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July 01, 2006

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Industry wins, stripers lose in Virginia: Governor won’t cap Chesapeake menhaden harvests before July 1 deadline

By Brian Janosch

Patience is a virtue when it comes to fishing, and it’s a good thing for anglers of Chesapeake Bay because they’re going to need plenty more of it. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has waited nearly a year for Virginia’s Gov. Tim Kaine and the legislature to implement a cap on the industrial capture of menhaden, but Field & Stream learned on Thursday that they’re going to have to wait a little longer.

Kaine’s press secretary Kevin Hall said that the governor would not take executive action before the July 1 deadline implemented by the ASMFC due to a state law that prohibits him from acting while the General Assembly is in session. Conservationists will now wait until August when the ASMFC will vote on whether to seek assistance from the federal government.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC). “This would be a total loss for all of us, the environment, fishermen, and everybody else, if this were to fail to be implemented simply because of the process.”

That process began last August when the ASMFC proposed a five-year cap on the industrial harvest of menhaden, the primary forage fish for millions of bluefish and striped bass. Every member of the 15-state commission adopted the cap except Virginia – a state with a booming bunker business. Industries pulled more than 180,000 metric tons of menhaden out of the Atlantic in 2004, with 58 percent of them coming from Chesapeake Bay.

The bunker boss in the Atlantic is Omega Protein, a corporation that is responsible for 90 percent of the industrial catch on the east coast, according to the ASMFC. Omega produces widely popular fish oil supplements that are supposed to lower cholesterol and help the immune system. Malcolm Glazer owns the corporation as well as the Manchester United soccer team in England, and former President George H.W. Bush is among the Houston-based company’s original founders.

As far as sportsmen are concerned, three of the five most-targeted sportfish in Virginia are directly dependent on menhaden as a food source. The NCMC website says that 90 percent of east coast stripers spawn in the Chesapeake; while there, 70 to 80 percent of their diet comes from bunker. With their primary food source dissipated, the predator fish have become malnourished, resulting in the spread of disease. Hinman says that more than half of Virginia’s stripers are infected with microbacteriosis that causes vital organ damage and unsightly lesions.

According to Todd Keller, campaign director for Menhaden Matter, an alliance of recreational anglers and conservation organizations, there are two major components working against the proposed cap. One is that bunker population numbers are based on a coastwide count, so there is no specific data on any given ecosystem – like the Chesapeake. The other snag is that menhaden are the only marine resource managed by the Virginia General Assembly as opposed to the state’s Marine Resources Commission. Keller says it’s been that way for as long as he can remember, thanks to “a sweetheart deal that the industry got years ago.”


John Manzer

At the top of my response I must say for the record, as an hunting & fishing sportsman, I support the cap and the aspect of Chesapeake Bay restoration and vitality.

I'm also sensitive too, but not aware Omega Protein compeditive position in the market place. So my businessman's initial reaction is, the price of their product might go up, so the cap is passed on to consumers. If this, and only this, company's price stands to go up in a global economy they thay may suffer financally. If there are caps worldwide then its even.

My profession is in the information technology sector and very much want the natual resources of this nation stable nourished, healthy, and without infection from microbacteriosis so that we sportsman can enjoy them and pass the appreciation of these natual resources to our children and grandchildren.

My son caught a bass in a Virgina river this weekend. We spent several hours until he landed one on the last cast. I would of wanted him to have caught is "cap" too.

John Manzer
Ashburn, Virginia

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