Sunday, April 14, 2024

Recreational Fishing Groups Endorse Petition to Restrict Depth of Menhaden Fishing Nets

(Adobe Stock)

WASHINGTON — A coalition of recreational fishing and boating groups is endorsing a petition that calls on the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to improve regulation of the industrial nets that harvest menhaden from the shallow waters in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay. 

Menhaden are small fish that provide an essential food source for many larger fish species, as well as marine mammals and birds.

“We need to protect Virginia shorelines, and the striped bass and other species that depend on these fragile seagrass habitats, from what is a damaging method of harvest,” said Jaclyn Higgins, Forage Fish Program Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, one of the members of the coalition endorsing the petition. “Many sportfish rely on these shallow nearshore areas to spawn and take shelter. With so many iconic bay species in peril, every action taken to protect them is a great step forward for bay stewardship.”

The group is urging the state’s fishery regulators to limit the allowable fishing zones based on the depth of the large “purse seine” nets that currently extend as much as 60 feet down. According to the petition, these nets cause fish spills, the unintended netting of game fish, and damage to the seabed.

According to the petition, Ocean Harvesters, a subsidiary of Omega Protein and two other companies, is employing the nets in crucial bay habitat, causing damage to submerged aquatic vegetation, and displacing sea grasses and other bottom growth.

While acknowledging that method of fishing is “generally considered to be an efficient form of fishing” in open water, the petition notes that is only the case when the net has “no contact with the seabed.”

“I hereby request that the VMRC implement regulations on the depth of these purse seine nets within the shallow waters of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and offshore waters to meet the purse seine net design criterion in order to provide no contact with the seabed in order to eliminate these issues,” said Bill Dunn, the fisherman who filed the petition. “This could be implemented with a regulation such as ‘No Purse Seine net may be placed in any area of Virginia’s waters that is less than five feet deeper than the depth of the actual net utilized.’”

The petition notes Maryland, whose boundaries share the Chesapeake Bay with the Commonwealth, does not allow such industrial menhaden harvesting in its area of the bay.

Among the conservation groups endorsing the petition are the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, American Sportfishing Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and Coastal Conservation Association.

The public is encouraged to comment online on the petition until Aug. 21.

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