The Virginia State Legislature is considering a three-year study of the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of the Atlantic menhaden population in the waters of the Commonwealth.

House Bill 19 was introduced in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 10  by Delegate R. Lee Ware of Powhatan County. The bill directs the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in collaboration with Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and with the cooperation of relevant stakeholders, including recreational anglers, Omega Protein – the lone company in the state’s reduction fishery – bait fishery sectors, and nongovernmental organizations, all to participate in the three-year study.

The bill states that the study must address nine concerns, which will include the seasonal abundance of Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay; the movement rates of Atlantic menhaden between the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay; and the impacts of predator demand and consumption of Atlantic menhaden on the menhaden population.

Other aspects of the study are to address the spatial and temporal patterns of the Atlantic menhaden commercial fishing efforts in the Bay; the possibility of localized depletion of Atlantic menhaden; changes in recreational fisheries; and the economic impact of management decisions on the Atlantic menhaden fisheries and related industries.

Finally the vast social and economic importance of Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay region will be part of the study, along with the bioeconomic impact of commercial and recreational fisheries that are removing Atlantic menhaden from the waters of the Commonwealth.  

The bill further states that VIMS shall report its findings and any recommendations to the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, and the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources by Oct. 1, 2027.

The bill was prefilled Dec. 12 and offered in the House on Jan. 10.

Last year menhaden were on the House agenda too, as Delegate Tim Anderson of Virginia Beach proposed Bill 1383 to shut down Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery in all of the state’s territorial ocean and bay waters.  But the Agriculture, Chesapeake and National Resources Committee voted 22-0 to table that proposal and “pass by indefinitely.”     

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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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