Don’t celebrate yet. This is like victory in one battle but the war rages on. The problem in Virginia is that all menhaden regulations are written in the state code and require a bill to be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the governor to have any regulatory change made. Menhaden is the only fish managed by the General Assembly. Every other fish is managed by the VA Marine Resource Commission (VMRC). Two years ago the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) lowered the amount of menhaden that could be harvested in the Chesapeake Bay to 51,000 Metric Tons. Omega Protein lobbied the Genrl Assm heavily not to lower it in VA code and they didn’t. They left it at 87,200 Metric Tons.
This was all caused by one company, Omega Protein, who is now part of the larger foreign owned Cooke Seafood. On Sept 6 this year, Omega Protein surpassed 51,000 MT and then on Sept 12 put out a press release publically announcing they were going to harvest 67,000 MT and then quit. They arrived at 67,000MT by adding that to the previous year harvest of 35,000 MT and dividing by 2, saying that would average 51,000MT over 2 years. Then they tried to explain to ASMFC that bad weather prevented them from fishing in the Ocean and rather than have their boats sit idle at the dock, they fished in the bay. Those actions didn’t sit well with ASMFC. If a moratorium is goes into effect, it will be illegal to possess a menhaden caught in Virginia. You may say good, but that will shut down the menhaden bait fishery that provides bait for the crabbers up and down the coast and recreational fisherman. Recreational s will not be able to use menhaden for bait.
Oh, and for those that don’t know a Metric Ton is 2,200 lbs. Accordingly, that means the 51,000 MT quota for the bay is actually 112,200,000 lbs. That’s a lot of bunker and that means they went over their quota by 35,200,000 lbs.
On Nov 17, 2019 ASMFC found VA out of compliance. The Governor of VA and 8 other bi partison governors of Coastal States wrote Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce recommending he uphold the ASMFC finding and to declare a moratorium. He did, but he delayed it for six months to give VA time to come into compliance. That is why it doesn’t go into effect until June 17, 2020.
Virginia can come into compliance in one of two ways. Either will require a bill be passed by both houses in General Assembly and signed by the Governor. One way is to simply pass a bill lowering the Bay Cap to the ASMFC regulation of 51,000 MT and pay back the overage from 2019. That would make the Bay Quota to be around 35,000MT for 2020. The other way and the method preferred by the recreational fisherman is to pass a bill removing all menhaden regulations from the General Code and turn all management responsibilities over the VMRC. After all VMRC manages every other fish, so why cant they manage menhaden? They could, but Omega wants to keep the Genrl Assm involved because the Genrl Assm only meets in Jan and Feb, whereas VMRC is open all year. Moreover, VMRC could change the regulations as needed at any time in the year vs having the Gernl Assm only meeting in Jan and Feb and having to pass a bill in both houses and then get the Governor to sign it.
Omega Protein has successfully lobbied against the management moving to VMRC every year for over 10 years. They have 6 lobbyist registered with the General Assembly. The difference this year is, this governor wants it moved and there are new chairmen on both the House and Senate Committees that will hear the bills. The General Assembly will start Jan 8, 2020. So far there are 2 bills in the Senate and one in the house on Menhaden. I expect there will be more.
So stay tuned, it aint over yet. The best outcome will have all management regulations and responsibility transferred to VMRC without any further General Assembly involvement. VMRC can then set and change the regulations in Virginia as needed.
Greed will be the death of fishing. Omega is the “market hunter”
analog to those that killed off the carrier pigeon. They won’t stop
until out of business, but it may be too late by then. And all the other
fish stocks rely on menhaden.
I'm not a commercial fisherman. I do work on the water and know several commercial fisherman through being on the water every day. There family's that fishing is generational. Family's that have multiple license and will work together as a family business. These people fish whatever is in season. Right now most are oystering, some are probably catching catfish, when it gets warmer crabbing will start up again and some people will be running nets for fish. The boats fishing nets for bunker in the bay are not going to go net them in the ocean. I've bought bunker off of some of them before. $10 will get you about 50 pounds worth of bunkers. So....... bunker is not regulated by vmrc. Vmrc regulates all other fisheries. It's going to cost more to bait pots with croakers, or spot, or catfish. And if you bait pots with croakers, spot, or catfish, what does that do to the quota for those fisheries?
The moratorium should not be on menhaden it should be on purse seine fishing.
So... a generational family of fishermen running say... 3 boats.. that's father, and two sons. And say they fish granddad's pots for him too. So depending on the license they have, let's just say that's around 1200 crab pots. Figure you use a half pound to a pound of bait per pot. Might not pull them every day but they need to be pulled at least every other day so the crabs don't escape or eat each other. That's about 3000 pound of bait, on the conservative side, a week for a small fishing company.
So if they can't use bunker, what are they going to bait crab pots with?
Shad and Herring are protected in MD as I recall, I know they are both protected in DC waters in the Potomac. The Potomac River is regulated by Maryland in all other areas besides a few miles within DC by Maryland.
When they made Herring and Shad illegal to possess in the Potomac, I lost the inclination to fish for Rockfish in the spring. The Potomac River is the chief spawning river for Rockfish on the East Coast.
When I was young it took little time to snag enough fresh Herring to spend the day/evening fishing for Rockfish. A buddy of mine and I had the Rockfish dialed in around Fletcher's Cove. Load up on snagged Herring, motor across to the Virginia side and wait for the tide to drop.........
My buddy was friends with the Fletcher Family so we did not have to bring the boat back at Dusk. Sometimes the Park Police fussed with us about being in the parking lot after hours though. We had a little 4Hp motor that made those wooden 16' Fletcher built skiffs move out. Used a coffee can filled with concrete for an anchor.
I used a pair of popping rods with ABU 6500's, most of the Rockfish were males in the 5-15 pound range.
Anyway it is a good thing to shut Omega down, been looking at their boats since the 1960's.
When I was a kid I read a book about East Coast Saltwater fishing that was written in the 1940's. I remember a photo showing a Menhaden purse seine and the caption described the Menhaden Fishery as an "Unlimited Resource".....
In the winter and spring shad and herring become crab bait down here since they run good at this time of year and menhadden are harder to find. The commercial guys go below the dams and catch there trip limits real quick with cast nets. They pop on the surface real good in the evenings and they have them timed right. They will shad fish and when the herring start going off they throw the nets. Our shad are believed to die after spawning at a high rate and I've seen stuff that says 95% do. It's about 100 miles to the dams from both the Santee and Cooper river inlets. I'm hyped to go shad fishing any day now because they show up between now and April pretty good. The herring are usually February and later.