, 2014

20% cut in menhaden harvest
rolling through the legislature

One vessel, 35-40 jobs may be lost
by Shannon Rice

RICHMOND—Bills addressing the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) recommendations for regulating the menhaden industry are moving through the General Assembly with no objections.

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As introduced by Del. Edward T. Scott of Culpeper, House Bill 2254 establishes total allowable landings of 144,272.84 metric tons per year for Atlantic menhaden landed in Virginia by the purse seine menhaden reduction fishery, the purse seine menhaden bait fishery, and other menhaden bait fisheries.

The annual harvest cap for the reduction fishery in Reedville will be 87,216 metric tons, subject to annual adjustments for under-harvests or over-harvests. The total allowable landings represents a 20% reduction from the average 2009, 2010 and 2011 landings, as mandated by the ASMFC.

Last Thursday, HB 2254 was recommended by the Chesapeake subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources by a 5-0 vote.

A similar bill introduced by Sen. Richard H. Stuart of Montross, SB 1291, was reported last Thursday from the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources by a 15-0 vote. During the Senate constitutional reading on Monday, it received a vote of confidence, 39-0.

Stuart’s bill also establishes an annual total allowable catch for menhaden landed in Virginia at 144,272.84 metric tons with 80% to come from the reduction fishery. It also contains a sunset date of January 1, 2015, and notes an emergency exists so the new regulations would be effective beginning with passage of the bill.

However, instead of basing the total allowable landings on the average catch of 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Senate amended the bill to use an average of the 2002 to 2011 catches.

The bills follow a decision by the ASMFC calling for the 20% reduction. If the Commonwealth doesn’t comply, the federal Secretary of Commerce could shut down the commercial fishery.

Omega responds

Reedville and surrounding communities will be hardest hit by the new caps. Reedville is home to Omega Protein Inc.’s menhaden fleet and the only menhaden reduction plant in Virginia.

Omega Protein general manager Monty Deihl said he is disappointed in the amount of reduction being recommended.

“We do not feel cuts to this level were justified, particularly based on the lack of scientific data and the fact that the ASMFC decided to use an ‘ad-hoc’ method to make the cut. Essentially they decided just to pick something with no correlation to data,” said Deihl, noting that he would have supported a 10% reduction.

Deihl said Omega’s three-year average catch was 550 million fish. Thus a 20% reduction would limit them to 440 million fish to process in 2013 and 2014 until the next assessment is completed and perhaps a new quota is determined.

“While this may, or may not, have positive impacts on the menhaden biomass, it definitely has economic negative impacts on the Northern Neck, especially Lancaster and Northumberland counties,” said Deihl.

He said Omega fished with eight vessels in 2012 and employed about 250 people. He said the company is still assessing the impacts on its operation and what changes it might need to make in shaping its operation to meet the new harvest quota.

Omega spokesman Ben Landry said the company will have to reduce its workforce by 35 to 40 employees and one vessel to ensure compliance with federal legislation if the bills are passed.

“Although Omega is unhappy with the way things have been handed down, we are a resilient company that has been around for 100 years. We’ve faced a number of challenges and hurdles before. We’ll be back,” said Landry.

CBF responds

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation commends the advancement of critical legislation needed to bring Virginia into compliance with menhaden conservation measures adopted by the ASFMC,” said Virginia executive director Ann Jennings.

“We appreciate that legislators recognize the importance of taking immediate action to protect menhaden and the Virginia fisheries dependent upon them,” continued Jennings. “We particularly note the leadership of Delegates Lee Ware, Barry Knight and Edward Scott, Senator Richard Stuart, and the McDonnell Administration in initiating and shepherding the legislation thus far through the legislative process. We are hopeful the legislation will gain final approval by the full House and Senate.”

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