The Virginia Marine Resources Commission announced it will be reviewing a new proposal on Dec. 6 to “establish management measures for a sustainable Atlantic menhaden fishery and to provide fair and equitable allocation to the sectors” with regards to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
The VMRC will take up are new regulations creating a no-fishing buffer one nautical mile wide around Virginia shorelines and Virginia Beach and a half-nautical mile wide around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Another proposal would expand the days around holidays when fishing is prohibited.
This action comes after requests from the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association to stop menhaden fishing in the Bay, including a petition of 11,000 signatures that was presented to the office of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year.
Protecting the tourists trade is at the heart of the latest proposals–two net spills by the Reedville-based Omega Protein over the summer, one of which washed thousands of menhaden ashore in Northampton County provided enough political energy to put the new proposals in front of the VMRC.
Stopping all menhaden fishing operations in the Bay isn’t being proposed because, according the VRMC, there is no evidence that menhaden are being overfished. Some have argued that the low rockfish numbers are due to menhaden stock depletions, however, stock assessments of rockfish by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission indicate that the population is on track to recover following quota reductions and time for spawning stock to replenish–the striped bass are the species being overfished.
Omega Protein says that new regulations, which could take its operations out of the Bay and into less safe waters in the ocean would ultimately force the company to stop operating.
So, if the bunkers are not being overfished, then what is this all about? If they are overfished, the ASMFS, VIMMS, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission need to say. But they can’t because the science does not back it. To be clear, back in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, overfishing was occurring, and the stock was definately showing signs marginial depleation, however, it was never really in danger of a full collapse such was we witnessed with the north Atlantic Cod fishery. It was also not Omega Protien’s fault (they were fishing within the prescribed limits). That was the fear. As it turned out, it was the models, and in turn the reference points used to manage the menhaden fishery that were off. Once the math and reference points were adjusted, the ASMFC now has a much clearer idea of what the fishery looks like, and that determiniation is that it is not overfished.
The angst over Omega’s operation appears to stem from the two fish spills that occurred this summer. Spills are rare, but they do happen. However, if they happen during tourist season and that interferes with the County and Town’s abililty to stuff the greasy till tourist dollars, then it becomes an issue. This is nothing more than a proxy war waged against working waterman on behalf of the rotten tourist industry. What industry has really done more harm to our quality of life–bunker harvesting or tourism?