Virginia Acts to Plug Loophole on Commercial Speckled Trout Harvest

By December 2, 2021Virginia

Photo Courtesy of CCA Maryland

Anglers Applaud Prompt Response to Calls for Action

CCA Virginia recently sent a letter to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) urging the Commission to immediately prohibit commercial fishermen from using haul seines as “stop nets,” an illegal technique in which large quantities of speckled trout are kept alive in the net’s pocket to be harvested multiple times over several days.

Changes to the commercial regulations were implemented this past summer to address a supposed “bycatch” problem. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence was a targeted harvest that put Virginia’s speckled trout fishery unnecessarily at risk.

This week, in response to its letter, the VMRC informed CCA Virginia that all state haul seine license holders have been notified that penning fish is unlawful under the Code of Virginia § 28.2-1203, and the VMRC committed to CCA Virginia that it will correct this troublesome issue through regulation in early 2022. CCA Virginia urges the VMRC to adopt regulations that specifically prohibit the use of haul seines as stationary gear for the purpose of penning fish that stops their natural migration for all fisheries.

The Commission also instructed commercial fishermen to immediately remove such devices (stop nets) from the Commonwealth’s waters. According to state law, individuals who seek to place “any structure in or on the subaqueous bottoms of the Commonwealth” are required to obtain a permit from the VMRC’s Habitat Division. The Commission told CCA Virginia they have not and will not issue permits for this practice.

“Although we are frustrated that this loophole has resulted in the additional, and in our view completely unnecessary, harvest of such an important gamefish, we’re encouraged that the VMRC is committed to ending this troublesome netting practice as soon as possible,” said Rob Allen, president of CCA Virginia. “CCA Virginia will actively participate in the process to permanently prohibit stop netting when the VMRC’s Finfish Management Advisory Committee and the full Commission take up the issue in 2022.”

Historically, Virginia’s speckled trout fishery has been predominately a recreational fishery, a fact reinforced several years ago when Virginia’s sport anglers supported reductions in creel and stricter size limits for speckled trout. However, because striper numbers are in decline in the Chesapeake and throughout its coastal range, more Bay anglers now target speckled trout. Moreover, breeding sized trout are particularly vulnerable to cold-stun events in which they can die in just a day or two when Bay water temperature fall between 41-44F degrees. These factors are why CCA Virginia strongly believes the VMRC should manage this popular game fish conservatively.

“CCA Virginia members are committed to ensuring our state’s marine fisheries are healthy and sustainable, today and for future generations,” said Allen. “That’s why we should manage speckled trout—and all gamefish and forage, for that matter—for maximum abundance, not for maximum harvest.”

Kevin Hickson

Author Kevin Hickson

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