Multi-year menhaden quota conflict could finally be at an end

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has rescinded a noncompliance finding for the U.S. State of Virginia’s menhaden fishery, potentially ending a conflict over the quota that has been going on for more than two years.

The noncompliance finding was initiated in October 2019 after a multi-year battle over the state’s menhaden catch limits in the Chesapeake Bay. The conflict was initiated in November 2017, when the ASMFC made changes to the menhaden quota up and down the U.S. East Coast.

The disputed change was to the quota for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, which was reduced from 87,216 metric tons (MT) to 51,000 MT. Omega Protein, by far the largest harvester of the species in the U.S., objected to that change, and the Virginia State House decided in March 2018 to not ratify changes at the state level. The species was, at the time, the only one in the state that wasn’t managed by the Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC).

Soon after the decision by Virginia to not follow along the ASMFC’s changes, the commission put the state on notice regarding the cap. The actual decision to find the fishery out of compliance, however, ended up taking 18 months, as the commission tabled any action in August 2018. Soon after Omega Protein signaled that it was going to exceed the cap in 2019, the commission moved forward with the non-compliance finding, sending the issue to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

After that, the Department of Commerce signaled its intention to place a moratorium on the fishery by 17 June, 2020, if certain changes weren’t made.

Among those changes was bringing the menhaden fishery under the VMRC’s control, and recognizing the 51,000 MT cap. Earlier this month, the state did just that, a decision that was supported by Omega Protein. For 2020, the cap was placed at approximately 36,000 MT to compensate for the overages in 2019.

Now, with ASMFC withdrawing its finding of noncompliance, the multi-year saga has, potentially, finally come to an end.

“I would like to thank my fellow Virginia Commissioners, Governor Northam, Secretary Strickler, the Virginia General Assembly, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission for their attention to this issue,” ASMFC Chair and Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher said. "We are appreciative of their hard work to bring the Commonwealth back into compliance prior to the effective date of the moratorium.”

The final decision is still in the hands of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. If he concurs with the ASMFC’s decision, the moratorium will be lifted immediately.

Photo courtesy of NOAA 


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