Residents of Virginia and the East Coast call on Governor Youngkin to protect the health of the Bay and our coastal economy
(Virginia Beach, Va.) — More than 10,000 fishermen and conservationists from Virginia and across the East Coast have signed a petition calling on Governor Youngkin to protect the Chesapeake Bay from the negative impacts of industrial menhaden fishing. The petition will be delivered to Youngkin and Governor-appointed members of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to drive meaningful conservation of menhaden, a critical forage fish species.
A coalition of 11 national and 10 Virginia-based groups came together earlier this year to demand regulatory changes that would move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay and prevent wasteful fish spills from littering beaches. of the state.
Beyond signing the far-reaching petition, Virginians have also shown up at VMRC meetings throughout the summer to provide public comment on how menhaden reduction fishing is affecting their lives. Per Virginia code, menhaden regulations can only be changed from October through December, but menhaden is not yet on the VMRC’s agenda for its Oct. 25 meeting.
“Over 10,000 anglers, charter captains and Bay Area residents have spoken out and want the menhaden reduction fishery moved out of the bay,” he says. Steve Atkinson, President of the Virginia Saltwater Sport Fishing Association. “Now we are waiting to see how much the governor cares about these resources.”
The recreational fishing community is concerned that years of localized depletion of the bay’s more than 100 million pound annual harvest of menhaden have deprived game fish such as striped bass, bluefish and weakling from a critical food source. The Atlantic menhaden plays a vital role in coastal ecosystems by serving as the base of the food chain for larger fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. Yet millions of pounds of this valuable fish are being removed from the Chesapeake Bay and “reduced” into fishmeal and fish oil for pet food and salmon feed by a single foreign-owned company.
Menhaden is especially critical for striped bass, making up 30 percent of the popular sport fish’s diet. The striped bass fishery is the largest marine recreational fishery in the US, generating $166 million in recreational fishing activity in Virginia alone. However, the economic value of Virginia’s striped bass fishery has dropped by more than 50 percent in the last decade.
According to the latest science, the reduction fishery for menhaden contributes to a nearly 30 percent decline in the number of striped bass along the entire coast. The detrimental impact of menhaden reduction fishing on the marine environment is so pronounced that it is prohibited in all other East Coast states. Yet in Virginia, a single foreign-owned fishing company, Cooke Inc., known locally as Omega Protein, is still able to catch more than 100 million pounds of menhaden each year from the largest striped bass hatchery on the East Coast, undermining the economy of sport fishing and small businesses throughout the Commonwealth.
Omega boats have caused multiple fish spills on the East Coast in 2022 alone, resulting in 12,000 pounds of red croaker bycatch being wasted, yet Virginia continues to allow this unsustainable practice. Virginians and East Coasters who vacation and party on the bay have had enough.
“I am trying to provide residents living on the East Coast, as well as visiting guests and tourists, the opportunity to let their voices be heard to express their disappointment and disapproval of the menhaden reduction fishery.” , He says Christi Medice, resident of the east coast who has gone door to door with a paper version of the petition. “This has given me the opportunity to speak to people about their concerns about dead fish washing up on various beaches. I have over 1,500 signatures and am still getting more.”
An online petition organized by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and promoted by local groups, including the VSSA, has garnered an additional 8,900 signatures since June 2022. A policy change on near-shore industrial menhaden harvesting would benefit both fishermen and tourism businesses, while allowing Omega to operate in deeper waters.
“Ninety-nine percent of inshore and nearshore game fish rely on bunker at some point in their life cycle,” he says. Captain Tyler Nunn, owner of Tidewater Charters. “Especially for the apex predators like striped bass, red croaker and cobia that my charter business and many businesses around the bay depend on, the importance of menhaden is immeasurable. No one has seen the potential of the Bay with a healthier forage base. It would make a huge difference to the sport fishing industry and the ecosystem of the Bay if we left more bait in the water.”
“When will decision makers answer the many questions that have been raised about the activities of this company and choose the side of recreational fishing and coastal economic growth?” Question Jaclyn Higgins, Forage Fish Associate at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Common sense regulations need to be implemented until science shows that menhaden fishing can be allowed without negatively impacting the broader ecosystem of the Bay.”
Click here to see the petition that the fishing and boating groups have been circulating since June.
Click here to see the coalition’s letter to Youngkin in June.
Click here to view the letter from Virginia and East Coast businesses to Youngkin in September.
Founded in 2002, TRCP is the nation’s largest coalition of conservation organizations, uniting and amplifying the voices of sportspeople by convening hunting and fishing groups, conservation organizations and outdoor businesses with a common purpose.