Virginia Will See Menhaden Moratorium Unless Quota Adopted

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce gives commonwealth until June to implement
51,00-ton cap on menhaden fishery

By Carol Vaughn

Virginia’s menhaden fishery could be shut down in June if it does not comply with federal quotas, according to the Secretary of Commerce.

Virginia is out of compliance with Amendment 3 of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The commission received notice Dec. 19 that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross agreed with the commission’s finding, according to a press release.

Virginia has failed to implement the 51,000-ton fishery cap, according to the release.

Ross said a moratorium on menhaden fishing in Virginia waters will take effect June 17, 2020, if the cap is not implemented.

The action is related to provisions of the 1993 Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, according to the release.

“I am grateful for the Secretary’s support of the Commission’s fisheries management process and, in particular, our efforts to manage Atlantic menhaden, an important forage species, in a precautionary manner,” said Commission Chairman Patrick C. Keliher, of Maine.

A letter from NOAA Fisheries about the determination Virginia is not in compliance with the management plan said the measure is necessary for the conservation of the menhaden resource.

Menhaden are a small, oily fish that Canadian-owned company Omega Protein uses to make pet food, human supplements, and to feed farm-raised salmon, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. They also are filter feeders that help to clean the bay and feed popular recreational fishing species like striped bass, according to the foundation.

It is the only fish species in Virginia managed by the General Assembly, according to the foundation.

“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,” the letter said.

The June date was set to give Virginia “the time necessary for its legislature to bring these regulations back into compliance,” it said. A scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the action “the largest conservation victory” in a 20-year effort by conservationists, conservation organizations and anglers to protect the fishery.

“This is a huge, huge victory to make sure we have a healthier fishery,” said Chris Moore, senior regional ecosystem scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in a press release.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler thanked Secretary Ross and Chris Oliver, assistant administrator NOAA Fisheries, for taking action “to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the livelihoods of all those who depend on it, including the workers at Omega Protein.”

“We believe strongly that a science-based approach that accounts for all fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is appropriate, and we look forward to working with the General Assembly to apply such an approach to the menhaden fishery,” Strickler said in an emailed statement to the Post.