Omega and the plight of Chesapeake Bay bunkers have been ingrained in Virginia politics for many years now. The question revolves around whether menhaden are overfished, whether the fishery is being managed properly, and who or what is responsible for the Rockfish stock depletion.
Omega operates the East Coast’s only reduction facility at Reedville. It employs over 250 people, and takes in roughly three-quarters of all menhaden caught. In 2020, menhaden management was transferred to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission–it had previously been handled by the General Assembly.
Recent spills along the Eastern Shore have led local and state officials to push the VMRC for more regulation. The Atlantic States Marine Resource Commission is the overarching management authority and reports in its most recent assessment that menhaden are not overfished. Critics have noted that the assessment is coastwide, and does not look at local stock viability, such as juvenile recruitment in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Shore Daily News reported this week that Senator Lynnwood Lewis, Delegate Rob Bloxom, Northampton County Administrator Charles Kolakowski, and Northampton County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Betsy Mapp met with Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Jamie Green and acting Secretary of Natural Resources Travis Voyles.
Shore Daily News noted that Senator Lewis “pushed VMRC to take decisive action in response to these spills, asking for consideration of several preventative measures”, including:
-A buffer of at least one mile for menhaden fishing operations to move them further offshore, and greater than one mile in highly utilized recreational areas
-Adoption of a regulatory provision that would ensure any spills count against the annual quotas put forth by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
-Strict requirements and timelines surrounding clean-up when and if spills do occur
Senator Lewis plans to introduce legislation directing state agencies to conduct a study on localized depletion of the menhaden fishery.
Shore Daily News also reported that Senator Lewis offered the following closing statement:
“In 2020 when my Bill SB791 finally transferred the management of the menhaden fishery to VMRC, many of us on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Northam administration, considered it a major legislative success. I still believe this to be the case, and from this meeting with VMRC Commissioner Green, who has a difficult task ahead of him as a newly appointed Commissioner but has been communicative and forthcoming throughout this ordeal, I am hopeful that we will see VMRC action to hold Omega Protein accountable for these recent spills as well as the adoption of regulatory measures to ensure the prevention of future spills.
“However, I must be clear here: these spills were and will continue to be unacceptable. If this administration’s VMRC Board does not take sufficient action, I am absolutely open to legislative action to address these spills, and I will not hesitate to move forward accordingly.”
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