Latest request to lower Omega Protein menhaden catch limit rejected – Shore Daily News

Virginia Marine Resources Commission staff say a study is needed, rejected by the General Assembly

BY: CHARLIE PAULLIN – The Virginia Mercury

The VMRC has said they cannot further regulate menhaden catches without more information. According to an article in the Virginia Mercury newspaper by Charlie Paullin, the 42-page petition was one of the strongest recent requests to produce tighter regulations on Reedville-based Omega Protein, which catches menhaden and reduces them to fish meal and oil. The petition received 1,774 supportive comments, of which 718 were from the National Audubon Society, and 158 opposed during a comment period earlier this year.

Virginia’s fisheries management plan law “requires this type of analysis, but it also requires more than the absolute [harvest] maximum set by the federal commission,” said David Reed, an attorney with the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, which filed the petition on behalf of the Southern Maryland Recreational Fishermen’s Association. “For these reasons, we respectfully ask the commissioner that considers greater constraints than simply maximum harvest.”

The Maryland group is also suing VMRC in Richmond City Circuit Court for failing to use a conservation analysis, which the group claims the Virginia regulation determining Omega catches requires, when it adjusted the allocation of menhaden catches from the state for Omega Protein to meet the limits set by the Atlantic States. Marine and Fisheries Commission, which fishes abroad along the eastern coasts.

The petition, which included measures such as placing a moratorium on fishing in the bay and creating a one-mile no-fishing buffer around the entirety of the bay, was intended, in part, to provide a model for VMRC to develop a regulation using conservation measures in case a Richmond City Circuit Court judge orders VMRC to revise the boundaries.

“[VMRC is] relying on a federal commission that’s not in the business of exploring the nuances of the bay,” Reed told the Mercury in a telephone interview Tuesday. “They’re in the business of exploring the coast.”

Madsen, the deputy chief of the fisheries management division, said more science is needed to understand menhaden in the bay.

“I would love to sit here and say this is the number, this is the scientifically supported bay limit, and I can’t and it’s incredibly frustrating to me,” Madsen said, adding that the current bay limit of 51,000 metric tons is” t is based on any scientific discovery but is based on historical landings or catches. “We don’t know if the bay limit should be significantly reduced, we don’t know if it could be increased. We don’t know if the bay lid needs to exist at all.”

The Legislature was considering a bill to fund a three-year study during the session that just ended, but the effort never made it out of the House Rules Committee. Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, told VMRC on Tuesday, “It appears, by all accounts, that the industry helped lobby against the study.”

After the meeting, Atkinson told the Mercury Omega Protein “can’t have it both ways,” saying science is needed to show they’re not harming the menhaden population in the bay and then work to block the necessary science.

Monty Diehl, CEO of Ocean Harvesters, which catches menhaden for Omega Protein, denied Tuesday that the company lobbied against the study. Omega Protein spokesman Ben Landry told the Mercury after the meeting that one concern they have with the study they shared earlier is its short time frame, compared to a five-year effort proposed by ASMFC in 2021.

“We all want the same thing,” Landry said, “A robust survey to determine what the baseline abundance is.”

Pep Up

Instead of lobbying against the studio, Landry said the company pushed for a bill last session of Del. Hillary Pugh-Kent, R-Richmond County, which would create penalties for people who harass commercial fishermen. The measure was signed by Governor Glenn Youngkin.

The VMRC on Tuesday had considered taking specific action on the petition to codify the one-mile no-fishing buffer around Chesapeake Bay shores and increase vessel oversight, as well as a request from member of VMRC Patrick Hand to determine if Omega’s fishing days in the bay could be reduced. These also did not move forward and commission members suggested that the Menhaden Management Advisory Committee review them.

“It’s incredibly frustrating that we don’t have the regional information that we need and that efforts to acquire that information or develop that information have stalled this year,” VMRC member Heather Lusk said, adding that perhaps some new regulations on fishing could encourage cooperation. for the study “It’s incredibly frustrating and frankly disappointing.”

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