These Fish Need a Better Lobby
By Candus Thomson
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It only took a day for pro-Omega Protein forces in Virginia’s state capital to stomp on the air hose of the first of five bills that would provide protection for menhaden, the fish that filters Chesapeake Bay water and is a key food for striped bass.
Virginia is the only East Coast state that allows mehanden to be scooped up and turned into pet food and heart-healthy supplements. Menhaden are the only fish managed by the Virginia General Assembly. And Omega Protein, with a processing plant on Virginia’s Northern Neck, has the only fleet in the bay.
A hearing Thursday on House Bill 2280 to take menhaden management out of the hands of state lawmakers–who created the problem in the first place–and give it to the professionals at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission ended with the bill as dead as Julius Caesar.
Despite testimony on its behalf from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Coastal Conservation Association Virginia, Del. John Cosgrove’s measure drew fire from lawmakers, many of whom have accepted campaign contributions from, I know this will shock you, OMEGA PROTEIN.
And Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has accepted $55,745 from OP, has signaled that he would veto any menhaden bill that reached his desk. Glad we’re open-minded about that, dude.
Just so we all understand how this is going to play out, here, according to the Virginia Public Access Project is what each member of the Chesapeake Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture received since 2009 from Omega Protein:
Beverly Sherwood, $1,000; R. Lee Ware, $3,500; Edward Scott, $2,500; Brenda Pogge, $1,500; Lynnwood Lewis, $3,000; David Bulova, $1,000; Luke Porian, $250.
On Monday morning, companion bill SB765 will be heard by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
Since 2008, chairwoman Patricia Ticer has accepted $3,000 from Omega. All but two of her committee colleagues have pocketed contributions totalling $6,500 over the last two years. One of those is the sponsor of SB765, Ralph Northam. The other guy must have been asleep when the checks came around.
I’m not a betting woman, but I’d say the deck is stacked.