Gansler eyeing lawsuit over menhaden catch limits

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler says he's considering going to court if the interstate panel that regulates Atlantic coast fishing for menhaden doesn't cut back enough the catch of a Virginia-based fleet that takes the lion's share of the forage fish.

Speaking at a Chesapeake Bay scientific symposium in Baltimore on Monday, Gansler said he was "working with" the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission as it ponders tightening harvest limits on menhaden. Called by some "the most important fish in the sea," menhaden are a food source for many other fish and wildlife, including ospreys and striped bass, Maryland's state fish.

"We're not optimistic they'll go far enough," he said of the commission, "but hopefully they will." The commission is scheduled to take up the issue at its next meeting in August.

Gansler has urged the fisheries commission to impose the bulk of the harvest cutback on Omega Protein, which lands 80 percent of the menhaden caught along the Atlantic coast at Reedville VA for processing into animal food and fish oil supplements. 

The other 20 percent are caught for use as bait in other fisheries, including crabbing.  Maryland watermen have said any reductions in their allowed catch could have severe impacts on their livelihood.

Gansler said he's considering a "reverse Clean Water Act" lawsuita against Omega if he's not satisfied with the fisheries commission's action.  The federal law regulates what can be put in the water, he said, so he's eyeing other legal theories for targeting Omega's removal of fish from the Maryland waters.

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