Rachel Maddow, the Atlantic infrastructure needs you
There are two reasons why I like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: she likes to fish for striped bass and she’s an infrastructure geek.
Yet, she has not put the two together on her popular weeknight show despite the obvious connection.
Now’s the time, Rach.
Within the next few weeks, East Coast states will begin outlining the public comment process for a proposal to protect menhaden from commercial overfishing. For decades, humans have treated the bony, oily fish badly, overharvesting them in 34 of the last 52 years to the point where the population is at a historic low.
That’s bad news for stripers, which are having problems of their own and really don’t need a depleted food source on top of filthy water and a nasty fatal disease that has attacked half of the adult population in the Chesapeake Bay.
Forty percent of the East Coast’s menhaden begin their lives in the Chesapeake as do more than 75 percent of striped bass, the kind Maddow likes to catch when they migrate up to Massachusetts in summer.
Menhaden are a vital part of the infrastructure for a sustainable striped bass stock, just as building bridges and roads and replacing old water pipes are necessary parts of a functioning America.
Yet, attempts to protect menhaden, and by extension striped bass, have been thwarted for almost a decade by Omega Protein Corp., which is the only entity still fishing for menhaden in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake. Maryland prohibited the practice years ago.
Old Dominion politicians protect Omega and the 300 jobs at the fish processing plant on Virginia’s Northern Neck in extraordinary ways. In return, they have received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.
But after years of stalling, members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission finally showed some gumption, voting last week to let the public discuss five options to reduce the menhaden harvest, the first step in updating a decade-old policy. Regular folks from Maine to Florida will get a chance to speak up for a small fish that nourishes a bigger fish that nourishes the spirit of many an angler--like Maddow, you and me.
Omega, like any successful company, has money and lawyers to protect its interests. In a brilliant tactical move, it has switched the focus from itself to the economic future of small bait companies up and down the coast that supply menhaden to lobstermen and blue crab harvesters.
That is likely to give some ASMFC representatives pause in November when they vote in Boston on a harvest reduction plan.
If a bridge is falling down, you replace it. If a road is clogged beyond capacity, you widen it. If a water main bursts, you lay some new pipe. And if the primary food of striped bass is at historically low levels, you restock the pantry.
Infrastructure isn’t sexy. But, as Maddow likes to say, it is vital.