Bay Bound
Winter 2013

Virginia Menhaden Legislation Moves Forward!

Large-scale menhaden fishing. Photo by CBF StaffCommercial fishing boats pull up a net chock-full of menhaden. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.

In a great victory for conservation interests and most importantly, the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, legislation that will bring Virginia into compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's revised Interstate Fishery Management Plan is swiftly moving through the state's General Assembly. 

Menhaden are a major food source for marine mammals, birds, and other fish, including striped bass and bluefish. With more than 85 percent of the total Atlantic coastwide catch being landed in Virginia, menhaden are also an important component to Virginia's commercial fishing industry. Such large landings make menhaden vital to Virginia's economy, providing the basis for a commercial "reduction" fishery in Reedville, Virginia, where the fish are processed into oil and meal, and supplying numerous bait fisheries throughout the state.

Unfortunately, stocks of menhaden along the Atlantic coast have plummeted to their lowest levels on record. Data from the Commission show that menhaden are experiencing overfishing and have been for at least 32 of the past 54 years and will likely be considered overfished due to the new population reference that the Commission has adopted to better manage the species. To counter the declining numbers, the revised management plan includes a reduction in the coast-wide menhaden catch by 20 percent as well as an equal reduction in the current Chesapeake Bay Harvest Cap on the reduction fishery. These actions represent a great start towards restoring a forage fish that is vital to the Bay's ecosystem and Virginia's economy.

Because Virginia's General Assembly manages the menhaden fishery (the only fishery the legislature oversees), it is imperative that legislation be passed by the legislature and signed by Governor McDonnell in order to adopt the Commission's new management plan. CBF worked closely with Delegates R. Lee Ware and Barry Knight to draft legislation necessary to bring Virginia into compliance with the Commission's revised management plan. Learn more about that effort in an update here from CBF's Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings.

On January 17, key legislative panels voted unanimously in support of both House and Senate menhaden management legislation. Subsequently, both bills have passed their respective chambers, and CBF anticipates that Governor McDonnell will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk. CBF and other stakeholders are thrilled that legislation bringing Virginia into compliance with the Commission's menhaden management plan is moving favorably through the General Assembly. This, along with ongoing Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint efforts to improve water quality, will help ensure the long-term success of both the fish and the fishery.

Learn more about this important fish and CBF's efforts to conserve it here.

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