More great exposure for menhaden mis-management in Virginia from prolific and highly regarded RTD outdoor writer Andy Thompson.
Andy socks it to the Virginia General Assembly, and gets all the facts right. Read the whole article here
Menhaden management still missing
By ANDY THOMPSON
What does the General Assembly know about fisheries management?
Seems like a silly question, of course. The answer is nothing. These are politicians, not scientists. So they rightfully leave management of all freshwater fish in Virginia to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
For saltwater fish, however, the GA isn’t quite as consistent. It allows all but one species to be managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The body essentially says, “You’re the experts on rockfish and bluefish and speckled trout and dozens of other fish species, but we know better on one.”
That one species? Menhaden. But the GA actually takes a rather hands-off approach to this most important of forage fish.
“They really don’t manage menhaden. They don’t do anything,” said Jerry Benson, the Vice President of the Virginia Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association. “There’s no expertise. There’s no meetings. There’s no fisheries committee. They basically hold the menhaden a political captive.”
Menhaden are an oily prey species that filters seawater as they feed and forms a crucial link in the coastal marine food chain. Striped bass, bluefish, sea birds and mammals gorge on menhaden as they migrate from New England to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets fish management policy for the East Coast, has said menhaden stocks are down 88 percent the past 25 years — a historic low.
Humans don’t eat menhaden, except as fish oil supplements. Ground up and processed, they’re full of omega-3 fatty acids. So their commercial harvest is big business for a company called Omega Protein, an outfit based in Houston but with a plant and ships on the Northern Neck in Reedville. Theirs is the only menhaden harvesting operation in the bay, and Virginia is one of only two East Coast states that allows menhaden to be taken in state waters.
Smell anything yet? That’s not fish oil.
A company that employs a significant number of Virginians relies on just one resource (a public resource, mind you) — a single fish species — to survive. It just so happens that politicians, many of whom accept campaign contributions from Omega according to VPAP.org, decide that scientists should set management parameters for all species of saltwater fish in state waters except the one vital to keeping Omega in business.
So, it won’t come as a shock to hear that in the past couple of weeks, six bills relating to menhaden management were left to rot in committee or were pulled by their sponsors. A bill that would have provided VMRC with the authority to implement ASMFC directives died Monday.
In addition to Benson and CCA President David Nobles, representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters argued in favor of the bill. It didn’t matter. Omega spoke and politicians listened. That includes Gov. Bob McDonnell, who signaled he would block the bills if they made it through the legislature.
Menhaden are a public resource. They swim in our waters. They feed fish we fish for and many others. Their filter feeding mechanism helps clean the Bay. To separate one species for special “management” by a legislative body is to woefully misunderstand the interconnectedness of species and ecosystems. But this is no misunderstanding. This is politics.
Now, however, the scene shifts to the next ASMFC meeting in Alexandria in March. There, if you believe the inside word from people such as Benson, scientists will report that menhaden are being overfished. The ASMFC will then have to decide whether to increase the protected menhaden spawning stock and, if so, by how much.
Think Omega will do everything it can to influence that decision?