Virginia state House Bill 1383, recently introduced by Delegate Tim Anderson of Virginia Beach to shut down Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery in all of the state’s territorial ocean waters and inland Bay waters for two years, was unanimously tabled Jan. 18 by the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

The vote was 22-0 to table and “pass by indefinitely.”  The bill has a delayed effective date of Nov. 18, 2023 and a sunset date of Nov. 22, 2025. 

“Normally when they vote PBI it means the bill dies forever unless someone brings it back next year,” said Montgomery Deihl, vice president of operations for Omega Protein in Reedville, Va.  “But the fact that it was a unanimous vote sends a strong signal that there's no support for it.”

The menhaden fishery ran into issues this summer with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office when there was an Omega Protein purse net tear resulting in thousands of dead, rotting fish washing up on the Bay shoreline. Virginia’s Kiptopeke State Park closed for recreational use during part of July, a peak month for beach tourism.

In response 11,000 sports fishermen, waterfront landowners and representatives of the state’s tourism economy signed a petition to the governor’s and Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to halt menhaden fishing.   

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) in response voted 5-4 in December 2022 to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Omega Protein and the bay’s menhaden bait fishery to ban fishing from around Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day and within a half-mile off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

The MOU calls for the fishery to collaborate with the governor’s office and General Assembly to maintain a buffer along the densely populated areas of the Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay and Virginia Beach region.

Virginia’s menhaden fishery is 148 years old and proponents for the fishery argue that the real issue is “user conflicts” claimed by recreational fishing groups, when actually there has been very little conflict, they say.

Recreational fishermen and environmental opponents argue that there is an enormous ecological value in menhaden that is being compromised by the menhaden reduction fishery.

Virginia’s Omega Protein, owned by Cooke Inc. of Saint John, New Brunswick Canada, is the last reduction menhaden fish company operating on the East Coast. Omega is one of the largest employers on Virginia’s Northern Neck and its corporate office is located in Reedville.

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Larry Chowning is a writer for the Southside Sentinel in Urbanna, Va., a regular contributor to National Fisherman, and the author of numerous books.

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