Virginia's Fast-Paced Session
January marked the start of the busiest Virginia General Assembly session in recent memory. CBF met with legislators to discuss bills, worked with a broad array of partners, spoke to legislative committees, organized members, and held a Bay-themed reception for legislators and their staff. We stayed engaged on dozens of pieces of legislation, supporting bills that would lead to cleaner water and opposing harmful legislation.
CBF members made a real difference, writing and calling legislators and traveling to Richmond on several lobby days to meet with representatives in person. Major victories include new legislation that will increase trees in our communities, the defeat of antiregulatory bills, and continued work to ensure good stormwater policies.
Legislators are now making final budget decisions in a special session that began April 11. CBF is advocating for strong state investment in farm conservation practices, pollution reduction from urban and suburban runoff, and oyster replenishment and restoration.
Small Fish Sparks Big Battle
CBF fought its biggest battle of the session over a small fish. While menhaden play a key role in the Bay's food chain, they are also the target of the largest commercial fishery on the Atlantic Coast—the only fishery in Virginia managed by the General Assembly.
For Virginia to remain in compliance with the coastwide fishery management plan, legislators needed to implement recent changes adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Otherwise Virginia would walk away from cooperative coastwide fisheries management, setting a dangerous precedent.
But industry lobbyists fiercely opposed these updates. They argued that Omega Protein, which harvests more than 70 percent of the coast's menhaden, should be allowed to catch even more fish in Virginia.
Governor Ralph Northam requested that a bill supporting the ASMFC updates be introduced by Delegate Barry Knight (Virginia Beach). Although CBF helped ensure that this bill passed out of a key House committee, it ultimately did not advance.
This was a big disappointment. CBF worked closely on the menhaden issue with Delegate Knight, the Northam Administration, conservation groups, anglers, and small businesses. More than 1,400 CBF members urged legislators to support wise management of the menhaden fishery. CBF and our partners continue to develop a strategy moving forward to protect menhaden.
Key Clean-Water Investments
During the special session, Virginia legislators are reconciling House and Senate budget proposals to determine how much the state will invest in clean water programs.
Fortunately, both the House and Senate proposals support increased funding for agricultural cost-share programs, which help farmers install clean-water practices such as fencing cattle out of streams and planting cover crops.
CBF is also urging investment in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which provides matching grants for projects that treat polluted runoff from roofs, sidewalks, and roadways. The last time the General Assembly added new money to this program was in 2016.
There is very promising news when it comes to oysters in Virginia. Oyster restoration, focused on building sanctuary reefs, could for the first time receive state investment. It's currently supported in both House and Senate proposals. Oyster replenishment to assist commercial watermen is also supported in both the House and Senate proposals. While final budget decisions have not yet been made, we will continue to keep all members updated on important developments.
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation