Proposed Regulation Amendment

4VAC15-340-80. Fish: Seines And Nets. Eel pots for taking American eels for sale.

Summary

The proposal is to allow the taking of American eels using eel pots for commercial purposes in Back Bay and its natural tributaries and the North Landing River and its tributaries.

Text of Regulation

Rationale

Legislation was enacted on July 1, 2012, to clarify the jurisdictional authority between the Marine Resources Commission (MRC) and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) with regard to Back Bay and the North Landing River. The effect of this action is that DGIF has statutory and regulatory authority over all fish, and the fisheries reliant on these species, in these systems. One fishery that has existed for many years in these systems is the recreational and commercial harvest of American eels using "pots" for private use, "bait" sales, and sale on the food market.

Staff was aware of the small-scale eel pot fishery, and the intent of the clarification language was to permit the harvest of fish with current DGIF licenses, gill nets and haul seines, and to eliminate the unpermitted use of "pots" to take eels and other fish. The eel pot fishery, based on the MRC Mandatory Harvest Reporting data, shows a small-scale fishery with annual landings of approximately 4,000 pounds or less for the previous five years. Prior to the modifications of the Code of Virginia § 29.1-109 and § 28.2-101, there was perceived ambiguity on the jurisdictional control of personal or commercial eel pots. As of July 1, 2012, the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries has clear authority to regulate this fishery; however, there were no provisions for it to establish licenses or permits to allow such harvest.

The Virginia General Assembly has passed HB1629 during its 2013 session, which gives the Board the authority to establish and charge for permits that will allow the personal and commercial harvest of American eels via the use of eel pots. Assuming that Governor McDonnell signs this bill, with an effective date of July 1, 2013, staff wants to ensure that appropriate regulations are in place effective July 1, 2013, to allow for the late summer and fall harvest of eels.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has developed a fisheries management plan (FMP) for American eels, the goals of which are: 1) Protect and enhance the abundance of American eel in inland and territorial waters of the Atlantic States and jurisdictions and contribute to the viability of the American eel spawning population; and 2) Provide for sustainable commercial, subsistence, and recreational fisheries by preventing overharvest of any eel life stage. American eel abundance has depleted to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found merit in a petition to list American eels, and is currently conducting a status review of the species to determine if it should list the species as either Threatened or Endangered. Given documented declines in the resource, fisheries managers are focused on preventing over harvest of eels, therefore staff is recommending a limited entry fishery. Permit conditions will have specific reporting requirements intended to fully document harvest.

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