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Save the menhaden today or lose jobs tomorrow

December 9, 2012 12:11 am


Omega Protein's Reedville plant faces extinction if menhaden fishery collapses.

Monty Deihl and I can agree that menhaden is a vital species to Virginia communities ["Menhaden: Not overfished, not endangered," Nov. 25], but its value extends far beyond the Reedville plant and the bait fishery.

This oily fish supports the livelihoods of those who provide goods and services to the recreational fishermen who fish for summer flounder, striped bass, weakfish, and bluefish--species that rely on menhaden as their primary food source.

The menhaden population is at 8 percent of its original level, perilously close to collapsing. If the fishery collapses, the job loss in the recreational fishing industry will dwarf any job losses at Omega Protein's Reedville plant.

The recreational fishing industry, which includes charter boats, fishing tackle stores, boats, engines, and trailer dealers, marinas, restaurants, motels-hotels, guides, and a host of other mom-and-pop operations stand to lose even more if the menhaden population continues to plummet.

In the 1994 VIMS study by Kirkley, Murray, and Duberg, researchers found that rockfish or striped bass fishing alone generated $168.2 million in economic activity and 1,803 full- and part-time jobs in Virginia. Summer flounder generated $154.9 million in sales and 1,768 full- and part-time jobs. These are only two of many species that are dependent upon menhaden as food source.

The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission will issue new management measures this month that will likely include catch limits for both Omega Protein and the bait fishery. During the upcoming session, the General Assembly must adopt these revised management measures for menhaden or risk being found out of compliance with the menhaden management plan. If Virginia is found to be out of compliance, the Secretary of Commerce could shut all menhaden fisheries down.

It's time for the General Assembly to manage this fish sustainability for all of its economic and environmental stakeholders, and time for the wildlife that depends upon menhaden--from osprey to striped bass--to have first seating at nature's bounty.

Vince Staley


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