The Virginia Marine Resources Commission on Tuesday made changes to the menhaden reduction fishery for the Chesapeake Bay and along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

But they weren’t what fisheries division staff recommended – a rarity.

A battle waged by the recreational fishing industry for decades, the changes went from being a big step for the effort to one that holds no law or penalties behind it.

What good are regulations if there are no teeth in them.

Thanks to Commissioner Spencer Headley, a commercial fisherman from Reedville – home of Omega Protein, a Canadian-based company that runs the East Coast’s only reduction fishery.

Staff-proposed regulations – approved by the governor – would start the first of the year and would prohibit the menhaden fleet from fishing within a mile of state shorelines and from a half mile or each side of the CBBT.

They also include total fishing closures for five days each around Memorial and Labor Day weekends, and from July 1-7.

Instead, under Headley’s motion that was agreed to by Virginia Department of Natural and Historic Resources secretary Travis Voyles, Omega will not fish inside the bay on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Memorial and Labor Day weekends and for the week of July 4. They will not fish within a half mile on either side of the CBBT. Any other buffer zones, such as the staff recommendation of one mile off all Virginia coasts, would be discussed in the future.

The war of words came to a head over the summer when one of two Omega spills killed thousands of pounds of huge, breeder-sized red drum.

The difference between Omega and recreational fisheries is that the small oily fish used for bait or ground up for pet food and Omega oils used in human supplements also are filter feeders that keep the bay clean, while serving as food for waterfowl and all kinds of predatory fish.

Omega uses a purse seine method that encircles a school of fish and draws both ends together. The “mother ship” then vacuums the fish in the net into the hold. Anything swimming close to the school (also known as bycatch) also gets sucked in.

Spotter planes are used to find the menhaden and direct the vessels to the area.

Occasionally, a net will get torn on the bottom or ripped from too much weight, spilling the entire catch into the ocean – where it drifts with the current and winds and most often ends up on a beach.

Estimates are one spill for every 1,000 net sets.

Omega said it is building a boat that with be able to collect dead, floating fish before they reach a shoreline.

A group of fishing organizations spearheaded by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, presented the state with a petition that included 11,000 signatures.

Del. Tim Anderson (R-VB) has even introduced a bill that would place a two-year moratorium in Virginia’s portion of the bay.

But all those efforts were washed down the drain with Headley’s Omega-friendly amendment.

Recreational anglers are furious and social media exploded with comments almost instantly after the decision.

I’ll be back real soon with a story on the day’s events and commentary from the angling community.

One thing I will say now, however, is that after several years of steps in the direction of equatable management for all Chesapeake Bay stakeholders, the VMRC has gone a long way backwards.

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