Menhaden makes legislative leap

The perennial battle over a small, oily baitfish appears poised, finally, for resolution in the General Assembly, with matching bills to develop a menhaden management plan making their way through the legislature.
The Senate passed its bill Wednesday; the House looks poised to follow suit. That represents a tidal shift in the annual back-and-forth between factions fighting over control of the menhaden population, which plays a critical role in the marine ecology and the economy of communities along the Chesapeake Bay.

Of course, it didn’t come without prodding.

Virginia is the only state on the Atlantic coast where lawmakers, rather than scientists, manage the menhaden fishery. Omega Protein, the Texas-based company that runs a commercial menhaden fishing operation in Reedville, has sought to keep it that way. The company, which grinds the fish into dietary supplements, fertilizer and food for livestock and pets, has proven a generous contributor to lawmakers’ political campaigns, distributing $124,250 over the past three years.

But a recent decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to require Virginia to reduce the annual catch – or face federal sanctions – has had the remarkable effect of enlightening lawmakers to the folly of opposing the use of science to inform management of the fishery.

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