The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission board that manage schools of menhaden along the Atlantic coast and in the Chesapeake Bay, voted without objection Monday to find Virginia out of compliance with the amount of the fish that can be taken by reduction fisheries from the bay.
The chief of Virginia’s Marine Resources Commission, Steve Bowman, apologized to his fellow commissioners and said he supported a finding of non-compliance of the state after the Reedville-based company, Omega Protein, exceeded bay harvest limits. "There is no other option,” he said.
Omega Protein, the largest harvester of the fish on the Atlantic coast, admitted last month that its fleets took 16,000 metric tons over the 51,000 metric ton Chesapeake Bay quota. The cap was put in place in 2018 by the commissioners. Virginia's General Assembly, voted not to adopt the ASMFC bay harvest cap. Menhaden is the only fish the assembly regulates.
Omega officials said they were disappointed in the ruling. The company cited poor fishing conditions in the Atlantic this year, saying schools were more abundant in the bay and it was safer to fish there.
"In the last decade, we have made a concerted effort to fish outside the Bay whenever weather conditions and the location of the fish have made that possible," Monty Deihl, who has managed the Atlantic menhaden marine ingredients fishing fleet since 2010, said in a news release Monday.
Commissioners have been concerned that the Department of Commerce, which is responsible for taking action against Virginia, would do nothing.
“It's time for us to take a stand,” said New Hampshire Commissioner Richie White. “We cannot worry about the outcome.”
Omega faces having the amount it exceeded deducted from next year's allowable catch.
In 2018, Omega harvested approximately 141,000 metric tons or roughly, 93 percent of the coast-wide cap. It produced 8,000 metric tons of fish oil and 46,000 metric tons of fishmeal.
Commissioners have been concerned with fishing in the bay because it is considered a nursery for menhaden and other species such as striped bass and osprey that rely on it in their diet.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries abstained from the vote. The ASMFC Policy Board will consider next steps on taking action on Thursday.