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THIS FISH ROCKS THE HOUSE
Fish tales surface in legislature

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Date published: 2/23/2011

RICHMOND

--The menhaden will never know how close it came to becoming Virginia's official saltwater fish.

Instead, it is the striped bass, also known as rockfish, that will join the list of official Virginia creatures, which include a state bat (Virginia big-eared), a state dog (foxhound), a state freshwater fish (brook trout) and a state insect (tiger swallowtail butterfly).

It was supposed to be a nice little bill, proposed by schoolchildren, to make the striped bass the official saltwater fish of Virginia.

But the bill was nearly co-opted by Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, who tried to flush out the bass and replace it with menhaden.

Miller, who has tried in the past to move menhaden under management of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, said menhaden are more important to the state's heritage and economy than the striped bass.

Menhaden are part of livestock and poultry feed, he said. Crabbers use menhaden to catch crabs.

"We've already in a de facto way made menhaden the most important saltwater fish in Virginia," Miller said. "They are the only saltwater fish that is commercially harvested that is not regulated by VMRC."

Del. Albert Pollard, D-Lancaster County--a foe of Miller's on the menhaden management issue--claimed to support the amendment, saying it would help manage menhaden.

Other delegates disagreed, both on the purpose of the amendment and the timing.

"If this was so important to these men standing on this floor today, then why, as intelligent as they proclaim to be, why would they not bring a similar bill naming this fish instead of waiting this late in the process?" asked Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton.

Ward said the striped bass was served at the first Thanksgiving, giving it a claim to being part of Virginia's heritage.

She then offered up the striped bass' best appeal to Republican support.

"These fish, although they swim in schools, they are not unionized," she said, a nod to the union debate currently raging in Wisconsin.

Del. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack County, reminded the delegates that the bill was first proposed by a group of schoolkids in Sen. John Miller's district in Newport News.

Jackson Miller said his amendment would just give the schoolchildren more education than they had hoped for.

"Those children can get a good, long, hard look at how democracy works. Sometimes an idea that they bring forward changes," he said.

Miller's amendment was rejected by a single vote, 48-49.

The bill passed 80-16.

Virginia also has an official beverage (milk), a state covered bridge festival (it's in Patrick County), a state boat (the Chesapeake Bay deadrise), a state folk dance (square dances, including the Virginia Reel), a state fossil (Chesapecten jeffersonius, an extinct scallop that was the first fossil described in North America), a state shell (oyster), and a state flower (dogwood).

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com