VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) updated the harvest cap on menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, avoiding a shutdown of the fishery.
Tuesday, VMRC issued that the amount of menhaden that can be caught in the Chesapeake Bay has been lowered from the initial 51,000 metric tons per year. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, due to Omega Protein’s excess harvest during the 2019 fishing season, this year’s level will be further lowered to 36,192 metric tons.
About 70% of Menhaden caught by Omega Protein Corporation comes from the Mid-Atlantic Region every year. Nearly half the Menhaden caught by Omega Protein Corporation in 2019 was fished from the Chesapeake Bay, said corporation spokesman Ben Landry.
Omega Protein’s large catch lead the U.S. Commerce Department to call for a moratorium on Virginia’s menhaden fishery if the Commonwealth is not in compliance by June 17.
Omega Protein Corporation is a Canadian-owned reduction fishery that fishes menhaden in the Atlantic Ocean and uses them to create fish oil, fish meal, and other products.
The oil-rich species is a food fish for striped bass, flounder, marine mammals and sea birds, as well as bait for crabbers. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says it’s an important link in the Bay’s ecosystem.
“After years of advocacy, finally the largest fishery in Virginia is being managed by experts at the VMRC, just like every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore following the news.
“MRC’s actions avoid a total shutdown of the fishery, strongly support sustainable fisheries, and will ensure Virginia does not go out of compliance with the ASMFC.”
This is the first action on menhaden taken by the VMRC since the 2020 legislative session when Virginia legislators transferred the management of the fishery from the General Assembly to VMRC.