Volume 13, Issue 35 ~ September 1 - 7, 2005
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Prepare for Fishy Dealings in this Menhaden Mess

Out on the Bay this fall rockfish season, anglers should keep one eye on their line and the other on Virginia.

That’s because the Virginia General Assembly has the choice whether to accept an order from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to cap Omega Protein’s huge harvests of menhaden in the lower Chesapeake.

As they say about fishing, it ain’t no sure thing.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Maryland officials lined up forcefully behind the plan to limit the Houston-based company’s annual take of menhaden to 105,800 metric tons over the next five years.

That still amounts to millions of the oily little marvels that are not heading north to sustain Chesapeake sportfish and cleanse the Bay by filter-feeding on nutrient pollution.

In Virginia, politicians generally support Omega Protein. That would include Gov. Mark Warner, the term-limited Democrat who is mulling over a race for his party’s presidential nomination.

Message to Mark: You’ve got no hope of winning anything in the state of Tom DeLay, Texas, so don’t rile up conservationists needlessly.

If Virginia balks at doing the right thing, the fisheries commission can ask the U.S. Department of Commerce to force Omega to comply.

That strikes us as a risky entry into the political arena given that the department is full of Texans, with its ultimate boss the Texan in the White House.

Our advice to Marylanders worried about the menhaden crisis is to prepare for a long battle — and know who we’re up against.

Omega Protein is owned principally by the Zapata Corp., which was co-founded by a Texan — and not just any Texan, but former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Zapata was an oil company when the elder Bush was involved, but in the 1990s it went from pumping oil out of the ground to squeezing it out of fish.

Now Zapata has another high-profile owner: Malcolm Glazer, the billionaire who owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League and who riled much of the United Kingdom recently with his hostile takeover of the venerable Manchester United soccer team. (So root for the Redskins against the Bucs Nov. 13.)

Virginia may, indeed, sign on to the menhaden limit. But given the precarious state of our striped bass, the laws of fishing apply: Don’t count it until you’ve caught it.

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