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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 06/16/2010

Va. to look at menhaden fishery in Bay

By Washington Post editors

A panel of Virginia legislators, environmentalists and watermen will study fishing pressures on menhaden, a small fish in big demand for use in health supplements and a critical food source for other Chesapeake Bay fish.

The creation of the 26-member panel follows a report earlier this year by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It recommends limits on the menhaden fishery because of relatively low spawning stock.

The oily, bony fish are key in the bay's food chain, supporting striped bass, bluefish and other species. They are also processed into omega-3 fish oils sold as heart-healthy food supplements.

Sen. Ralph Northam, a Norfolk Democrat, said Wednesday the menhaden is key to the bay's overall health.

“Menhaden are a very important fishery to the Chesapeake Bay, a lot of other fish feed off them, and they're a filter fish,” he said. “It's an important resource that we really have to take care of.” Menhaden has made the Northern Neck town of Reedville one of the biggest fishing ports in the U.S., based on pounds landed.

Omega Protein Corp., which employs about 250 people, is allowed to catch 109,020 metric tons of menhaden annually from the Virginia portion of the bay.

The Virginia General Assembly this year extended the catch limit until 2014.

Northam has sought tighter catch limits on menhaden but has faced opposition from lawmakers who fear they will lead to Omega layoffs. The General Assembly “needs to take a long, hard look at the management of menhaden,” he said.

Northam would like to see the Virginia Marine Resources Commission manage menhaden. He cited its successful measures to help restore the bay's blue crab population.

The study panel includes the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Virginia Seafood Council, Omega and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, among others.

“I believe the diverse and inclusive group we have assembled will take this task seriously, and help flesh out some of the complex issues involved with sustainable use of this important species,” he said.

-- Associated Press

By Washington Post editors  | June 16, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  DC, Maryland, Virginia  | Tags:  Chesapeake Bay, menhaden, virginia legislature, watermen  
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