Category Archives: Fisheries

Water in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly: Menhaden Management Bills

This is one of a series of posts on particular water-related bills in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly.  For an inventory of about water-related bills in the 2018 General Assembly, please visit the Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s “Virginia Water Legislation” page, online at  Each post includes a summary of the bill(s), their legislative status (in committee, passed, failed, etc.), and a list of hyperlinked headlines for news media items on the bill(s).  Information on the bills’ provisions and status is taken from the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS), online at; the LIS summaries are edited in some cases for space or clarity.  Each bill number is hyperlinked to the LIS entry for that bill.

Two House of Delegates bills were introduced setting the quota allowed for catch of Atlantic Menhaden in Virginia waters.  Menhaden are the only fish species managed directly by the General Assembly, rather than directly by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.  Information about Virginia’s regulation of the Atlantic Menhaden fishery is available online at

HB 1610Menhaden; total landings.  This bill was reported out by of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources (ACNR) 11-10 on February 28, 2018.  As it passed the ACNR Committee, The bill—sponsored by Del. Barry Knight (R-81st) and supported by Gov. Ralph Northam—would adjust the annual total allowable landings for Atlantic Menhaden upward from 168,937.75 metric tons to 170,797.17 metric tons and provide that any portion of the coast-wide total allowable catch that is relinquished by a state that is a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) shall be redistributed to Virginia and other states according to the Commission’s allocation guidelines.  The bill would provide that the current annual harvest cap of 87,216 metric tons for the purse seine fishery for Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay be set at not less than 51,000 metric tons, a cap set by the AFSMC, and that Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner shall appeal appeal that ASMFC cap.  The bill also removes a provision that applied the amount by which certain actual Chesapeake Bay harvests fall below the harvest cap as a credit to the following year.

HB 822, also sponsored by Del. Knight, failed in the House ACNR Committee on February 13, 2018.  That bill would have adjusted the annual total allowable landings for menhaden downward from 168,937.75 metric tons to 168,213.16 metric tons.

News Media Item Related to This Legislation

Fish fight: Governor’s bill on menhaden catch limits advances, barely, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/28/18.

Several Virginia Trout Stream Restoration Projects by Trout Unlimited Described in Jan. 2, 2018, Roanoke Times Column

“Trout Unlimited working to provide fishing opportunities in Virginia,” by Bill Cochran, Roanoke Times, 1/2/18, describes several stream-restoration projects being undertaken in Virginia by the conservation organization Trout Unlimited.

The Web site for the Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited is

Oyster Information Sources for Virginia Oyster Month in November 2017

On November 6, 2017, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe designated November as Virginia Oyster Month.  The designation is intended to call attention to the role of the oyster industry in the Virginia’s current economy and the long heritage of oyster-based communities and cultural events.

Following is an excerpt from the Governor’s Office’s Nov. 6, 2017, news release, Governor McAuliffe Announces November as Virginia Oyster Month:
“’The Commonwealth boasts eight oyster regions, each producing oysters with unique flavors that are as distinct as the water in which they grow,’ [said Gov. McAuliffe]…[According to] Basil Gooden, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, ‘Last year, Virginia sold more than 40 million oysters, which resulted in an $18.5 million economic impact for the Commonwealth.’  [According to] Todd Haymore, Secretary of Commerce and Trade, ‘Agritourism accounts for $2.2 billion in economic impact in the Commonwealth, and the oyster industry is an important part of that story.  Our watermen and farmers are now offering educational tours and hands-on experiences, affording them an opportunity to tap into this multi-billion industry and expand their businesses.’  [According to] Molly Ward, Secretary of Natural Resources, ‘Oysters are a keystone species in the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay and our coastal waters.  Oysters…filter waters and oyster reefs are a critical habitat for many aquatic species of fish, shellfish and other important organisms that ensure clean, productive and healthy waters.’  …In November 2015, Governor McAuliffe announced the launch of the Virginia Oyster Trail, a major tourism development project connecting travelers to Virginia oyster purveyors, raw bars and restaurants, artisans, and the watermen culture throughout Coastal Virginia, the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and the Eastern Shore.  The Virginia Oyster Trail has been recognized by the U.S. Travel Association, and currently boasts more than 100 sites.  There are also many oyster-related festivals, special events, and attractions….  This year marked the 60th anniversary of the Urbanna Oyster Festival, which has also been recognized as the Official Oyster Festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

In recognition of Virginia Oyster Month, following are some information resources on oysters in Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay, and elsewhere.

Artisans Center of Virginia, “Virginia Oyster Trail,” online at

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Eastern Oyster,” online at

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2006.

University of Maryland Extension, “Oyster Aquaculture and Education Program, online at

Maryland Sea Grant, “Oysters,” online at; and “Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration,” online at

Clyde L. McKenzie, Jr., “History of Oystering in the United States and Canada, Featuring the Eight Greatest Oyster Estuaries,” Marine Fisheries Review, Vol. 58, No. 4, 1996, available online at

Roger I. E. Newell and Roger Mann, “Shellfish Aquaculture: Ecosystem Effects, Benthic-Pelagic Coupling and Potential for Nutrient Trading” (report prepared for the Virginia secretary of natural resources), June 21, 2012, available online from the Chesapeake Bay Program at

Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, “Delaware Bay Oysters,” online at

Patricia Samford, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum/Maryland State Museum of Archeology, “Oyster Wars,” 7/9/13, online at

Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, “Crassostrea virginica/Eastern Oyster,” online at

Andrew David Thayer, Mud, Shuck, and Spat, by in Hakai Magazine (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 3/15/16.

Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), “Oysters @ VIMS,” online at

Virginia Marine Resources Commission/Conservation and Replenishment Department, online at (offers several oyster-related links).

Virginia Tourism Corporation, “Virginia Oysters,” online at

World Oyster Society, online at

And for two audio takes on oysters, nitrogen, and the Chesapeake Bay, have a listen to Virginia Water Radio Episode 279, 8/24/15 (4 min./23 sec.) and Episode 280, 9/7/15 (4 min./41 sec.).

James River Association Issues 2017 “State of the James” Report in October 2017

On October 26, 2017, the James River Association (JRA) released its latest “State of the James” biennial report on the James River.  The report gave the river a cumulative score of 62 out of 100, rating a “B-.”  The cumulative score includes several factors that receive individual scores; the scores represent the percentage achieved toward numeric goals for each factor.  The 2017 score was an increase of 10 points since the first report in 2007 and of 3 points since the 2015 report.

The reports for 2017 and those for previous years are online at, as of 10/27/17; or contact the JRA at 4833 Old Main Street, 4th Floor, Richmond, VA 23231; (804) 788-8811;

Below is the list of all the factors rated in 2017, with the 2017 scores and whether the rating indicated improvement or deterioration since 2015.

Bald Eagle Breeding Pairs = 100% (no change)
Striped Bass (Rockfish) Spawning Index = 59% (no change)
Oyster Abundance = 47% (no change)
Smallmouth Bass Abundance = 93 (improvement)
American Shad Abundance = 11% (improvement)
Brook Trout Ragne = 74% (improvement)

Underwater Grasses Abundance = 26% (deterioration)
Riverine Forest Cover = 94% (improvement)
Stream Condition Index = 59% (improvement)
Tidal Water Quality (algae, dissolved oxygen, and water clarity) = 62% (improvement)
Vegetated Stream Buffer Restoration = 32% (improvement)

Agricultural Pollution Controls = 48% (improvement)
Bacteria Reduction = 49% (not in 2015 report)
Sediment Pollution Reduction = 46% (improvement)
Nitrogen Pollution Reduction = 52% (deterioration)
Phosphorus Pollution Reduction = 77% (deterioriation)
Stormwater Pollution Controls = 41% (improvement)
Wastewater Pollution Reduction = 118% (improvement)

Land  Protection = 88% (improvement)

Additional Source:
James River Health Improves 10 Points in 10 Years, James River Association News Release, 10/26/17.

News media accounts on the 2017 State of the James report:
James River health improving overall, but more work needed, report says, Daily Press, 10/26/17.
James River health grade improves but more work to do, WVTF FM-Blacksburg, 10/26/17.
From a C to a B-minus in a decade, James River water quality remains a work in progress, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/27/17.
After decades of progress, James River earns a B- in latest report, Bay Journal, 11/1/17.

For a previous News Grouper items a State of the James report (2011), please see this link.

James River at Eagle Rock Botetourt County Jul22 2017 looking downstream
James River at Eagle Rock, Va. (Botetourt County), July 22, 2017.

Analysis of Kepone Levels in James River Fish in 2016 Issued by VIMS Scientists in June 2017

In June 2017, scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) issued their latest report on kepone levels in fish in the James River.  The VIMS researchers found that 35 percent of tissue samples from Striped Bass and White Perch taken in 2016 contained no detectable kepone, while 65 percent still contain detectable levels of the chemical.  Kepone in the James is a legacy of illegal discharges by the former Allied Chemical operation at Hopewell, which resulted in a $13.2 million settlement in 1977.

VIMS researchers sampled James River fish for kepone levels annually from 1975 to 2000, then again in 2002, 2004, 2009, and 2016.  Regarding the results from 2016, report co-author James Unger stated, “Kepone in fish tissues has continued to decline exponentially since 1980 and should be near or below the detection limit in all samples by 2020 or 2025 if current trends continue.”

Source: VIMS report offers mixed news on James River Kepone, William & Mary  News, 6/12/17.

Some Fish School, But Humans Interested in Aquaculture Can GO to “Fish School” at Virginia State University, July 5-7, 2017

On July 5-7, 2017, in Petersburg, Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia State University holds its annual  Fish School.  The event, emphasizing using aquatic resources to provide local food, offers educational sessions on growing fish or shellfish for a hobby or as a commercial enterprise.  Participants may register for single days or for the whole event.

Topics in 2017 include the following:
Day 1 – Species and Marketing, Aquaculture Nutrition, Water Quality and Fish Health; Day 2 – Farm Pond Management, Freshwater Shrimp, Cage Culture;
Day 3 – Greenhouse Production Systems/Aquaponics, Sampling fish populations, Over-Wintering Solar Power Energy Unit, Recirculating Aquaculture Systems.

Each day will have hands-on activities.

For more information, visit; or contact Brian Nerrie, VSU aquaculture extension specialist, at (804) 524-5903 or

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Survey for Winter 2017 Shows 31-percent Increase in Spawning Females over 2016, But Declines in Juveniles and Total Population

On April 19, 2017, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (Md. DNR), and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) reported the results of the latest winter dredge survey of Blue Crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay.  Since 1990, the survey has been conducted each year from December to March by VIMS and the Md. DNR.  The report for the 2016-17 survey showed increases over the previous year in spawning females but decreases in the number of juveniles and in the total population.  Despite the decreases, the population was the 11th highest recorded.   Survey results since 2008 are available online at

Following is an excerpt from the VMRC’s April 19, 2017, news release on the 2016-17 survey (see Sources, below, for the Internet link to the news release PDF):

“The Virginia Marine Resources Commission today released the results of the 2017 blue crab winter dredge survey, which shows a 31-percent increase in adult female crabs and forecasts another year of improved harvests.

“This is the highest level of adult, spawning age females recorded in the 28-year history of the Bay-wide crab winter dredge survey. …The results of the 2017 winter dredge survey show the total population of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay fell a bit, by 18 percent, due to a decline in the number of juvenile crabs, but remains at the 11th highest level ever recorded by the winter dredge survey.   This year’s female spawning stock increased by 31 percent, from 194 million to 254 million crabs, which surpassed the scientifically recommended target of 215 million spawning female crabs and remains well above the minimum safe threshold of 70 million crabs.  Spawning age female crabs are the cornerstone to maintaining a vibrant crab stock, and depend on conservative and cooperative fishery management efforts among the Bay jurisdictions.

“The adult male crab stock fell by 16 percent, from 91 million to a still-substantial 76 million.  However, the juvenile abundance plummeted by 54 percent, from 271 million to 125 million, which is the fourth lowest level on record.

“This was unfortunate but not unprecedented. Optimal spawning conditions do not occur every year.  Successful crab reproduction naturally fluctuates and can be affected by wind, currents, storms, temperature, and cannibalism. In recent years, post-reproduction predation events and environmental factors have caused at times dramatic downturns in crab stock abundance. For example, the level of juveniles fell from 581 million in 2012 to a mere 111 million in 2013.

“This reproductive variability highlights the need for fishery managers to continue to enhance resilience of the stock through adaptive management to compensate for unusual or extreme environmental conditions and the resulting impacts on reproductive success….

“A Bay-wide 10-percent crab harvest reduction was enacted in 2014 by VMRC, Maryland, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to combat low overall crab abundance and to boost a dangerously depleted female spawning stock.   Bay fishery managers have since refined their management regimen to focus on conserving juvenile crabs as well as spawning age female crabs. Each year’s juveniles become the next year’s spawning stock.  Adjusting catch regulations to conserve more of today’s juveniles from harvest when they reach market size in the fall and emerge in the spring after overwintering in the water bottom increases the likelihood they will survive to spawn another generation of abundant crabs in the summer. …

“The Bay-wide commercial harvest increased by 20 percent last year, from 50 million pounds to 60 million pounds, and remains at sustainable levels.  Since 2014, the Bay-wide commercial crab harvest has jumped 71 percent while overall crab abundance has increased by 53 percent.  The current low level of juvenile crabs appears to preclude the reopening of the winter crab dredge fishery, which has remained closed since 2008.

“The annual Bay-wide Winter Dredge Survey is the primary assessment of the Bay’s blue crab population, and has been conducted annually by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources since 1990.  The survey employs crab dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March.  Sampling during winter when blue crabs are usually buried in the mud and stationary, allows scientists to develop, with good precision, estimates of the number of crabs present in the Bay.  The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC), a subcommittee of the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team,is reviewing the new survey results and will release their full analysis of the results in the 2017 Blue Crab Advisory Report this summer.  The annual advisory report is used by managers as they review and update fishery regulations. …”

Following are the lowest and highest estimates of key parts of the Bay crab population since 1990:
Total (both sexes and all ages) – low of 251 million in 2007; high of 852 million in 1993.
Spawning-age females – low of 53 million in 1999; high of 254 million in 2017.
Juvenile-age (both sexes): low of 105 million in 1992; high of 581 million in 2012.

A table of all the results since 1990 is available in the VMRC’s April 19, 2016, news release.

Scientific Survey Shows Promising Blue Crab Stock Abundance with Boost to Adult Females (PDF), Virginia Marine Resources Commission News Release, 4/19/17.
Scientific survey shows highest-ever level of spawning-age female crabs, Virginia Institute of Marine Science News Release, 4/19/17.

Some news accounts on the winter 2016-17 survey are the following:
Survey finds Bay crab population strong, with record number of females, Bay Journal, 4/19/17.
The Chesapeake Bay was less crabby last winter, survey says, Virginian-Pilot, 4/19/17.

For previous News Grouper items on the Blue Crab winter dredge survey, please see this link: