Virginia and Maryland menhaden fishermen had to pack up their equipment on the Potomac River last week.
The Potomac River Fisheries Commission closed all menhaden fisheries in the Potomac River Aug. 22 complying with new catch limits mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The commission determined that overfishing was taking place and set new limits.
Twenty pound net fishermen take about 99 percent of the menhaden in the Potomac River. This accounts for about 26 percent of the coast-wide quota.
This year menhaden were not as abundant in the Potomac as last year, according to Ellen Cosby, assistant executive secretary of the commission. The commission tracks menhaden catches closely. Instead of the fishery being closed in June, it closed this month.
ASMFC will allow pound net fishermen a 6,000 pound daily bycatch limit per licensee by ASMFC. The commission met earlier this year with pound net fishermen to inform them of the new limits.
“Everybody was on board, everyone knew what was going on, nobody was surprised,” said Cosby.
Since any overage in this years catch would be deducted from next year’s limit, the fishermen were “very much in support of the program…they wanted to get close but not go over.”
While Virginia fishermen on the Potomac have been quiet about the closure Maryland, the fishermen are in an uproar and threatening a lawsuit against Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.
Captain Bob Newberry, who leads Maryland’s Harvesters Land and Sea Coalition, said Friday that a lawsuit is likely and will probably be filed in federal court. The suit will have a number of allegations but the bottom line
will be that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s 20 per cent reduction in the allowable menhaden catch that the Maryland DNR says requires its actions is not supported by any scientific evidence and is therefore unlawful.
Should Newberry’s group win the action, it would not have any impact on Virginia’s bait and reduction fisheries unless it were appealed and the group won in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Since Virginia is in that circuit, such a decision would become the law for Virginia.
Ben Landry of Omega Protein, the reduction fishery that operates out of Reedville, which is also affected by new catch limits, said Omega was following the actions in Maryland but was not involved in them.
Commissioner Jack Travelstead of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission said the commission also was watching Maryland. He said that should the Maryland coalition prevail at in at the court of appeals it would free Virginia’s General Assembly, which regulates Virginia’s menhaden industry, to revisit the limits it imposed on its fishery.
Newberry said the Maryland DNR had no information upon which to base its assumption that Maryland pound netters were reaching their catch limit
Newberry said there are only 32 pound netters in Maryland’s part of the Chesapeake Bay and 46 pound nets. He said DNR had no system for figuring how many menhaden had been taken toward the 5.3 million pound limit but it was easy to figure out. DNR could do what he did and call the three bait operation who buy the Maryland pound netters catch. By calling them, Newberry said he found out that “maybe 1.5 million pounds have been caught.” He said the Maryland DNR’s problem was it is “S.O.S. ‑ Stuck on Stupid.”
Travelstead said that neither Virginia’s bait fishery nor its reduction fishery (Omega) are close to their limits under the new ASMFC requirements.
According to VMRC spokeman John Bull, Virginia has only two sectors of the menhaden fishery that are closed for the year at this point: Gill netting and haul seining. Those sectors were allocated a very small portion of the overall Virginia quota.
Bull said, the overwhelming majority of Virginia’s menhaden quota is allocated for the reduction fishery (Omega Protein), the purse seine menhaden bait fishery and the pound net menhaden fishery. All of which are open.