Friday, April 19, 2024

Industrial Menhaden Operations Harm Virginia Ecosystems

The Chesapeake Legal Alliance sued in May to challenge the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s standards on menhaden harvesting. The proposed regulations would have pushed these operations away from the shores of Chesapeake Bay in the hopes of preventing net spills. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Virginia fishermen want action to be taken to keep industrial menhaden operations in the state in check.

Menhaden are a nutrient-rich fish and a key part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. However, their numbers are dwindling, due in large part to the rate they are being fished out of the Bay for consumption. Surveys show young menhaden populations are dwindling, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Chris Dollar, owner of Tackle Cover Sport Fishing, said there is no silver bullet to solving the problem, but state and federal regulations could prove helpful.

“They should operate in the ocean waters, out of the Chesapeake Bay where the waters are deeper,” Dollar suggested. “There’s far less risk of user conflict. Barring that, they should be at least a mile or perhaps a mile and a half from shore. That would put their ships in deeper water.”

Being in deeper water would prevent net spills from occurring. Dollar argued companies should be held accountable when net spills do occur.

This year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved a bill calling for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to develop plans for studying the ecology, fishery impacts and economic importance of menhaden populations in the state’s waters. A final report must be submitted by Sept. 1.

2022 study by William and Mary found the depletion of menhaden is impacting another Chesapeake Bay native: the osprey.

Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, described how the birds are affected by declining menhaden populations.

“Basically, the chicks, the newborn osprey, are heavily dependent on menhaden for food,” Atkinson explained. “If their parents have trouble finding menhaden, then the chicks basically starve.”

Several groups signed a letter of support to Youngkin, calling for menhaden operations to be moved out of Chesapeake Bay to protect the ecosystem and Virginia’s outdoor recreational economy.

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