The debate over who could best manage Virginia's menhaden fishery proved to be short-lived.
Legislation introduced on the first day of the General Assembly session which would have transferred oversight from legislators to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission was killed in both the House and Senate by the end of January.
State Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, who sponsored the Senate version, pulled the bill without a vote knowing defeat was inevitable. Meanwhile, a House subcommittee killed an identical bill from Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake.
"I guess the time for this just isn't right yet," Cosgrove told the Virginian-Pilot after the subcommittee action.
While the commission manages all of the other saltwater fisheries in the state, such as blue crabs, striped bass and oysters, the state legislature has long maintained authority to regulate catches of menhaden, which supports a major commercial fishery that provides about 250 jobs in Reedville, on Virginia's Northern Neck peninsula.
Cosgrove and Northam said management would improve by unifying responsibility for all saltwater species under the VMRC.
Ben Landry, a spokesman for Texas-based Omega Protein, which operates the Reedville fishing fleet, questioned the value of the transfer, noting that the VMRC has already been hit by huge budget cuts and adding menhaden would increase its workload.
Environmentalists and sport fishing groups endorsed the bill. Stock assessments over the years show that stocks of the the small, oily fish are healthy overall. But many fishermen and environmentalists contend menhaden are overfished in the Bay, leaving too few to feed striped bass and other predators, or filter algae from the water.
Such a transfer of authority has come up before, most recently in 1994, when it failed to pass. Meanwhile, the Senate did approve a bill that extends the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's limit on menhaden harvests within in the Chesapeake to 109,020 metric tons annually through 2013. A similar bill was expected to pass the House.
If the legislature fails to pass a bill complying with the ASMFC action, the state would be out of compliance and could face sanctions. The ASMFC enacted the cap to give scientists time to determine whether the fishery was adversely affecting menhaden populations in the Bay.