21 groups of anglers and conservationists sent a letter to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin asking him to close a chunk of Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden commercial fishery. The groups want the menhaden commercial fishery closed until “science demonstrates” that bunker fishing will not hurt the bay’s ecosystem.
According to a report by the Virginia Mercury, the groups signing the letter include the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and 19 other organizations concerned about the health of Chesapeake Bay.
“By removing more than 100 million pounds of menhaden every year from the Chesapeake Bay, the most important striped bass nursery on the East Coast, reduction fishing (for menhaden) in Virginia is undermining the sportfishing economy and small businesses throughout the commonwealth,” the letter states according to the Virginia Mercury.
Omega Protein is a Reedville, Va. company that is the largest commercial harvester of menhaden in Chesapeake Bay. Omega considers the letter to Youngkin “egregious and dramatic.”
In 2020 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) began differently managing menhaden to calculate pogie quotas. ASMFC now takes into consideration how a species fits into the larger ecosystem, rather than simply abundance and harvest data of a species.
Omega believes menhaden commercial harvest is fully sustainable and notes a 2020 ASMFC report stating bunker “is not overfished nor experiencing overfishing.”
The president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, Steve Atkinson, said the study that resulted in the ASMFC report didn’t adequately consider local reductions of menhaden in Chesapeake Bay.
Omega’s Reedville plant employs over 250 people, and catches a great majority of the commercial haul of menhaden in the Chesapeake. Omega’s Chesapeake Bay menhaden quota is 56,000 tons. Landry says Omega’s coastal harvest of pogies is about 150,000 tons.
Omega sent this statement Friday afternoon to Norfolk’s WAVY10 On Your Side:
“According to the latest research at the (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission), the biggest challenge to maintaining a healthy striped bass population continues to be the overharvesting of striped bass, not a lack of available food. Also, the Atlantic menhaden biomass is currently very high according to recent stock assessments, not to mention that menhaden’s ecosystem role is now being accounted for in quota setting. In fact, more menhaden are being left in the water to serve its ecosystem role now and in decades. The recreational angling community wants to have the Bay as their playground, but it would result in us losing our workplace.”Omega Protein