Call for Gear Reform in VA Menhaden Fishery

Feature Photo: Rex Messing of SIMMS Fishing

An overdue community rally to reform gear usage for the menhaden reduction fishery gear in Virginia has hopes of protecting our coast from undue damage and preserving our resources.

Read Our Formal Comments

A key component of every large-scale fishery is using the gear in the manner it was intended.  For those not familiar with the menhaden reduction purse seine fishery, the diagram below shows how the gear should be used.  Conceptually, the bottom of the net is open and allows non-targeted species to escape before the “purse” is drawn closed.  Proper use of the gear is a key component of the controversial menhaden reduction fishery and the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability Certification under which they operate. The vertical net curtain is about 50’ to 60’ in length with the total net length being 1400’-1500’.  

Graphic Source: Marine Stewarship Council.

The following is from the Marine Stewardship Council’s definition of purse seine fishing. Take note of the last sentence in particular:

“A vertical net curtain is used to surround the school of fish, the bottom of which is then drawn together to enclose the fish, rather like tightening the cords of a drawstring purse. Purse-seine fishing in open water is generally considered to be an efficient form of fishing. It has no contact with the seabed and can have low levels of bycatch (accidental catch of unwanted species).”

The use of these nets in water shallower than 60 feet has drastically different implications.  The curtains are now lying on the bottom instead of hanging vertically.  In layman’s terms: the escape hatch at the bottom is closed and there is no exit for non-targeted marine life. Additionally, the net is making contact with the bottom, causing additional damage and interfering with benthic (bottom) habitat. The Chesapeake is already plagued with a whole dinner menu of issues with SAV, oysters, clams and other benthic fauna.  The additional impact of heavily-weighted curtains being dragged across the bottom is very real.

There are certification processes in place to manage these large-scale fisheries with some semblance of responsibility. You can see from the certification documents that these nets are not being used responsibly. The ASMFC produced this document to detail purse seines and to protect SAV.  

The situation at face level appears pretty cut and dry: this gear is not designed to be used in less than 60′ of water, so let’s not allow that to happen. If you agree with common sense community action to conserve our resources, here is your chance to help:

An online petition has been established in Virginia.  This is not a flimsy petition to rename a high school mascot or bring back a favorite dish to a local dinner menu. This is a legitimate state process in Virginia that is the first step in getting new fisheries regulations.  The petition is specifically for purse seines and their use in shallow waters.  

You can view the complete petition by clicking here. The comment period for this petition ends on August 21, 2023. You can submit your comment by clicking here. There have been around 200 comments at the time of this blog. The comments are public and viewable by all.  Please be respectful, thoughtful and most importantly: be a force for good.  If you need a little guidance in building your comment, feel free to lean in on the key points below with your own personal sentiments:


  1. These purse seine nets are not being used as they are intended.
  2. Water depths less the 60’ do not allow for non-targeted marine life to escape.
  3. The use of these nets in water depths less than 60’ can cause damage to essential fish habitat.
  4. Depth restrictions will help avoid nets spills, net tears, and waste of the resource – which is beneficial for all stakeholders.

ASGA supports this campaign as a reasonable, responsible and science-based effort to conserve our marine resources and other marine life. We respect all of the community members who take the initiative to develop campaigns to do so. We appreciate all those who try their best to stay engaged and educated, especially in the age of short-form, busy and nuanced digital conversation.


18 Responses

  1. Chasing menhaden, mullet, shrimp or other targeted baitfish up tidal & non tidal rivers, wether with purse, roller or other netting practices should be banned in all US coastal waters, period. It is bad enough when you see what devastation has occurred offshore, at least let’s agree on sanctuary waters.

  2. As someone who works, recreates, and harvests food from our oceans, I support this petition for depth restrictions on Menhaden Purse Seine fisheries gear to ensure the nets by-catch escape system functions properly as well as minimizing damage to habitat, gear, and overall health of our ocean.

  3. Large scale reduction fishing shouldn’t be allowed in the Chesapeake Bay in the first place, let alone doing it improperly.

    1. Using nets, purse, and other barbaric techniques in any waters creates tremendous amounts of bycatch, however it’s very clear that by doing this in non tidal waters has been very well documented and has been proven to be very destructive for our migratory predatory fish, this should and needs to be ended immediately. Not too mention the fact that the Overharvesting of other species such as menhaden is clearly documented as well. When will we learn that we are in charge of the destiny of the planet, and the oceans are the front line. Every single species plays a vital role!
      Save our stripers!!!

  4. The BAM mathematical model is
    “irreproducible science” . The grandiose predictions concerning stock size are wholly untestable outside of the model. Peer reviewers are all “ friendlies” of the statisticians operating model. Preferred outcomes are achieved by adjusting inputs routinely . This nonsense collapsed the North West cod fishery.
    As the model is made to be unintelligible and opaque no arguments are considered outside of model. By my reading they are holding stock at 15% of unfished biomass by their estimate? I believe ibiomass is much lower. Closing the reduction fishery cures all ills.

  5. It’s awful they can’t follow the rules, the menhaden is the key food supply for the predators that live in the bay, the nets ruin the bottom and kill a lot of gamefish, let’s stop this now

  6. I am a frequent recreational fisherman both in the inshore tributaries and the bay itself. I have seen firsthand the steady decline of cobia, rockfish, trout and other sport fish. Not only are the numbers WAY down but all species are drastically underweight for their length. The constant attempt to correct these situations is to reduce creel limits on each species. This has proven to be a futile effort. The majority of our recreational fisherman are catch and release sportsman who do everything in their power to preserve the resource we have now. Unless Omega and it’s monetary influence is stopped, the Chesapeake Bay will not recover.

  7. Nice to tighten restrictions and regulate the depths these types of purse nets are used in the Chesapeake and surrounding shallow estuaries..The future impact to commercial and recreational fishing alike is widespread and devastating..

  8. The Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest and most complex estuaries in the world and for us to continue to allow entities to harvest from our resource using equipment and practices not intended for the space is a complete misuse and misstep. We need to tighten up on this industry and realize what it means for the longevity of our fishery. Large scale reduction of aquatic biomass on any front is a major red flag so let’s look at this: keep these entities fishing outside the bay altogether and otherwise further restrict the waters they can fish. Large as it is, the bay is fragile and needs to be managed as such.

  9. There are plenty of fish resources in deeper water for commercial operations to be successful. Strongly urging officials to make it unlawful to use purse netting in water less than 60’ feet deep.

  10. The ocean every where needs a little break from all of the stuff happening on the ocean. Water temperatures and coral bleaching, red tides, over saline water levels in Florida. Louisiana habitat loss, over harvesting of fish. On and on ….. its all sad shit and the menhaden netting is just another bad thing that needs to stop. I am a commercial fisherman and I am seeing the writing on the wall!

  11. This is a common sense solution to a serious problem. Use the equipment in a manner it was designed to be used to allow for less bycatch. Stop allowing a huge corporation to have a massive impact on public natural resources!

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