The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) today failed to approve proposed regulations on Virginia’s menhaden purse seine fisheries, opting instead to propose a memorandum of understanding between the menhaden harvesting industry and Commission.
The VMRC’s original staff proposal would have prohibited harvesting menhaden by purse seines within one mile of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Virginia Beach and one-half mile of either side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The proposal also would have prohibited purse seine fishing for menhaden on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, as well as July 1 through July 7.
Omega Protein is the primary harvester of menhaden in the region using purse seines. Spills sometimes occur when these nets snag, tear, or otherwise malfunction, sending dead fish (primarily menhaden) into the water and sometimes onto nearby shorelines and beaches.
Earlier this year several net spills by Omega Protein resulted in thousands of dead menhaden and about 12,000 pounds of red drum fouling beaches on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Net spills before busy holiday weekends have hurt the tourism economy in Coastal Virginia communities.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore issued the following statement:
“This was a missed opportunity to better manage Virginia’s menhaden purse seine fisheries while working to reduce the damage caused by menhaden net spills. The proposals developed by VMRC staff were an appropriate step in addressing the numerous concerns citizens from throughout the Commonwealth have about Virginia’s menhaden fishery.
“Moving fishing into deeper water where nets are less likely to snag could reduce the frequency of Omega Protein’s net spills, which are an alarming waste of a precious food source for striped bass, dolphins, osprey, and other wildlife.
“We’ll continue to advocate for protecting the enormous ecological value of Virginia's menhaden population and commonsense solutions that reduce conflicts between Omega Protein’s fishing fleet and anglers, boaters, beachgoers, and Virginia’s tourism economy.”