The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Menhaden limit bills advance
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND—A Senate committee and a House subcommittee have advanced a bill to put limits on the amount of menhaden Omega Protein and bait fishermen can catch.
Sen. Richard Stuart’s bill puts the state in compliance with a decision late last year by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to reduce the menhaden catch by 20 percent.
Stuart told the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee that the ASMFC’s reduction is “an interim measure” to protect the menhaden fishery until the ASMFC moves to a different management model.
While Stuart has opposed the ASMFC’s decision, he said complying with the reduction is “just something we’ve got to do.”
If the state doesn’t, he said, “the administration has the ability to send the Coast Guard in and shut that fishery down.”
The Chesapeake Subcommittee in the House of Delegates and the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee approved similar measures that, if approved by the General Assembly and the governor, will put the commonwealth into compliance with the management plan approved last month by the multi-state commission.
Virginia is the only state on the ASMFC that allows an industrial fishing company—Omega Protein, located in Reedville on the Northern Neck—to fish for menhaden.
The menhaden fishing industry is worth about $40 million, and Omega and bait fishermen disapproved of the ASMFC’s reduction.
According to a 2011 Washington Post article, Omega took 80 percent of the 450 million fish harvested in 2010—160,000 metric tons.
Stuart’s bill limits Omega to 90 percent—about 380 million pounds—of the allowable catch, and leaves 10 percent, or about 25 million pounds, for the bait fish industry.
He said that was a compromise that left neither side happy.
“I helped them come to an agreement,” Stuart said. “You don’t want to put people out of a job,” he added, but said the menhaden stock needs to be kept healthy.
His bill had the backing of groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. HB2254 will now go before the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, while SB1291 will go to the Senate floor.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245