The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) manages Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) along with numerous other coastal migratory species through an Interstate Fisheries Management Program. In November 2017, ASMFC adopted Amendment 3 to the Fishery Management Plan, which resulted in modest changes for the management of this species in Virginia. During the 2018 General Assembly session, legislation necessary to bring Virginia into compliance with these changes was unsuccessful. Due to this lack of compliance, ASMFC initiated a noncompliance finding during its May meeting, because the Commonwealth failed to fully implement all provisions of Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan.
Since colonial times, Atlantic menhaden (menhaden) have supported one of the largest commercial fisheries on the Atlantic coast. Omega Protein — whose Virginia operations are based in Reedville, Virginia — operates an industrial-scale fishery that catches menhaden and eventually “reduces” them to fish meal and oil. The Chesapeake Bay is also home to a large component of the menhaden bait fishery, which has become increasingly important from North Carolina to New England. The bait fishery supplies commercial fishermen with menhaden to catch species — such as blue crab and American lobster — while also supplying recreational fisheries with bait for a variety of sport fish. In 2015, the bait harvest accounted for 22% of the total menhaden harvest. Most importantly, the species serves as a forage fish to larger fish, marine mammals, and predatory birds in the marine and estuarine ecosystems.
“SINCE COLONIAL TIMES, ATLANTIC MENHADEN HAVE SUPPORTED ONE OF THE LARGEST COMMERCIAL FISHERIES ON THE ATLANTIC COAST”
Menhaden are managed through a partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and ASMFC. ASMFC is composed of 15 Atlantic Coast states and partnering federal agencies that provide technical support and set the coast-wide framework for managing species that migrate along the near-shore waters of the Atlantic Coast. ASMFC seeks to promote responsible stewardship of marine fisheries resources and also “…serves as a forum for the states to collectively address fisheries issues under the premise that as a group, using a cooperative approach, they can achieve more than they could as individuals. The Commission does not promote a particular state or a particular stakeholder sector.”
On November 17, 2017 — after much consideration and tremendous public comment supporting more conservation-minded menhaden management — ASMFC adopted Amendment 3, which included modest revisions to the Fishery Management Plan for menhaden. These changes were adopted primarily to slightly increase harvest along the Atlantic Coast and update changes to the fishing rate for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay based on the most recent five years of reported harvest.
During the 2018 legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly failed to adopt necessary legislation, to bring Virginia into compliance with the coast-wide management plan. The main objective of this legislation was to implement a new quotas menhaden fishing industry beginning with the 2018 fishing season.
In the 2019 legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly should pass legislation necessary to comply with the provisions of the coast-wide management plan included in Amendment 3 and any new management changes adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Fishery Management Plan for menhaden. Virginia’s coastal fisheries are dependent upon a healthy menhaden population to ensure the long-term viability of the fishery and the local and regional economies that are dependent upon them.
Chris Moore // Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Zachary Sheldon // The Nature Conservancy in Virginia