Virginia commission approves menhaden regulations, gets support from Omega Protein

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on Tuesday, 28 April approved regulations that would allow it to take management control of the state’s menhaden fishery.

The commission’s approval will allow the state to begin its menhaden fishery, scheduled to start on Monday, 4 May, on time. VMRC Chief of Fisheries Management Pat Geer told commission members their approval also means the state will avoid having a moratorium placed on the fishery that would have taken effect in June.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross imposed the ban back in December after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) ruled Virginia’s menhaden fishery to be out of compliance. That came after Omega Protein, the primary menhaden fishing business in the state, exceeded the annual catch limit on harvesting the fish stock from Chesapeake Bay.

Omega Protein primarily harvests the fish for use in developing fish oils, additives, and nutraceuticals at its Reedville, Virginia-based plant.

Ross put a six-month window in place before the moratorium took effect to give the state a chance to make changes the ASMFC required, including placing menhaden management responsibilities with the VMRC.

Tuesday’s meeting also established a 51,000 metric ton cap for the state’s fishery. While the ASMFC had established that quota back in 2018, state lawmakers never recognized it. While the Atlantic States Commission raised concerns about that lack of recognition, it did not become a major issue until Omega Protein exceeded that limit last year by about 30 percent.

Because it exceeded the limit, that means the 2020 cap will be set at about 36,000 metric tons to offset last year’s overage

“Omega Protein supports Tuesday’s decision by the VMRC to come into compliance with the ASMFC regulations regarding the Chesapeake Bay Cap,” Omega Protein Director of Public Affairs Ben Landry said in a statement to SeafoodSource. “Avoiding the possibility of a moratorium and protecting our hard-working employees in Reedville has always been our top priority. Now that the VMRC has regulatory authority over menhaden, the Company looks forward to working cooperatively with the Commission on fisheries management decisions that are in accordance with the best available science.”

The menhaden fishery season is expected to last until 20 November.

Photo courtesy of Omega Protein


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