Proposed Virginia menhaden ban blocked by state’s legislature
A bill that would force the shutdown of the menhaden reduction fishery in the U.S. state of Virginia has been tabled by the state’s legislature.
The menhaden fishery ran into issues with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s office in July 2022 when an Omega Protein purse-seine net tore, resulting in thousands of dead, rotting fish washing up on the Bay shoreline. As a result of the mess, Virginia’s Kiptopeke State Park closed for recreational use during part of July, a peak month for beach tourism, and approximately 11,000 sports fishermen, waterfront landowners and representatives of the state’s tourism economy signed a petition to the governor’s and Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) urging them to halt menhaden fishing.
Omega Protein, which was purchased by Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada-based Cooke in 2017 and which moved its headquarters to Reedville, Virginia, in 2020, is the last reduction menhaden fish company operating on the East Coast. Omega is one of the largest employers on Virginia’s Northern Neck and its corporate office is located in Reedville.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted 5-4 in December 2022 to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Omega Protein to cease all fishing activity around major U.S. holidays including Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day and within a half-mile off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The MOU calls for the company to collaborate with the governor’s office and General Assembly to maintain a buffer along the densely populated areas of the state’s Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay, and Virginia Beach region.
However, the newly introduced bill to completely ban menhaden fishing, was unanimously tabled by the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on 18 January. The bill would have implemented a ban on all menhaden fishing in Virginia’s waters between November 2023 and November 2025.
“The fact that it was a unanimous vote sends a strong signal that there's no support for it,” Omega Protein Vice President of Operations Montgomery Deihl said.
Reporting and photo courtesy of Larry Chowning