By Kathy Adams
© February 8, 2013
Bills to reduce the number of menhaden that may be caught each year are progressing in the House of Delegates.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on Thursday unanimously approved HB2254, which would reduce the annual menhaden catch by 20 percent and would give the Virginia Marine Resources Commission some authority to manage the oily bait fish.
The same committee previously approved an identical version of the bill, which passed the Senate last month and is now awaiting approval in the House. That means the measure is likely to pass but will still require approval from Gov. Bob McDonnell. The governor has opposed the legislation but will likely give the final OK, his office said.
The bills would allow fishermen to catch up to 144,273 metric tons of Atlantic menhaden [in Virginia waters] each year. Control of the fish’s population has been an annual battle pitting commercial fishermen against environmentalists, who say menhaden are being overfished, hurting other species and the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
Menhaden are valued for their use in health supplements, fertilizer and pet food.
Action comes this year shortly after federal authorities threatened sanctions against the state if it didn’t reduce its annual catch. Several other bills seeking to further limit menhaden harvests or make other changes to the fishery’s management have failed.