Virginia menhaden industry officials last week signed a non-enforceable agreement with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). Under the memorandum of understanding, the menhaden fishery would limit fishing operations on summer weekends and holidays and within one mile of the shore in some of Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.
This follows VMRC’s failure to approve proposed regulations on Virginia’s menhaden purse seine fisheries last December, opting instead to propose the agreement that was signed last week.
Omega Protein is the primary harvester of menhaden in the region. Spills sometimes occur when purse seine nets snag, tear, or otherwise malfunction, sending dead fish into the water and sometimes onto nearby shorelines and beaches.
Last 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.
“Omega Protein has time and again fought against a commonsense approach to the management of this fishery. Omega Protein violated the Chesapeake Bay harvest cap in 2019, opposed legislation this past General Assembly Session that would have provided much-needed data on the menhaden population, and successfully lobbied against enforceable regulations last fall that would have reduced user conflicts and net spills.
“Omega Protein’s net spills of menhaden are an alarming waste of a precious food source for striped bass, dolphins, osprey, and other wildlife. Science on the menhaden population in the Bay is still lacking, and more data is needed to better manage Virginia’s menhaden fishery.
“We appreciate this step by the Youngkin Administration and VMRC towards addressing the threats caused by Omega Protein’s net spills. CBF will continue to advocate for protecting the enormous ecological value of Virginia's menhaden population.”