By John Streit.

Consider the Atlantic menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus, one of the most humble fish that swim our seas. The name itself, derived from the Native American word munnawhatteaug, or “that which manures,” is a reference to the use of the small, silvery fish as crop fertilizer. Its plight isn’t much more glamorous in the water. Categorized as a bait fish, menhaden are the primary staple of predators such as striped bass, speckled trout, bluefish and dolphins.


Doesn’t exactly sound like fodder for controversy, but another characteristic of the species has concerned coastal citizens and environmental groups at odds with the current structure of the menhaden fishery. Menhaden contain some of the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids — the key, nutritive compound of fish oil — in all of nature. Fish oil has long been used as a nutritional supplement aiding in heart, bone and even emotional health, as well as an ingredient in pet foods.

Again, that all sounds well and good; but the menhaden fishery, its practices and its regulation by the Virginia state government have many up in arms. You see, menhaden are the only fish that not regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, rather, it’s the General Assembly that makes menhaden calls. That’s right, the General Assembly — well within the reach of special interest lobbyists like those from the Reedville-based Omega Protein — and not scientists whose job is to objectively monitor the health of fish populations.

On January 28, Delegate Barry Knight (R – Virginia Beach) introduced a pair of menhaden-related bills to the General Assembly — HB150 would hand control of the fishery over to the VMRC while HB151 would push menhaden fishing operations one mile of the coast of the Chesapeake Bay and three miles off the Atlantic coast. Both bills were cut down by a vast majority in their respective sub-committees. Only two delegates, Alfonso Lopez (D) and R. Lee Ware (R) voted to have the bills advanced. Knight charges that Omega Protein’s resources, namely paid lobbyists, undoubtedly influenced the opinions of state lawmakers. Knight and other like-minded citizens are concerned with fishery’s well-documented practices of seine net fishing extremely close to shore, where both schools of menhaden and thousands of beach-goers congregate.


The slurry of the catches, comprised of scales, fish slime and dead menhaden, have been washing up on beaches and interfering with recreational charter boat fishing operations in the Chesapeake Bay. Futhermore, menhaden comprise a vital base of the local food chain. Overfishing of the stock could have disastrous consequences to both the recreational and commercial fisheries of species that feed on menhaden like the prized striped bass.

It’s Surf & Adventure Co.’s stance that our precious shorelines and natural resources be as protected as possible against these kind of practices. We believe the menhaden fishery should join the remainder of Virginia’s fisheries and be monitored by the non-partisan scientitsts of the VMRC and not by politicians in the General Assembly. We also stand behind Delegate Knight’s suggestion of moving fishing operations back to one mile off the coast of the Chesapeake and three miles off the coast of the Atlantic. After all, no one wants to paddle through fish scales, slime and dead fish on an ocean kayak tour.

Especially if your delegate is not Knight, Lopez or Ware; we invite you to write to your local delegate and ask why they do not support these bills (HB150 and HB151). 


The Virginian-Pilot “Menhaden bills cut Down in sub-committee,” Jan. 28, 2016.

The Virginian-Pilot “Conservation groups and legislators look to change menhaden regulations,” Dec. 27, 2015.

Southside Sentinel “Menhaden Fishery: Here’s how it’s done,” Aug. 1, 2013.

Save Menhaden “Omega Protein Menhaden Fishing In Action,” Dec. 12, 2010.

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