ASMFC votes to find Virginia menhaden fishery out of compliance

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously on Thursday, 31 October, to rule Virginia out of compliance for its menhaden fishery. The move comes two days after its Atlantic Menhaden Management Board recommended the action.

The ASMFC had been considering action for at least 18 months, since the state of Virginia has failed to codify the 51,000-metric-ton catch limit on menhaden in Chesapeake Bay. Last month, Omega Protein notified officials that it would exceed the commission’s annual catch limit.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia must implement an annual total allowable harvest from the Chesapeake Bay by the reduction fishery of no more than 51,000 metric tons,” the ASMFC’s motion read. “The implementation of this measure is necessary to achieve the goals and objectives of the fishery management plan and maintain the Chesapeake Bay marine environment to assure the availability of the ecosystem’s resources on a long-term basis.”

The matter now will be left to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to determine what action, if any, will be taken. Possible penalties include a ban on fishing or possessing Atlantic menhaden in state waters.

In a statement, Omega Protein said it had taken efforts to fish outside of the bay when possible. In noted that more than 20 non-compliance findings have been referred to the Commerce Department in the last 30 years.

“However, this referral is extraordinary because, as has been noted by NOAA legal counsel, it is the first time ever that the Commission has recommended non-compliance for a healthy fishery,” the company said.

The company has been critical of the commission’s decision to reduce the menhaden cap, which previously had been set at 87,000 metric tons. Officials with the company said the cut did not follow the best available science, which they claim shows an abundance of the fish. The company harvests the fish and develops fish oils, additives, and nutraceuticals from it.

However, environmental groups urged for increased conversation, as menhaden plays an important role in the food chain within Chesapeake Bay.

Whatever action Ross takes, Omega Protein said it would abide by it. The company also said it would be willing to work in collaboration with the commission on “improved” management of menhaden.

The vote took place on the final day of the commission’s 78th annual meeting in New Castle, New Hampshire.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Lenox/Shutterstock


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