Virginia Governor Asks For a Menhaden Moratorium

Editors note: This article has been updated to include additional links to use to take action. You will find the links at the end of the article.

As we wrote in Stripers, Menhaden And More… the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found the Commonwealth of Virginia out of compliance with the fisheries management plan for menhaden.

On Nov. 15, ASMFC took the next step and sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Willbur Ross. The letter informs the Ross that Virginia is out of compliance and explains that the “Commonwealth of Virginia must implement an annual total allowable harvest from the Chesapeake Bay by the reduction fishery of no more than 51,000 metric tons.” The letter provides the history of the Chesapeake Bay Cap and compelling reasons for the Commission’s action. You can read the letter to Ross here.

It is worth noting that the non-compliance finding was approved without a dissenting vote. Even the members of the commission from Virginia voted in favor of the motion deeming the Commonwealth out of compliance. As the chairman of Virginia’s Marine Resources Commission, Steve Bowman said, “There is no other option.”

On Nov. 20, Governor Ralph S. Northam of Virginia sent a letter to Ross noting that the Commonwealth had voted in support of the non-compliance finding. Northam went on to say that because of the actions of Omega Protein (a subsidiary of Canadian owned Cooke Inc.) he asked that a moratorium on the menhaden harvest be imposed.

Omega’s intransigence has gotten them into this mess and as Northam points out in his letter, despite repeated attempts to get them to stay within the quota, they have failed to do so. Omega exceeded the harvest cap of 51,000 metric tons and continued to over-harvest. Northam writes, “Imposing a moratorium immediately will prevent Omega and Cooke from pushing farther past the quota for 2019.“

Northam notes that a moratorium should spur the Virginia General Assembly, which has heretofore failed to implement the regional management plan, to take action. This may seem odd unless you know that Virginia’s General Assembly, manages menhaden, all other marine species are managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

As the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Chris Moore points out, “Omega Protein took a risky gamble on the future of its workers when the company chose to break harvest limits in the Chesapeake Bay. The Commerce Department must back the ASMFC, as it has in nearly every case in the Commission’s 78-year history.

“Fortunately, Virginia can resolve this before the 2020 menhaden season starts in the spring. In the upcoming General Assembly session legislators should transfer the management of the menhaden fishery to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission like every other saltwater fishery in Virginia. VMRC’s responsibility to ensure sound, science-based management will bring Virginia back into compliance so that fishing can resume as scheduled in the spring.”

We are waiting to see what Ross does now. He can either overrule the commission as he did with summer flounder in New Jersey or he can agree with the commission.

Given the outrage expressed when Ross overruled the Commission on summer flounder in 2017 there may be some trepidation about overruling the commission again. If Ross supports ASMFC, then Virginia’s General Assembly who, oddly enough, manages menhaden, needs to vote to come into compliance. With any luck they will also vote to hand management of menhaden over to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission where it belongs.

Readers who would like to weigh in on the non-compliance determination by Secretary Ross have a number of options:

Sign the Coastal Conservation Association’s petition here,

Use the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s action alert here,

Use Pew’s action alert here

Sign the Menhaden Defenders’ letter here

Sign the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s petition here.