Commerce Secretary Upholds Chesapeake Bay Menhaden Cap

by Pam Lyons Gromen, Wild Oceans Executive Director

Virginia’s Menhaden Fishery to Shut Down in June 2020 if it Doesn’t Take Action to Comply with the Bay Cap

December 20, 2019

The U.S. Department of Commerce is standing by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) decision to find the Commonwealth of Virginia out of compliance with a critical measure in the Atlantic Menhaden Interstate Fishery Management Plan – a cap on the amount of menhaden that can be removed from Chesapeake Bay waters by the reduction fishery.   Omega Protein, a Reedville, Virginia reduction factory owned by Canada-based Cooke Seafood, Inc., brazenly exceeded the 2019 bay cap by more than 30%, refusing to adhere to the management plan.  In accordance with the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, when a state is found out of compliance with an interstate fishery management plan, the Secretary of Commerce must declare a moratorium on fishing in state waters until the fishery comes into compliance.

Reduction fishing “reduces” fish into fish meal and fish oil and deploys industrial fishing methods in order to capture the large quantities of fish needed for its products.  Virginia is the only state on the east coast that still permits reduction fishing.  All other Atlantic states have banned reduction fishing because of concerns about impacts to the environment and other fisheries.

Menhaden, arguably the most important forage fish along the Atlantic coast, is a major food source for a diverse array of marine life, from humpback whales to ospreys to iconic gamefish like striped bass and bluefish.  The Chesapeake Bay functions as the primary nursery for Atlantic menhaden and a number of its predators, and the catch cap was put in place to prevent depleting bay waters of this important prey fish.

The Commerce Department’s decision, released yesterday, concurs that the bay cap is necessary to maintain menhaden’s role in the ecosystem:  “The Secretary sees the measures Virginia has failed to implement as necessary for the conservation of the menhaden resource. The best available information shows that menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay are an important component of the overall health of the stock, and further that their role as forage for predator species in the Chesapeake Bay is critical to the marine environment.”

To avoid a fishery shutdown, Virginia must implement regulations to bring Omega Protein into compliance with the Chesapeake Bay cap by June 17, 2020.

Wild Oceans along with an impressive diversity of stakeholders, including recreational fishing groups, non-governmental organizations, federal fishery management councils, and Atlantic state governors, submitted comments to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to support the ASMFC’s out-of-compliance finding, which was filed on November 15.  Public support was resounding; over 12,000 citizens signed petitions demanding action to conserve menhaden.

Thank you to all of our supporters who signed our petition to Secretary Ross.  With your help we are making a difference to secure the future of fishing.

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