- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - A little fish that’s used to make pet food and health supplements is expected to cause a big stir in Virginia’s General Assembly this year.

Del. Barry Knight, who has long sought to rein in the menhaden fishery, is pushing legislation that would hand over the power to regulate the crucial fishery to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. He’s also behind a bill that would bar menhaden fishermen from using purse nets within a certain distance of the shores of the bay and the Atlantic coastline.

The Virginia Beach Republican tells The Virginian-Pilot (bit.ly/1TSDvrh) that there’s a swell of support for menhaden bills this year. A dozen of the Chesapeake Bay region’s 30 lawmakers have signed onto such legislation ahead of the legislative session, which begins on Wednesday.

“We’ve got more noise on it this year than we’ve ever had,” Knight said.

But Omega Protein Corp., the Houston-based company that turns menhaden into other products, is pushing back on Knight’s proposals. It says that lawmakers, not a nine-member board, should remain in control of menhaden.

“We’d prefer there be 140 sets of eyes at the General Assembly who would look at it from all walks of life,” said Ben Landry, a spokesman for the company. “It’s such a politically charged issue that we think it’s better that a larger body” overseeing the fishery. Landry said Knight’s other bill “won’t do anything” to help the region’s ecosystem.

Menhaden is the only marine species that the General Assembly regulates.

The number of young menhaden being produced in Virginia has been at a near all-time low for the last decade, said Chris Moore, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Meanwhile, Virginia accounts for 85 percent of the menhaden landings across the Atlantic Coast.

Recreational anglers complain that overfishing of menhaden hurts the stocks of striped bass and other fish in the bay.

The menhaden legislation is one of several environmental bills that lawmakers will wrestle with this year. Bills that would provide funding for projects to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and order the study of leases of oyster grounds will also be on the General Assembly’s agenda when they return to Richmond this week.


Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, https://pilotonline.com

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