Fish Story as published in Free Lance Star on 11/14/11
by, 11-14-2011 at 04:22 PM (1115 Views)
A little fish got a big boost last Wednesday when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted 14-3 to cut the allowable catch of menhaden by 37 percent. For those of us up the East Coast that is good news.
The menhaden is a little critter that has been called the most important fish in the sea. Why? Because bigger fish--bluefish, weakfish, striped bass, tuna, whales-- eat them and so do sea birds such as osprey They are a rich source of omega 3 oil and processed are used for fertilizers, pet food, and food for fish that are raised commercially.
The problem is that the menhaden population has been on the decline for many years. At one time, the schools would stretch for 40 miles. Today the population in the Chesapeake is less that 10 percent of its original estimated size. That includes an 88 percent drop over the last 35 years. The implications are profound and widespread; the striped bass are underfed and sickly, osprey nestlings are failing to thrive, and whales, tuna, and other marine life are having aharder time finding food. The entire East Coast sport fishing industry is threatened. But so of course is Omega protein--whose operation is based in Reedville. Omega took 80 percent of the total harvest--160,000 tons. That's a lot of little fish The company warns that people could lose jobs. That would be difficult for the northern neck, but the alternative is worse. Failing to limit the catch could cause a complete collapse of the population. In Virginia, the only state to allow large scale harvesting, the little fish is a huge political issue. It's the only saltwater fishery that is supervised by the General Assembly and not the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Four bills died in Richmond last year. With Republicans now firmly in control, there is not much hope for a chnage next year. Playing politics with pogeys seems to have become a Virginia traditions. Thank goodness that others on the ASMFC established in 1942 to oversea the mutual interest of all the stes on the EAst Coast, are looking out for the little guy; Menhaden will get a breather beginning in 2013.
Seriously, a few jobs in the northern neck are worth risking the collapse of the Chesapeake bay and the animal and plant life that support it? Not in my book.