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Virginia lawmakers tackle menhaden management

Good gracious. Has hell frozen over? Are pigs flying? Will the Orioles have a winning season?

Who could have possibly predicted that the Virginia General Assembly would consider six--six--bills concerning protection of menhaden, the Chesapeake Bay filter feeder and favorite food of striped bass?

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While the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission chugs along toward some kind of new scientific foundation on which to build safeguards for the fishery, Virginia lawmakers are looking for their own ways to address the commercial fleet run by Omega Protein.

It's true. Here's the poop:

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Senate Bill 765 and House Bill 2280 would take menhaden management out of the inept hands of state lawmakers and give it to the professionals at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which handles all other fisheries issues. The bills are the work of Sen. Ralph Northam a Democrat from Norfolk and Del. John Cosgrove, a Republican from Chesapeake. The bill also repeals the governor's authority to enact menhaden management measures by proclamation.

Equally as important is HB 2369, sponsored by Del. Barry Knight, a Republican representing Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, which would reduce the 109,020 metric ton cap on menhaden harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay by 20 percent each year, starting Jan. 1, until the catch is reduced to zero.

The next piece of legislation, HB 1656, would ban menhaden harvesting within one mile of the shoreline of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton. The bill is sponsored by Del. Harry "Bob" Purkey, a Republican from Virginia Beach.

HB 1913 sponsored by Del. Jackson Miller, a Manassas Republican, would ban the harvest of menhaden by purse seine in the Rappahannock River and its tributaries.

The final measure, HB 2165, would slap a $10 per ton fee on menhaden caught in Virginia waters. It is sponsored by Appomattox Del. Watkins Abbitt Jr., one of just two independents in the House.

Six bills, six different sponsors, both houses, three political affiliations. Fascinating.

Coastal Conservation Association Virginia is bird-dogging these bills. You can follow along, too, at the Virginia legislative website.

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