At the end of last week, Virginia’s menhaden industry was drawing closer to being managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission rather than the General Assembly. Two bills, SB 791, “Menhaden; management of the fishery” introduced by Sen. Lynwood W. Lewis, Jr., passed by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and HB 1448, a bill by the same name, introduced by Delegates Nancy Guy and Kenneth Plum, passed by the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.
The Bills would change management of the menhaden industry, the largest component of which is Omega Protein in Reedville, from the General Assembly to the VMRC, a commission made up of political appointees. Omega has resisted the change for years. As Monty Diehl, who is in charge of the Reedville operation, recently noted, the move to the VMRC would leave Omega vulnerable to being shut down on the whim of five commission members.
The VMRC would likely reduce the current Virginia Chesapeake Bay catch limit to the limit imposed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission which is 41 percent lower. The reduction would probably head off a closure of Omega’s Bay operations which has been ordered for June because Omega exceeded the ASMFC’s Bay limit, but not Virginia’s in 2019.
Secretary of Commerce Luther Ross, being urged on by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, declared Omega “out of compliance” as a result of its Bay catch in 2019.
Omega does not target juvenile menhaden which are forage for striped bass and other predators, the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Alliance and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have maintained its operations in the Bay have reduced forage for the sports fish.