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Hide what you're doing from tourists? Nope, can't even agree to that.

Menhaden and adult Redfish washed ashore this past July after a spill that killed more than 250 bull drum. Photo copyright of FishTalkMag

On December 6, 2022 the Virginia Marine Resource Council held a standing-room-only meeting with those who had an interest in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Menhaden reduction fishing. Few fishery issues have been discussed as openly and fervently as this one, and protecting “the most important fish in the sea” has started to gain traction with the public. Tim Anderson (R – Virginia Beach) recently introduced a bill to implement a two-year moratorium on Atlantic Menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, while the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association sent an open letter to the VMRC asking for a full closure of the fishery until the science shows that current practices are sustainable on a local level.

The meeting held Tuesday was to consider the proposal by VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), introduced by Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Travis Voyles, and supported by Governor Youngkin, to make it less likely to see the fish spills caused by reduction fishing currently permitted in the Commonwealth. As VIMS pointed out, just the known and validated spills in the last 6 years have represented more than 1.3 million fish by Omega Protein and their fishing partner Ocean Harvesters. Beyond that, a recent study of spilled bycatch showed (with rumors that some fish had been removed in advance of reporting), a school of 264 bull red drum had been killed with fish up to 49 years old in the sample. The slide presented at the meeting claimed 13 of these were citation-sized, but the number provided as the average length would suggest far more were award fish.

Details regarding the challenges with fish spills and cleanup were presented, but the solutions offered only reduce the likelihood of these during the 4th of July holiday. The proposed change was for no harvest of menhaden via purse-seining as follows:

· In any waters of the Commonwealth’s Chesapeake Bay and the City of Virginia Beach within one nautical mile from the mean low water line.

· One-half nautical mile on either side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

· In the Commonwealth’s waters of the Chesapeake Bay the Thursday prior to, and through Memorial Day; July 1 through July 7; and the Thursday prior to, and through Labor Day

The initial Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday reprieve had been removed prior to the presentation of the proposal at the VMRC on December 6.

That simple adjustment would impact less than 1 in 30 of their current fleet efforts with no buffer zone. While the Governor's proposal could protect the beaches and regional tourism by distancing Omega from the shoreline, it does nothing regarding the nearly 335 million pounds of menhaden that the VMRC currently allows to be removed from Virginia waters, including the 112 million pounds allowed inside the Chesapeake Bay.

Dissapointingly to most, but no longer surprisingly, the VMRC decided to move away from the Governor’s proposal and approve, without public discussion, a proposal crafted by Omega Protein that has no legal limits or repercussions but agrees to discuss a buffer zone further.

Once again it appears that Virginia residents, our tourists, our natural resources, and the health of the Chesapeake Bay will take a back seat to this Canadian-owned corporation.

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