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Northam urges General Assembly to protect Virginia fishing

ralph northamGovernor Ralph Northam introduced legislation that would bring Virginia into compliance with management decisions made by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) with respect to menhaden fishing.

Along with the legislation, which will be carried by Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), Governor Northam sent a letter to Delegate Danny Marshall (R-Danville), the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.


I am writing to notify you that Delegate Knight has introduced new legislation today on my behalf regarding the Atlantic menhaden fishery, and to request that the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee hold a full committee hearing on the legislation as soon as possible. As you know, the General Assembly must incorporate menhaden management decisions in November 2017 made by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) into statute in order for those standards to take effect in the Commonwealth.

This legislation is similar to HB 822, Delegate Knight’s original bill, which did not receive a committee hearing. While I recognize that concerns remain regarding the ASMFC action, passing this compliance legislation is a matter of the highest importance to Virginia’s commercial and recreational fishing industries and our ongoing efforts to manage our natural resources wisely.

The Commonwealth’s participation in ASMFC has massive economic benefits for the people of Virginia. Commercial and recreational fishermen in Virginia rely on the ASMFC’s cooperative management framework to ensure sustained harvest of more than 15 other species that, like menhaden, are shared with other states and do not reside exclusively in Virginia waters. Fish like striped bass, summer flounder, and bluefish support thriving commercial and recreational fisheries that support thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impacts.

Despite the recent ASMFC action, increases in stock abundance and relinquishment of quota from other states to Virginia have resulted in an increase of more than 4 million pounds of menhaden for the Commonwealth. Delegate Knight’s new bill reflects that, and does no harm to the menhaden industry.  As you likely are aware, however, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce can make a finding of a state’s failure to implement a coastal fishery management plan, and declare a moratorium on fishing.  If the General Assembly does not pass some version of Delegate Knight’s legislation, it will be very difficult for the Commonwealth to defend itself should ASMFC recommend a noncompliance finding by the Secretary of Commerce.

I appreciate the time you have dedicated to working with all stakeholders to craft a compromise bill that would lock in our menhaden quota increase while also ensuring that Virginia does not harm other economically important fisheries by jeopardizing our standing in the ASMFC. The first step in that renewed effort is a hearing on Delegate Knight’s bill, and I hope that you will grant one as soon as possible.

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