April 24, 2017 — In the 1920s, the bay scallop fishery in Virginia was booming, hitting a peak harvest in 1929.
Then, in the course of a few short years, the bottom fell out of the fishery — almost literally.
A hemisphere-wide wasting disease began attacking eelgrass, a primary habitat for young scallops growing in high-salinity coastal bays. As a result, Virginia’s scallop harvest dropped in 1930. It dropped even more in 1931and even more in 1932.
Then, calamity struck in 1933 when a Category 1 hurricane slammed the state, wiping out what was left of ailing eelgrass beds in the coastal bays.
That year, Virginia watermen harvested no bay scallops at all. The species was wiped out in the state.
“The bay scallop was extinct locally,” said Mark Luckenbach, ecologist and associate dean of research and advisory services at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. “Not reduced in numbers like oysters or eelgrass — it was extinct. The closest populations were in North Carolina to the south and New Jersey to the north.”
April 6, 2017 — The following was released by the U.S. Justice Department:
Today, Tommy Water Zhou pled guilty in federal district court in Norfolk, Virginia, to trafficking more than $150,361 worth of juvenile American eels, aka “elvers” or “glass eels,” in violation of the Lacey Act. As part of his guilty plea, Zhou admitted to illegally selling or purchasing elvers in interstate commerce, which had been harvested illegally in Virginia.
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, in 2010, Zhou established a seafood distribution company known as Wilson Group Sea Trading LLC. The company’s principle place of business was Brooklyn, New York, and its operations included importing seafood for domestic consumption and exporting seafood to international markets. In 2013, the defendant obtained a Maine elver dealer license, authorizing him to purchase and resell elvers harvested in Maine. Thereafter, using his Maine dealer license to cover his illegal activity, the defendant began purchasing and exporting elvers that were actually harvested from Virginia waterways in violation of Virginia law.
This plea was the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels. To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for eleven individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $2.75 million worth of elvers.
The guilty plea was announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Acting Director Jim Kurth of the USFWS.
“We will not allow illegal wildlife traffickers to undermine managed fish species like the American eel,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “In this operation, we are actively partnering with states all along the East Coast to enforce the law and protect our nation’s waterways from further exploitation.”
April 6, 2017 — Proposed federal budget cuts now before Congress could have a severe impact on the local region.
Lewis Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, reported to the commission during a meeting on March 22 in Saluda that his staff had done research and contacted a number of agencies to grasp how federal budget cuts might hurt the Middle Peninsula. They learned proposed budget reduction would affect many residents and might have a drastic effect on the commission.
The commission did not take a vote on the matter during the meeting at the MPPDC boardroom in Saluda.
One of the biggest losses in the region in terms of employment might be the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at Gloucester Point, which Lawrence stands to lose 45-55 highly-trained technical staff members, or 13-16 percent of its total workforce. “The rural coastal economy has no diversification to replace these lost jobs,” the MPPDC report said.
VIMS research might be affected in many areas, including oyster and clam aquaculture, an early flood warning system, the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and water quality monitoring, the report said.
Cuts to Virginia Sea Grant would lead to loss of public-private partnerships, loss of mobilizing university capacity to partner with community clients, and decrease capacity for support of Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture industry and the recreational and commercial boating industry. Elsewhere in the report it indicates that more than 11,500 commercial and recreational fishing licenses are held within the Middle Peninsula alone.
March 31, 2017 — Scientists have a powerful new tool to help them “see” fish in the Chesapeake Bay’s murky tributaries, and it’s yielding some surprisingly good news about two of the estuary’s most troubled species. “Imaging sonar” uses sound to help them view, and count, passing fish in dark or cloudy water. For the past few years, scientists with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have been deploying one of these underwater sound cameras in some of the Bay’s rivers to monitor spawning runs of alewife and blueback herring, collectively known as river herring.
No one knows for sure how many river herring are in the Bay, as fisheries managers lack the staff and resources to do a comprehensive assessment. But a SERC-led team of scientists deployed an imaging sonar device in the Choptank River in 2014 that captured images of the fish as they swam by. Based on the rate at which scientists saw the shadowy blips cross their computer screens, they estimated that as many as 1.3 million river herring swam upriver that spring to spawn. That’s more than expected, and way more than state biologists had figured were there in the early 1970s, the last time anyone looked intensively at the Choptank’s herring runs.
March 20, 2017 — The Poquoson Kiwanis Boating and Fishing Flea Market will be from 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. on Saturday at Poquoson High School. It will be a great opportunity to stock up on fishing gear and fishing related arts and crafts, while helping raise money for a good cause.
Virginia cobia regulations will be set over the next two weeks. There will be two public meetings where anglers can voice their opinions prior to the final decision. Both will be held at the VMRC building, 2600 Washington Avenue, Newport News.
The first will be the Finfish Management Advisory Committee meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 27. There will then be a public hearing after the noon hour at the March 28 Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s monthly meeting. Following public comments, the commission will establish the 2017 cobia regulations.
January 27, 2017 — The following is excerpted from an article by Emily Liljestrand, a master’s student in the University System of Maryland’s Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences program. It was published Tuesday by Maryland Sea Grant:
Atlantic menhaden, though completely unpalatable to all but the most desperate diners, can be found in many commercial products. They are processed into omega-3, fatty-acid-rich nutritional supplements as well as aquaculture feed and fertilizer. People have utilized them for hundreds of years. The name “menhaden” even comes from the Native American word “munnawhatteaug,” which means “that which fertilizes.”
To get from this one-foot-long, oily, bug-eyed creature to the myriad of products we use them for requires several steps of fishing and processing. Most of which we got to witness first-hand on our trip to Reedville.
We were welcomed by the Omega Protein staff who guided us to a cozy conference room where we watched a video that demonstrated the fishing operation. Delightful as it might have been, having nine students and faculty go out on a fishing vessel that can often spend days offshore is a bit impractical.
But in the video we got to see the whole fishing process. Spotter planes take off across the Chesapeake Bay and nearshore Atlantic waters, looking for the telltale sign of a menhaden school – darkened bubbling waters where menhaden were being targeted by predatory fish and sea birds. Pilots can estimate with a high degree of accuracy not only the size of a school but also the average size of menhaden within that school.
The fishing vessel charges onto the scene and once in position, deploys two smaller seine boats that together use a single net to rope up as much of the school as they can. Once the bottom “purse string” gets pulled, it’s only a matter of hauling everything up onto the larger vessel and/or vacuuming menhaden into the hold. If done efficiently, the whole process may take no longer than half an hour.
Our guided tour around the on-shore facility in Reedville showed us how the processing continues onshore. The school of menhaden (or multiple schools, collected over several days) are deposited into a large holding vat and cooked at extreme temperatures. This procedure breaks down the fish and creates a sort of menhaden “slurry.” Through a series of heating, cooling, and further chemical processing, the lighter liquid oil gets separated from the harder, denser meal.
Omega Protein told us about its efforts to make its processing operations sustainable. It uses recycled/reclaimed water extracted from the menhaden themselves as a cooling agent, which has saved about 18 million gallons of water annually, and safely disposes of nitrogen byproducts. Omega’s fossil fuel consumption has dropped by 80 percent since 2012 thanks to several plant renovations.
January 16, 2017 — PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s scallops have surged to a record high price at the docks this winter after several years of rising in value, according to fishing regulators in the state.
Fishermen harvest Maine scallops with dragging boats or by hand while diving in frigid waters. The scallops are selling for about $13.50 per pound at the dock, the scallop manager for the state Department of Marine Resources said. In 2015, they sold for $12.70, which was a record, and more than three times the price in 2004.
The state’s scallops are sought after in the culinary world and typically sell for about $20 to $25 per pound to customers, which is slightly more than other sea scallops.
This year’s high prices are a boon to fishermen, who seem to be catching about the same amount as last year, said Dana Black, a fisherman out of Blue Hill. He said fishermen have been able to catch large, meaty scallops that are especially prized by buyers.
“This year shouldn’t be any less than last year – in fact, it could be better,” Black said.
Scallop season in Maine runs from December to April, with December often a busy month. But bad weather this December held back some of the fleet from getting on the water. The state is affording fishermen extra days at sea to compensate.
Maine’s scallop fishery is a small piece of the worldwide industry based around the shellfish. The U.S. scallop fishery, based mostly in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey, was worth more than $400 million last year.
January 13, 2017 — THE PILOT gets one thing absolutely right in its Dec. 28 editorial on menhaden management (“Let scientists manage menhaden approach”): Menhaden is important to the Chesapeake Bay, and the species and the fishery that depend on it deserve proper management.
Unfortunately, the editorial’s proposals are based on a flawed and incomplete understanding of menhaden science and management.
The Pilot urges fisheries managers at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt ecosystem-based reference points as it considers Amendment 3 to the Menhaden Fishery Management Plan.
While almost everyone supports ecosystem-based management in the long run, no such system is ready to be implemented. The ASMFC’s best fisheries scientists are currently developing new ecological reference points specifically for menhaden, which are expected to be completed in the next few years.
In the meantime, fisheries managers should not reach for unproven, improper management practices when they lack the necessary science to guide the process.
In supporting new reference points, the editorial offers an ill-informed indictment of the current management approach, calling it a “tragedy of the commons.” But the ASMFC’s latest stock assessment found that menhaden fishing mortality is at its lowest level on record — hardly the “tragedy of the commons” that The Pilot suggests.
January 12, 2017 — “Let scientists manage menhaden approach” (editorial, Dec. 28) perpetuates the belief that so many people seem to have lately — that the largest impact on striped bass populations is lack of menhaden to eat.
According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, menhaden biomass was lowest during the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, but during that time (1993-2004, to be exact) striper recruitment was strong.
This is not easily explained, but neither is the simplified belief that taking a sustainable amount of menhaden out is magically taking striper off the end of people’s fishing lines.
Critics conveniently ignore the fact that the Chesapeake Bay and associated rivers, which striper depend on to complete their reproductive cycle and menhaden rely on for nursery grounds, has been severely altered by humans through dams and pollution.