Fishery Limits Cause Disputes At Regional Commission Meeting

Nov 17, 2017

One of Omega Protein's two new ships out in the Chesapeake Bay.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

Meetings of fisheries managers are not exactly a big draw.

But this week, Atlantic state commissioners' changes in harvests of a menhaden, a baitfish used by crabbers and lobstermen, turned into a hand-wringing session for commercial fishermen, environmentalists, anglers and even the commissioners.

It was good news for commercial bait fishermen and Omega Protein Corp. when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission increased harvests by 8%. Environmentalists and anglers who say striped bass and osprey will be affected, are not happy. Then came another blow. Commissioners will wait two years for a scientific study before considering fishing impacts on those other species. 

But then, toward the end of the two-day meeting, Alison Colden, representing a Maryland commissioner, moved to lower the cap in the bay some 50%.

“The Chesapeake Bay is an extremely important nursery habitat and it remains the largest contributor of menhaden to the coast-wide stock and it's because of this contribution, this issue concerns not just the bay state but obviously every state that's sitting around this table.”

Virginia's commissioner Rob O'Reilly fought back.

“I think the main issue is that this is a coast-wide stock and there's no scientific basis to indicate that the Chesapeake Bay has suffered any localized depletion.”

Virginia and New Jersey were the only states to vote no on the cap. The changes, along with new state allocations will take effect next year as part of the Menhaden Interstate Fishery Management Plan.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.