The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in October approved a five-year annual cap on the commercial menhaden harvests in the Bay of 109,020 metric tons, a number derived from the average of harvests from 2001–2005.

The cap will be implemented this year and extend through 2010. Harvest for reduction purposes will be prohibited in the Bay when 100 percent of the cap is landed.

The new cap was proposed by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine after the state General Assembly this year failed to approve a cap approved by ASMFC last year. That threatened to put the state out of compliance with the ASMFC—which regulates catches of migratory fish along the East Coast—which could have led to a closure of the menhaden fishery altogether.

The cap only affects the “reduction fishery” operated by Reedville-based Omega Protein, which processes large numbers of menhaden into animal feed and other products. It does not affect the smaller operations that catch the fish for bait. An overharvest in any year would be deducted from the next year’s quota. The cap also includes a provision allowing an underharvest in one year to be credited only to the next year’s harvest, not to exceed 122,740 metric tons.

Before taking action, ASMFC’s Menhaden Management Board received a stock assessment update from its Technical Committee indicating that menhaden are not overfished on a coastwide basis. But the committee was not able to determine menhaden’s Baywide status.

Recreational fishermen and some scientists have argued that menhaden fishing in the Bay is causing a “localized depletion” of the population, leaving too few of the fish for hungry striped bass and other predators.