Gathering of the Clan

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 Post subject: Menhaden follow up
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 6:54 pm 
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Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:47 am
Posts: 1214
Having introduced the topic a couple of weeks ago, here is a news story I've just filed. Interesting manuveurs:

By Colston Newton
Governor Ralph Northam's "zombie" menhaden bill that would impose the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's draconian cuts to the industry's permitted catch from the Chesapeake Bay lurched out of the House's Committee on Agriculture, the Chesapeake Bay and Natural Resources last week after having died in the committee during the normal legislative course.

The bill, which if it is passed by both houses of the General Asembly, would reduce the menhaden cap on catch from the bay from 87.000 to 51,000 metric tons as dictated by the ASMFC, never came to a vote in the committee before action on new bills in the house ended under normal rules. Northam employed his privilege as Governor to have the bill reintroduced and the revived bill finally had a hearing last week.
The bill made it out of the committee on an 11-10 almost purely party-line and urban-rural vote.
All the Republicans on the committee, lead by Margaret Ransone of Westmoreland, and who are almost entirely from rural districts voted against the bill. One Republican, Barry Knight of Virginia Beach, not only reintroduced the bill at Northam's behest, but also voted for it sending it to the full house for consideration.

Menhaden, unlike other species, are regulated by the General Assembly rather than administrative agencies. Absent a law authorizing the ASMFC limits, no agency could enforce it in Virginia. In those circumstances, the ASMFC could ask the U.S Secretary of Commerce to find Virginia out of compliance and order the menhaden fishery shut down. Virginia's menhaden industry, which means essentially Omega Protein of Reedville, was and is prepared to take the matter to the secretary although until Northam took office it looked like the issue might be resolved without such extremes.

Omega spokesman Ben Landry said Thursday that Gov. Terry McAuliffe had appealed the new menhaden rules in December and the ASMFC had indicated it would suspend the rules during the 2018 fishing season while the parties looked at the matter again. When Northam took office, he withdrew the appeal and Knight introduced legislation that would clamp the new limits on Virginia. When that bill died, Northam had the relatively extraordinary "zombie" bill introduced.

The bill is opposed by Virginia labor and business interests but supported by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Union mariners make up the crews of Omega's fleet and are a large part of Omega's 300 employees from the Northern Neck. Omega's own business and businesses that deal with it have a large economic impact. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation asserts that there is a scarcity of juvenile menhaden in the Bay and, although the menhaden industry doesn't target the juveniles and menhaden do not spawn in the Bay, the cap is needed to improve the number of juveniles. The ASMFC itself has found that the overall menhaden stocks are strong and not over fished.

Landry observed that the last four Virginia governors, both Democrat and Republican, have supported the menhaden industry but Northam does not. "This is definitely unfortunate," Landry said.

The menhaden cap "is one of the bigger issues he (Northam) has," Landry opined. "He wants to own it."

The bill had its first reading on the house floor Friday. It may come to a vote March 5 as the Echo goes to press and, if it passes, it will go to the Senate's Agriculture Committee chaired by State Sen. Richard Stuart of Montross. Before the Senate can vote on it it must have committee hearings and there may not be enough time for them before the General Assembly session ends at the end of the week.

Stuart, who until the recent redistricting represented Northumberand County where Omega is located "has been good to us in the past," Landry observed.


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