Northam Comes to the Aid of Menhaden (But is Chap Petersen Paying Attention?)

By Don Rippert

Fish tale. Omega Protein, a Canadian owned company, has willfully exceeded its menhaden catch limit in the Chesapeake Bay. You can read the details here. The catch limit is controversial since menhaden is the only marine fish regulated directly by the Virginia General Assembly. All other saltwater fish in Virginia are regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Every other Atlantic state lets their state fishery regulator and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) set rules for menhaden in their waters. The US Congress chartered ASMFC in 1942. So, ASMFC sets catch limits for Virginia waters – one for the Atlantic and another for the Chesapeake Bay. In Virginia those limits are then incorporated into proposed legislation for the General Assembly. The most recent AMFC-set limits were put into a bill that was never voted on by the General Assembly. This left Omega Protein with two catch limits – the limit last passed by the General Assembly (based on ASMFC guidance) and the most current lower ASMFC limit. Once Omega Protein admitted it had exceeded the most current ASMFC limit Virginia was reported to the US Department of Commerce as being “out of compliance.” Last week Gov Ralph Northam sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce requesting the feds to put a moratorium on menhaden fishing in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay. It seems that Northam is sending the General Assembly a message — clean up your act or I’ll ask the Feds to clean it up for you. But will the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly listen to Northam or Omega Protein?

The new chap. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, was just announced as the new chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee in the Va. Senate. As far as I can tell, this is the committee responsible for menhaden regulation. He takes this position as a result of the recent election where Democrats took control of the house and senate. Formerly, Sen Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, chaired the committee. Over the years Omega Protein donated more than $20,000 to Stuart’s campaigns, including over $8,000 in 2019 alone.  Omega has donated $4,000 to Petersen’s campaigns, including $500 in 2019 for an election where Petersen ran unopposed. This puts Petersen in an interesting position. Petersen has long been an advocate for campaign finance reform in Virginia. He has already filed legislation for the 2020 session banning campaign contributions from publicly regulated utilities. While this proposed law probably wouldn’t affect Omega Protein, I think it will be hard for Petersen to simultaneously chair the committee, publicly fight special interests and take any money of consequence from Omega Protein. Omega Protein may not be a regulated utility but it is certainly an entity capitalizing on a public resource (i.e. menhaden) regulated by the General Assembly. How different, really, is that from Dominion? One wonders if Sen Petersen would consider returning the $4,000 he received over the years from Omega Protein given his new chairmanship. He has $61,406 on hand and won’t face re-election for four more years. Four thousand dollars id a drop in the (bait) bucket.

The good guys. Back when he was a state senator, Ralph Northam was the patron for 2011 legislation to move regulation of menhaden from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission where it belongs. The bill died in committee. More recent regulation has also been proposed and also killed in committee. Will 2020 be the year that changes? Now Northam is asking the Department of Commerce to put a moratorium on menhaden fishing in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake. Perhaps revenge, like sushi, truly is a dish best served cold.

The Rip wrap. Omega Protein may be running out of luck in Virginia. The U.S. Department of Commerce is considering what actions to take (if any) against Virginia and Omega Protein based on ASMFC’s reporting of Virginia as “non-compliant.”  Commerce has approved actions requested by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 77 out of 78 times. Unsurprisingly, the one time Commerce failed to approve the requested action was under the Trump Administration. Now The Department of Commerce has the sitting governor of the state in question asking for a moratorium on fishing by a company operating in that state. It seems like a good bet that Commerce’s record will go to 78 out of 79 in the near future. Even if the feds don’t act, Virginia has become inhospitable to Omega Protein. Environmentally conscious Democrats control key committees and the legislature. The governor isn’t likely to veto legislation intended to cut back the wanton menhaden killing in Virginia. It’s too bad that Omega Protein was purchased by a Canadian company back in 2017. Previously it was a public company. Right now it would be a heck of a candidate for short selling.

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15 responses to “Northam Comes to the Aid of Menhaden (But is Chap Petersen Paying Attention?)

  1. Who is willing to take responsibility for “killing” the jobs?

    I think the Commerce Dept is flying under the radar on this. If Trump finds out – things will change… pretty quick… a couple of resignations… some new appointees … oh wait one or two from Omega?

    • There are jobs on both sides of the equation. One the one hand, concentrated and well funded Omega Protein in Reedville employs about 300 jobs in Reedville during peak fishing times. On the other hand, the disorganized and poorly funded chain of charter boats operations, commercial striped bass fishermen, restaurants serving striped bass, bait shops, etc employs thousands of Virginians. This isn’t just about jobs, it’s about jobs for employers who make hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions vs jobs for employers who don’t.

      • Then you have the answer – If Northam and/or others are going to do something about Omega and Omega and supporters are going to go public with “Northam is killing jobs” – then Northam must – at the same time do a Virginia economic development initiative to create new alternative jobs in that region. GOOD ANSWER!

  2. I love it … Two Governors standing up for what is right against political nonsense! Thank you Governor Northam for not going to war for corporate profits and for standing up for reasonable and scientifically defined fishing limits. As you say in an earlier post Jim, “Our General Assembly is bought and paid for by special interests.” I too would love to see the Dems make Virginia campaign finance reform a major initiative.

    I also cheer Governor Newsom in that ‘evil’ state of California. He too is standing up to ‘bought’ political actions, in this case the fight over fuel efficiency standards. The Governor plans to implement a ban on those automakers who backed Trump’s plan to strip California of its authority to regulate tailpipe emissions. California’s have always been the strongest in the nation, and have led the way for the rest of the country. In January, Sacramento plans to halt all purchases of new vehicles from General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and other automakers that backed the ban.

    Go Govs!

  3. The issue with California is not really shocking. The GOP was pretty much opposed to emission standards from the get go and no GOP-lead state has ever really led on environmental standards in general.

    So NOW, instead of the GOP controlled states standing up with California on emission standards – they are on the other side – working to undo them while the Dem-led states are standing with California on those standards.

    nothing new here. If Northam aligns with California, The Va GOP will use it as a campaign issue against the Dems.

  4. A nit: think you meant, “Commerce [not ‘ASMFC’] has approved actions requested by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 77 out of 78 times.”

  5. The story about California and emissions is Congress specifically gave California an exception from federal regulation of interstate commerce to set higher standards for tailpipe emissions because of smog. The exception did not apply to CO2 emissions. But California government officials, who don’t respect law, decided to misapply the law to CO2 emissions. Trump said they were violating the law and stopped them. If we stop being a nation of laws, we must quickly become a nation of guns because that’s the only thing left to protect your rights.

    Maybe with a little luck, the Big One will hit California and the coastal sections will sink into an abyss of the ocean.

    • meanwhile, back at the Ranch – California is the most powerful economy in the US .most of the world – AND has the most restrictions on pollution.

      • And California has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Does it trickle down?

        • Oh dear … All the stats of poverty rates by state that I looked up say CA is about in the middle, one on the middle at 12%, a composite of 2017-18. One 2019 listed CA at 14.81%, again near the middle between Mississippi at 20.76% and Maryland at 9.46%

          Mississippi is solidly at the bottom with Louisiana.

          • Probably not Ms. Twitmyer. There are multiple ways to measure poverty and various government agencies endorse one or the other. The best, in my opinion, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) which was relatively recently rolled out by the Census Bureau. I’m guessing the statistics you cite are using the standard poverty rate calculation. The SPM takes into account the costs of “food shelter, clothing and utilities along with a small allowance to allow for other needs”. It includes government benefits but subtracts taxes. The old poverty measure did not take local costs into account and, far more absurdly, did not include poverty-assistance income.

            The SPM ranks California with the highest poverty rate. In fact, it ranks Virginia as one of the states with the highest poverty rate as well – #10 in the nation.

            While California has the highest SPM poverty rate several red states are right up there – Florida, Louisiana and Arizona for example.

  6. Virginia had the 10th highest poverty rate based on SPM in 2017 but fell to #16 in 2018. Interestingly, Virginia had the 5th highest median household income in 2018. Meanwhile, the Weldon Cooper Center has developed the Virginia Poverty Measure along lines similar to the SPM. Using this much more competent measure, Northern Virginia inside the beltway has a higher poverty rate than Fairfax, Northern Virginia exurbs, South Valley and Piedmont, Richmond area, Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, and Virginia Beach / Chesapeake.

    Perhaps as the new Democratic majority takes power they will look at things like the LCI formulae in light of poverty with cost of living adjustments.

    • I stand corrected. The latest SPM report by the U.S. Census Bureau shows California (20.6 percent) and Florida (19.0 percent) as states with the highest poverty rates. When cost of living, housing and utility bills are added to income levels to the ranking calculation, high poverty rates move from the low cost south to the high cost and more densely populated states like California and New York. There are a lot of other wierd factors found in the Virginia stats you quote like college towns with high poverty rates.

      The old measure designed in the 60’s only used only income levels. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), designed in 2011, seems much more accurate. So, why are they still using the old measure? Which is qualifying for federal support?

  7. I got lost somewhere in California but Rockfish gotta eat. I remind everyone that Virginia is outhauling coal ash to improve the Bay health. But probably the Menhaden over-harvest is more important.

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