By: Timothy B. Wheeler,

Virginia’s menhaden fishery is no longer under threat of a federal moratorium.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross notified the state Wednesday that because it had come into compliance with an interstate management plan for the forage fish, he was lifting his catch shutdown order scheduled to take effect June 17.

Ross had found Virginia out of compliance in December 2019 after a fishing fleet based in the state landed 30% more menhaden from the Chesapeake Bay than allowed under a management plan adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The Commerce secretary gave Virginia six months to remedy the situation by adopting the Bay harvest limit set by the Atlantic states commission, which regulates near-shore recreational and commercial catches of migratory fish.

Although scientists have not found the coastwide menhaden stock overfished, the Atlantic States commission has capped the Bay catch at 51,000 metric tons per year for the benefit of other species that feed on the small, oily fish.

But a fleet working for Omega Protein Corp. netted 67,000 metric tons from the Bay last year. Omega, a division of a Canadian fishing company, has a processing plant in Reedville, VA, that “reduces” menhaden into animal feed and nutritional supplements. Some menhaden also are harvested from the Bay by others for use as bait in catching other fish.

Menhaden are an important food for many fish, birds and marine mammals. Dave Harp

Omega, which employs about 260 people at its Reedville plant, has long challenged the Bay harvest cap set by the commission. Virginia lawmakers, who until recently maintained control of the state’s menhaden fishery, repeatedly refused to pass legislation imposing the limit.

But when faced with the moratorium threat, the General Assembly earlier this year transferred regulatory authority over menhaden to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which manages all other fisheries in the state. The commission then adopted the menhaden Bay catch cap in April, and the Atlantic States commission notified the Commerce secretary the state had come into compliance.

Steven G. Bowman, head of the state marine resources commission, issued a statement saying he was “glad that this matter is finally resolved.”

“We will continue to ensure Virginia remains in compliance with all fisheries regulations,” he added, “for healthy stocks and a sustainable future for the Chesapeake Bay.”

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...