Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Natural and Historic Resources
Marine Resources Commission
Marine Resources Commission
Petition 392
Petition Information
Petition Title Gear type use in Virginia waters pertaining to depth of current purse seine nets
Date Filed 7/6/2023    [Transmittal Sheet]
Petitioner Bill Dunn 
Petitioner's Request

Petition for regulation to ensure proper gear type use in Virginia Waters pertaining to depth of current purse seine nets utilized and its relationship to the depth of waters within the Chesapeake Bay waters by the Menhaden purse seine net fishery.

Currently "Ocean Harvesters”, a subsidiary of Omega Protein and 2 other private menhaden companies   (i.e Purse Seine Fishery) are utilizing purse seine nets that extend 50 to 60 feet down in the shallow water column within the confines of Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia waters inside the EEZ offshore.  This has been causing many of the past and recent issues with massive fish kills of both the primary target of menhaden as well as fish kills of game fish such as Red Drum that occurred this past year.  This is because of improper gear type usage in waters that are allowing these nets to catch game fish that feed on menhaden which can’t escape through the bottom per design of the net before it is closed (or pursed) as they are dragged on the sea bottom.  In addition these nets when dragged along the bottom due to current etc. cause net tears which if the net has been "pursed” causes many now dead or dying fish to be released into the waters.

This improper use of purse seine nets by allowing them to scrape the sea bottom is also causing massive amounts of SAV (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation) sea grass and other bottom growth to be destroyed and when conditions are right it shows up on the shore as can be seen in this picture last year at Kiptopeke State Park last year with bycatch and massive amounts of displaced seagrass along the beach as evidenced in the picture below.

The most recent description of net depths used by Ocean Harvesters was evidenced in the Dec 6th VMRC meeting seen at approximately 3:06:40 here of nets depths of 50’ to 60’ by Capt. Thomas Moore of Ocean Harvesters:     

This practice of ensuring a "Safety Zone” below the net when deployed is documented in many publications and is specifically outlined in the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that Omega Protein has gone through great lengths to become an accredited member of.  MSC states that "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).”

Purse Seine net design dictates that the net be deployed to a depth that is above the sea bottom in order for the issues above to be alleviated but for some reason their use in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay as well as inshore portions of Virginia’s coastal waters has been overlooked by the management groups controlling their use and need to be addressed as a gear type use restriction issue. Currently per Virginia Code 28.2-410 Virginia only regulates a mesh size of these nets to not be less than 1 ¾” with no net depth restrictions listed to ensure a safety zone below the net when deployed.

The Virginia MRC has only recently acquired jurisdiction of this fishery and the depth of these nets used has never been discussed as a regulation to prevent the problems discussed above which needs to be addressed as the proper method to regulate in order to prevent menhaden spill/kills, unwanted bycatch and damage to Virginia’s sea bottom SAV (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation).

I hereby request that the VMRC implement regulations of the depth of these purse seine nets within the shallow waters of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and offshore waters to meet the purse sein net design criterion in order to provide no contact with the seabed in order to eliminate these issues. This could be implemented with a regulation such as "No Purse Seine net may be placed in any area of Virginia’s waters that is less than 5’ deeper that the depth of the actual net utilized.”

Agency's Plan

The Marine Resources Commission, as required by Virginia law, is submitting notice of the petition for publication in the Virginia Register of Regulations and announcing a public comment period. Following receipt of comments on the petition, the Commission will consider whether to grant or deny the petition for rulemaking.

Comment Period Began 7/31/2023    Ended 8/21/2023
Virginia Register Announcement Submitted on 7/6/2023
The Virginia Register of Regulations
Published on: 7/31/2023     Volume: 39  Issue: 25
Agency Decision Take no action [Transmittal Sheet]    
Response Date 11/13/2023
Decision Publication Date Published on: 12/4/2023     Volume: 40  Issue: 8
Agency Decision Summary

Based on public comment and staff analysis, the Commission Board denied the petition for rulemaking for the following reasons:  

Environmental Impact: 

  1. No evidence of improper gear usage as indicated by the petition for rulemaking. 

  1. No evidence of purse seine nets dragging the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. 

  1. Empirical knowledge indicates a relatively low environmental impact across time and space. 

  1. Due to the natural depth distribution of seagrasses in the Chesapeake Bay, this gear type is unlikely to encounter these seagrasses on the seafloor. 

Goal Alignment: 

  1. The proposed rulemaking has the potential to inadvertently eliminate purse seine fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, which may not align with the original intent of the petition. 

  1.  A majority of the public comment conflated petition concerns and public discourse regarding the potential impacts of Atlantic menhaden fisheries removals from the spatial scale of the Chesapeake Bay. Multiple research proposals seek to address these potential impacts are being considered by VMRC, VIMS, and other research partners, but are not pertinent to the petition’s request for rulemaking. 

Economic Considerations: 

  1. The petition has the potential to create unintended economic consequences across purse seine sectors and the end user of these fisheries products. 

  1. A comprehensive economic impact assessment would need to be considered to ensure that any changes in regulation do not disproportionately affect the livelihoods of those economies involved in purse seine fishing. 

Contact Information
Name / Title: Jennifer Farmer  / Regulatory Coordinator
Address: 380 Fenwick Road
Building 96
Fort Monroe, 23651
Email Address:
Telephone: (757)247-2248    FAX: (757)247-2002    TDD: ()-