s Proposal to Limit Menhaden Fishing in Chesapeake Bay

VMRC declines to exercise authority by setting any limits on harvest of critical forage fish species

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission disappointed recreational fishing and resource conservation advocates throughout the Chesapeake Bay region yesterday by siding with Canadian-owned industrial menhaden harvester Omega Protein over the concerns of tens of thousands of Virginia anglers and residents.

Hundreds of Virginians attended the Dec. 6 VMRC meeting to comment on a proposal by the Youngkin Administration that would have established one-mile buffers from Bay shorelines and a half-mile buffer on either side of the Bay Bridge Tunnel, where purse seining would be prohibited. Menhaden purse-seine fishing would have also been closed during peak recreational periods around Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.

However, instead of approving the proposals, which had been reached through months of stakeholder engagement and compromises, the VMRC approved a watered-down resolution crafted by Omega Protein, with no other opinions sought. It aims to create a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth of Virginia to explore the possibility of protecting shorelines and limiting user conflicts.

The MOU did not propose any regulations to try to limit Omega’s extensive fish kills and net spills that fouled Chesapeake Bay shorelines throughout last summer, it simply outlined a potential agreement for the foreign-owned, industrial harvester and state regulators to consider conservation measures and short-term fishing closures in the future.

The motion passed 5 to 4 despite objections from Eastern-Shore-based commissioners who insisted the MOU would not address the concerns of conservation-minded stakeholders.

“We are disappointed with this outcome and moving forward, we are going to continue to fight to fix the problems in the Bay caused by the menhaden reduction fishery,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We recognized that the proposed closures did not address all the damage industrial reduction fishing is causing to fisheries and habitat in the Chesapeake. Still, anglers and concerned conservationists believed it was a step in the right direction. What passed the VMRC, however, gets us no closer to conserving and protecting the Bay.”

“Considering Omega Protein has a history of blatantly violating actual regulations, such as the Chesapeake Bay cap in 2019, it is extremely difficult to believe how a memorandum of understanding is going to accomplish anything,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “While the proposed regulation was not a panacea, it surely would have had a better chance of limiting net spills and user conflicts than this do-nothing memorandum of understanding.”

“Given everything that has occurred with net spills, contaminated beaches, and 12,000 pounds of dead red drum, why would the governor’s commission appointees vote against the administration’s proposal?” says Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. “This is a stunning example of poor governance.”

“Our members are deeply frustrated by the VMRC’s decision to reject the Youngkin Administration’s commonsense proposal to address the decades-long user conflicts and wasteful net spills in the Chesapeake,” says Rob Allen, chairman of CCA Virginia. “This is a failure of the public trust and is an important reminder of why all anglers and conservation-minded Virginians must continue to focus on working together to demand a better future for our Bay fisheries.”

“It is very disheartening that the VMRC voted against the Youngkin Administration’s own plan, which the Virginia angling community strongly supported,” says Captain Mike Ostrander, president of the Virginia Anglers Club, one the Commonwealth’s oldest sportfishing organizations. “Instead, we got a weak gentleman’s agreement that’s not legally enforceable. The region’s anglers, boaters, and coastal communities deserve much better.”

More than 10,000 anglers and conservationists from Virginia and up and down the East Coast have signed a petition asking Governor Youngkin to protect the Chesapeake Bay from the negative impacts of industrial menhaden fishing. The petition was delivered to Youngkin and the VMRC in mid-October.

Learn more about the recreational fishing community’s push for better management of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico.

 

Photo by Gaelin Rosenwaks. Follow her on Instagram @gaelingoexplore.

9 Responses to “VMRC Rejects Governor’s Proposal to Limit Menhaden Fishing in Chesapeake Bay”

  1. Brent James

    Absolutely shocking result from VMRC! This smacks of corruption. Gov Younkin ought to have the 5 commission members who voted for this BS standing in a line in front of his desk to answer for this malfeasance. Simply stunningly bad result!

  2. Stuart Armstrong

    I would be very interested to hear the reasons the five commission member had for voting against the proposals. This issues affects the public. I think they have a responsibility to explain their actions in detail. How were they appointed? To whom are they accountable.

  3. Thomas Ward

    Did the governor really want this reg approved or was it just show while his appointees did the dirty work? You should publish all VA politicians who accept money from Omega and their affiliates. The only thing that is going to work here is for sportsmen and yes all my friends who are commercial fishermen and guides who want this fishery gone from bay, is to vote for whoever is against the fishery regardless of party. Go see these people; call; write; give money to those who will support us. Support Tim Anderson’s bills and ask all your congressmen to do so. Ask feds to take over the fishery

  4. 7 Rivers East

    Take a look into the checking accounts of the VMRC higher-up’s. Theres no denying the why and the how. Menhaden are a multi-million dollar gold mine and if you need to wax a few purses to get your meal ticket, get to writing ! Now do’t get me wrong , I’m not saying somebody’s on the “take”… but a voice in the back of the room is whispering corruption..bribes, pay-off;s and more corruption..!

  5. PAUL EWING

    I have fought for saving the bay for over 20 years and ASMF and now VMRC keep kicking the can down the road. We now longer have any decent amount of striped bass in the bay so why would VMRC regulate catching of striped bass when there is very little to catch. The menhaden fleet need to be out of the bay and charge more for their product so their employees can still have their jobs. Menhaden can filter our bay waters so all the oysters can survive otherwise the oysters will die from dead zones which are present in the bay today. North Carolina ran Omega out of their waters 8 years ago and the striped bass have recovered to the point that they are now again going up the Roanoke Rapids to spawn. Why? Because they now have food: menhaden. We can have the same result if the menhaden fleet is out of our precious Chesapeake Bay or we are looking at the future demise/destruction of the bay.

  6. Mark D Hall

    fishing the last four years from love point to cape Charles VA spring through January i think omega has taken all the menhaden we see 4 inch bunker in small amounts and starving rockfish all summer long December no bunker at all

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Kristyn Brady

December 2, 2022

15 Conservation Wins We’re Proud of in 2022

Our organizational and legislative successes made possible by your support

In the TRCP’s 20th year of providing a vital service to the hunting and fishing community, we’re proud to say that we haven’t lost any steam. Conservation remains an issue that creates common ground in an otherwise polarized and contentious Washington, D.C.—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to advance policies and legislation that will benefit fish, wildlife, and America’s sportsmen and sportswomen. With a few weeks still remaining to clinch conservation victories (like these), here are our top achievements to date in 2022.

Legislative Victories

The TRCP-led MAPLand Act was signed into law to enhance recreational access on public lands by investing in modern mapping technology. Learn more about the benefits of MAPLand.

As a part of the largest climate-related investment in U.S. history, Congress doubled funding for Farm Bill conservation programs over the next four years—a $20-billion increase—while providing $4 billion to mitigate drought in the West and funding the restoration of forests, watersheds, and coasts. Here’s what you need to know about the legislation and what it will do for hunters and anglers.

The House and Senate passed the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, which includes a first-of-its-kind study, conceived of by TRCP, to evaluate natural infrastructure project effectiveness. We’re tracking the conferenced version of the bill, which could pass in an end-of-year spending package as early as next week. Here’s our full wishlist for WRDA.

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House passed comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation that would fund disease management and research. The Senate could vote to send this bill to the president’s desk under unanimous consent any day now. Read more about the need for more resources to manage CWD at the state level.

Big game migration routes across 8.3 million acres of public lands in Colorado will be conserved, with TRCP and partners supporting state funding for wildlife crossings in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Oregon. Take action here to support migration corridor conservation and here to support wildlife crossing projects in your state.

Chesapeake bay striper guide charter, fishing rod
Photo by Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program

Legislation passed the Louisiana House to cap the industrial menhaden fishery in the state and create buffers to protect sensitive habitats along the coast. Both of these efforts would move the Gulf menhaden fishery toward ecosystem management, which is now in place along the Atlantic coast. East Coast anglers are still pushing for more consideration of menhaden, however, with more than 10,000 sportsmen, sportswomen, and local residents calling for Virginia decision-makers to move industrial menhaden fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay, a key striped bass nursery. Add your name to the petition.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers began to reconsider which waters and wetlands should be protected under the Clean Water Act, with formal feedback provided by the hunting and fishing community. Check out this brief history of the Clean Water Act for how we got here.

$1.5 billion was secured for Everglades restoration to bring back natural flows and improve fish and wildlife habitat. Get to know a key restoration project that will benefit South Florida’s wetlands and estuaries.

After the administration implemented multiple recommendations from TRCP and its partners, enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program outpaced expiring contracts, resulting in a net increase of conserved acres. This legislation would boost the CRP even more.

Thought Leadership

So much of the work we do is educating lawmakers and the hunting and fishing public on conservation priorities. Through digital resources and reports this year, we shared:

Commitment to Transparency

Finally, TRCP again received top ratings by charity watchdog groups Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and the Better Business Bureau. We work hard to ensure that every dollar you give goes as far as possible for conservation, and this recognition of where we stack up against other charities is very important to us.

Given all that we’ve accomplished this year to guarantee Americans quality places to hunt and fish, we hope you’ll consider lending the TRCP your support during this season of giving. If you’re a first-time donor, SITKA Gear will match every dollar you give, and previous donors will get a match on any increase over their last gift. There’s no better time to get involved in conservation and make twice the impact.

Support Conservation Now

Guest Author Emily Baldauff

November 30, 2022

State Conservation Funding Program Is a Success Story in Pennsylvania

Get to know the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund that has improved key trout streams for future generations of anglers

It is written in our state constitution that Pennsylvanians have the right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. This overarching dedication to conserving our woods and waters is an attribute that many Pennsylvanians hold dear.

Over the last few decades, Trout Unlimited has worked to preserve and protect coldwater fisheries across the country, including here in Pennsylvania. This work couldn’t be done without the passionate efforts of volunteers and supporters and sufficiently funded federal and state conservation programs.

One such program is the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund, which was created in 1993 with near-unanimous support from the Pennsylvania General Assembly and an overwhelming referendum vote by the general public. Since the fund was established, it has provided state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisitions, river conservation, and trail improvements.

Over the years, the Keystone Fund has helped to fund many projects that benefit anglers. This includes the creation of the Brodhead Creek Heritage Center at the ForEvergreen Nature Preserve, along the historical Brodhead Creek in Monroe County; fish habitat and streambed improvements on the Monocacy Creek in the Lehigh Valley; and land preservation and planning efforts to restore and protect Valley Creek in the Southeast corner of the state.

These projects, along with countless others, have been made possible by the strong combination of state dollars and local matching funds, which have increased opportunities and access for anglers, families, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts in an array of neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth.

The Keystone Fund has helped TU to further its mission to “care for and recover rivers and streams” for future generations, but there is still much work to be done in ensuring Pennsylvanians will forever have access to over 86,000 miles of streams. Vital dedicated funding must continue to further restore and conserve those stream miles through the Keystone Fund and passionate local partners.

Emily Baldauff is Trout Unlimited’s Mid-Atlantic organizer and a native of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Madeleine West

November 15, 2022

TRCP Welcomes BLM’s Increased Emphasis on Habitat Connectivity

Sportsmen and sportswomen applaud the agency’s commitment to coordinating with state and Tribal partners in implementing new BLM planning guidance

Today, the Bureau of Land Management issued a policy that prioritizes the conservation of habitat connectivity on more than 245 million acres of public lands. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership believes the updated guidance will help to ensure that the best-available science guides the BLM’s management of public lands, while emphasizing robust coordination and collaboration with state and Tribal partners.

The policy directs state offices to consider opportunities to conserve areas important for habitat connectivity as they evaluate, revise, or amend land-use plans—which dictate the management of BLM-administered public land, primarily across the Western U.S.—as well as during the review of specific project proposals and when prioritizing proactive habitat conservation and restoration projects.

Among the specific steps outlined, are:

  • Coordinate with states, Tribes, and other partners on shared strategies to remove physical barriers to wildlife movement through installation of wildlife-friendly fencing and highway crossing structures.
  • Consider alternatives during project-level environmental reviews that avoid, minimize, and mitigate for adverse impacts to areas important for habitat connectivity.
  • Address and appropriately analyze areas of habitat connectivity in new land-use planning processes.

“Across the West, the future of big game hunting depends on the continued ability of our elk, mule deer, and pronghorn herds to move across the landscape between seasonal habitats,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen appreciate the leadership demonstrated by the Bureau of Land Management in its commitment to habitat connectivity. Public lands managed by the agency comprise some of the most important seasonal ranges and migration corridors across the West, and it is imperative that the BLM’s efforts on this front are undertaken in close partnership with states and other key stakeholders, including in support of good conservation efforts undertaken by private landowners.”

This new BLM guidance builds off April’s announcement by Secretary Deb Haaland highlighting steps the Biden Administration is taking to continue implementation of Secretarial Order 3362 and BLM Instructional Memo 2018-062, both issued in 2018 by the Trump Administration to support hunting, fishing, and shooting sports and big game habitat on public lands. The BLM’s new policy also supports the executive orders issued by governors in Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming.

As the largest public land management agency, the BLM has a direct impact on the conservation of habitats critical to sustaining populations of big game animals that migrate seasonally—often over long distances—as well as a variety of other species that utilize those same habitats year-round.

Last year, the TRCP issued a report highlighting the need for public land management plans to be updated to conserve big game migration corridors and the seasonal habitats they connect. Many plans across the West are decades old and do not incorporate new migration science developed by state wildlife agencies that pinpoints where and how animals move across and utilize the landscape throughout the year. This information would improve the agency’s ability to manage multiple uses of the land to reduce conflicts with wildlife and guide proactive efforts to enhance habitats.

“Today’s announcement indicates the agency is prioritizing and creating forward momentum on one of the issues that matters most to sportsmen and sportswomen,” continued Fosburgh. “For implementation of this new guidance to be successful, the TRCP strongly supports the BLM’s commitment to coordinating closely with state and Tribal governments on habitat connectivity data and the incorporation of up-to-date, science-based management actions for our nation’s public lands. We look forward to working with our NGO partners, state agencies, Tribal governments, private landowners, and the BLM to ensure the agency has the resources necessary to implement this planning guidance and support habitat connectivity and migration corridor conservation across the country.”

Learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to conserve wildlife corridors.

 

Photo by Josh Metten

Carl Erquiaga

November 3, 2022

When It Comes to Healthy Herds, The Next Generation of Hunters Is Counting on Us

A family deer hunt reinforces the importance of forward-looking conservation solutions in Nevada

Over the years, acquiring a big game tag in Nevada has become highly competitive simply because there are far more hunters in our state than we have surplus animals available to harvest. All big game tags in Nevada are awarded through a lottery process and each year many sportsmen and sportswomen are disappointed because they do not draw.

Hunting is deeply engrained in my family. From very young ages, my children were engaged in my favorite pastime which later became theirs. All three have continued to hunt big game when given the opportunity. They love the meat as well as just being outdoors in the fall. When I was blessed with two granddaughters, I hoped they would also be interested in hunting on some level. The thought of sharing hunting knowledge, traditions, and experiences with them was a dream of mine.

This year, my 12-year-old granddaughter, Hayden, was eligible to apply for tags and fortunate enough to draw a youth mule deer tag. We made preparation and planning for the hunt a big part of our summer activities. When the season finally arrived, her dad and I took her across the state for the opening of her hunt. On the morning of the fourth day of hunting, Hayden spotted three bucks and we were able to get in range. With a well-placed shot, she put one of them down. To say we were excited would be an understatement! Amid a healthy amount of back-slapping, hugging, and even a few tears, the time-honored tradition of hunting in my family passed to the next generation. We made so many memories this fall that will last for the rest of our lives.

Hayden with her first mule deer

The point of this story is two-fold. One is to show how important our sport is to families like mine and how rewarding it is to recruit young hunters and make those memories in the field. The second point is that these traditions and opportunities depend on healthy herds and intact habitats in our state. For that reason, I’m particularly encouraged by two important steps taken by wildlife and land management agencies in Nevada that promise a brighter future for our big game populations.

Under an executive order issued by Governor Sisolak in 2021, the Nevada Department of Wildlife is developing a Sagebrush Habitat Plan with the goal of recovering our sagebrush habitats that so many species depend on. The sagebrush ecosystem is one of the most imperiled in the United States today. More than 50 percent of all historic sagebrush habitats range-wide have been lost to threats such as wildfire, invasive species, pinyon-juniper encroachment, climate change, and fragmentation caused by human development. The Sagebrush Habitat Plan will set priorities, establish focus areas, and identify funding for recovery efforts, ensuring that we take a forward-looking approach to this conservation challenge.

As part of the same executive order, NDOW will also be creating a Wildlife Connectivity Plan in the next year. By GPS tracking collars to study species like mule deer and pronghorn, wildlife researchers are able to produce detailed maps that illustrate and inform our understanding of how big game animals use migration corridors to travel from summer to winter habitat and return. This data can identify chokepoints or obstacles that our herds encounter on the landscape, as well as important areas called stopovers where animals spend time resting and recovering along their journeys, finding vital nutrition to make it through the winter.

NDOW has already completed extensive mapping of three of our largest deer populations in the northeast corner of Nevada. Once they determine the specific habitats that deer prefer to use, agencies can direct funding and projects to those areas that may need restoration. These maps are also used to pinpoint where wildlife highway crossings are needed to provide safe passage for deer when their migration paths intersect with major roadways. NDOW and Nevada Department of Transportation have constructed several important crossings you may have seen on Interstate 80 and Highway 93, east and north of Wells, Nevada. When released, the finished Connectivity Plan will likely identify other areas where wildlife-friendly infrastructure should be built.

Wildlife crossing at Pequop Summit on Interstate 80

It’s no secret that mule deer populations throughout Nevada are declining. No doubt there are many reasons for this, some of which have not yet been identified. The development of these plans is just a piece of the work needed to recover our deer herds, but together they are a very encouraging step in the right direction. This important work will take time and there is no one single solution to the many challenges facing our big game herds.

In the meantime, sportsmen and sportswomen should be speaking up when given the chance and asking agencies to place our big game populations high on their priority list. We owe it to the next generation so they, and future generations, can enjoy and carry on the pastime of hunting as we know it.

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In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.

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