Omega Protein, the commercial menhaden company in Reedville, has been in a face-off with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission since 2017. Last week, the commission blinked.
In 2017, the ASMFC put a cap on the amount of menhaden that Omega can take from the Chesapeake Bay. It amounted to an eight percent reduction in Omega’s quota. Omega insisted the cap was not warranted by science. The ASMFC warned Omega that if Virginia’s legislature, which directly regulates the menhaden industry in Virginia, didn’t enact the cap, Omega would be in danger of being found “out of compliance” with the commission’s rule and run the risk of being shut down. Omega was willing to run that risk and the General Assembly, with Omega’s support, declined to impose the commission’s quota on the company. A motion was made at the commission to have Virginia found out of compliance. The motion was carried over but came up again at the ASMFC’s February 7 meeting. At that meeting, the ASMFC voted 17-1 to table the motion instead of voting on it.
With motion to find Virginia out of compliance tabled until new stock assessments are completed, Omega is not bound by the 2017 Bay quota.
One reason the ASMFC did not push harder to have Virginia found out of compliance was that for several years Omega has not surpassed the number of menhaden in the Bay that the quota would allow. A more telling reason was that one of the agencies that would review a commission request for an out of compliance ruling from the Secretary of Commerce, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration told the commission last summer that it would not support an “out of compliance” decision.
At the commission’s August 2018 meeting on menhaden, NOAA attorney Chip Lynch said a non-compliance recommendation would be “the first time ever…that the federal government would receive a non-compliance referral for a fishery that is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. And there is record evidence from the leadership of the Commission that the measure is not related to conservation.”
For the full article, pick up the latest Northumberland Echo 2/12/19