Menhaden Harvest in Chesapeake Bay Reduced for 2020

Eastern Shore of Virginia Anglers Club Board member Ken Schultz was recently appointed as an At-Large member to the VMRC’s newly created Menhaden Management Advisory Committee (MMAC) by Commissioner Steve Bowman. Here is his report on that committee’s first meeting on April 20, 2020, and on subsequent action by the VMRC.

The first meeting of the Menhaden Management Advisory Committee (MMAC) was held on 4/20/20 as an electronic  (online) meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was declared an “Emergency Meeting” under current state guidelines, which allow for meeting if not doing so would cause irrevocable harm to the public. Approval for this was required from the state’s Attorney General.

The reason that this meeting was immediately necessary is because the Secretary of Commerce gave Virginia until June 16th to gets its Chesapeake Bay menhaden harvest in compliance with federal regulations established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) or face a total shutdown of the fishery, which would have included the bait fishery.

On March 12, 2020, Governor Northam signed legislation that immediately transferred management of menhaden in Virginia to the VMRC, and required it to set up an advisory committee. VMRC  advisory committees may meet semi-annually, quarterly, or at other intervals. How often this committee will meet, and when the next meeting will occur, remains to be determined.

The views and recommendations of the Advisory Committee are taken by the VMRC to the Commission, which may accept or reject their advice. The MMAC has ten members, seven of whom represent different constituencies with an interest in the menhaden fishery, and three of whom are At-Large.

The VMRC recapped the timeline of how we got to this point based on ASMFC actions: In September 2019 the Bay Cap was exceeded by Omega Protein. In October 2019, the ASMFC found Virginia out of compliance with the adopted Fishery Management Plan for menhaden. In December 2019, the Secretary of Commerce concurred with a non-compliance finding with a moratorium to commence on June 17, 2020 unless Virginia took steps to come back into compliance.

The main focus of the initial MMAC meeting was establishing menhaden regulations for 2020, specifically with reference to the purse seine menhaden reduction industry (i.e. Omega Protein), which will bring Virginia into compliance with federal regulations.

In conformance with ASMFC regulations, the total allowable commercial landings for menhaden in Virginia in 2020 shall be 372,443,990 pounds, or 168,937 metric tons. This figure represents 78.66% of the total allowable coast-wide catch set by ASMFC.

Furthermore, Virginia’s total landings must be split as follows:

1. The purse seine menhaden reduction sector shall be allocated a quota of 335,348,569 pounds or 90.04% of allowable commercial menhaden landings.

2. The purse seine menhaden bait sector shall be allocated a quota of 31,210,806 pounds or 8.38% of allowable commercial menhaden landings.

3. The non-purse seine menhaden bait sector shall be allocated a quota of 5,884,615 pounds or 1.58% of allowable commercial menhaden landings.

Most importantly, for 2020, in Chesapeake Bay, the 2020 total allowable Bay Cap landings from Chesapeake Bay by the purse seine menhaden reduction sector shall not exceed 36,196 metric tons (79,798,520 pounds).

The MMAC adopted those ASMFC regulations, as well as the following items:

1. It shall be unlawful for any transfers of quota from other states to be applied to the Bay Cap to reduce any overages.

2. It shall be unlawful for any amount of unlanded menhaden quota under the Bay Cap each calendar year to be rolled over or applied as credit for any subsequent calendar years.

3. Any annual menhaden landings in excess of the current calendar year’s Bay Cap shall be deducted from only the subsequent calendar year’s Bay Cap.

The Commissioners of the VMRC met electronically on April 28th, held a public hearing on these measures, and unanimously adopted them.

Here is the main takeaway: In 2019, the purse seine menhaden reduction industry (i. e. Omega Protein) exceeded the ASMFC-imposed cap by 14,804 metric tons, which lead to the out-of-compliance finding. Therefore, that number had to be subtracted from what would have been the 2020 cap, resulting in a 36,196 ton cap in 2020. An overage from this number in 2020 must be deducted from the 2021 cap, but any underage may not be applied to the 2021 cap. If Omega Protein does not exceed 36,196 tons in Chesapeake Bay in 2020, and if the ASMFC keeps the 2021 overall catch at the same level, then Omega Protein will be allowed to catch up to 51,000 metric tons in 2021.

I’ll keep you posted on future developments. This was the first step for all parties to come together and determine what is in the best interests of the menhaden fishery. Much more concerning menhaden management will be addressed in future MMAC meetings. The next meeting of the MMAC will not occur until this summer or fall, depending on the ability to hold in-person and public gatherings.

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