Much has been written over the years about the lowliest and arguably most important fish swimming.
For years, bunker (as these small oily fish also are known) was the only species controlled in Virginia by the General Assembly.
That’s been fixed, as fisheries managers at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission now implement regulations based on federal mandates.
While that switch was monumental, it’s done little to solve the age-old problem of the massive taking of a fish that helps keep the water clear and serves as food for larger fish like our beloved striped bass.
Virginia is still the only state on the East Coast that allows what’s known as a “reduction fishery.”
Commercial fishermen can still keep menhaden to sell as bait.
But a Reedville-based company – Omega Protein – continues to take bunker from the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding seas.
The company grinds these fish down to make supplements for humans and food for animals.
Environmentalists for years have argued that the fishery needs to be eliminated from the bay because of its importance there.
Omega, in turn, argues that federal numbers show a strong fishery and no overfishing.
One thing though – those numbers are for the entire coast. Conservationists point out that the numbers aren’t so great inside the bay.
So these groups have gotten together and pumped out a petition asking Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin to force Omega out of the bay.
Omega – owned by Canadian company Cooke Seafood – doesn’t want to budge. Hey, they’d burn too much overly-priced fuel to fish so far away from port and that would pinch profits.
They blame fisherman for the demise of the bay’s striper fishery. it couldn’t be them taking all of the food, no way.
Frankly speaking, we’re all sick and tired of the argument. Like much of the garbage spewed by the upper tiers of government, the facts don’t support the argument.
Yet, despite growing evidence to the contrary, officials continue to allow the coast’s only reduction fishery to operate in the bay and too close to shore.
Changing that isn’t going to be easy. Omega officials are politically savvy and they contribute to the right campaigns to sway the folks in Richmond – half of which couldn’t identify a menhaden in a fish lineup. The company likes to tug at the heartstrings of those on the hill, arguing that more regulations could cost jobs – most of which, by the way, are only seasonal.
Anglers – nearly 400,000 strong – have been forced by regulators to basically not keep any rockfish. Many are OK with that if it helps bring back numbers like a previous moratorium did.
But if striper don’t have enough to eat, they’ll never mount a strong return. Other species will have to continue to alter their diets.
Recreational fishermen put an insane amount of money into the state bank – millions of dollars annually. Omega, on the other hand, puts in comparatively little.
So it’s time governor, it’s time to make a serious change.
It’s past time in fact, that you support the fishing community and push Omega out of the bay.