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Virginia Legislature Subcommittee Acts Favorably on Bill to Combat Threats and Interference with Commercial Fishing Vessels

Friday, 02 February 2024 07:15 PM

Menhaden Fisheries Coalition

RICHMOND, VA / ACCESSWIRE / February 2, 2024 / The Virginia House of Delegates Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee, has favorably reported HB 928, legislation to protect commercial watermen, by a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 8-0.

In response to a rising number of threats and at-sea harassment targeting commercial fishermen operating legally in Virginia waters, two bills were introduced in the 2024 Virginia legislative session. The bills, from Delegate Hillary Pugh Kent and Delegate Robert S. Bloxom, Jr. would increase the penalties for intentionally interfering with commercial fishing operations. Today Delegate Kent's bill was considered, amended, and passed by the subcommittee. The bill increases penalties to a Class 1 misdemeanor which is confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both. Additionally, anyone convicted will forfeit hunting and fishing licenses for one year on first offense, and three years on a second offense.

Dangerous incidents are growing in number and aggression and physical injury, and the lives of union-member, commercial fishermen are being increasingly threatened. These hazardous confrontations have been conducted on jet skis and with recreational boats, endangering all involved. Current law provides for minor penalties, like small fines, which are an insufficient deterrent to individuals with the financial means to own and operate recreational watercraft.

One example occurred on September 23, 2023, approximately 1.5 miles east of Buckroe Beach off Hampton. An Ocean Harvesters vessel, the Rappahannock , was deploying its net when a man on a jet ski overtook them, harassed the fishermen while they were in the smaller purse vessels, rode his jet ski inside the net, sprayed the crew with his wake, and yelled obscenities at them, including "how do you like this m****f***ers." In light of threats posted on social media, the crew of the Rappahannock feared the operator might be armed and could start shooting. Video of the incident was taken from the spotter plane operating in tandem with the Rappahannock .

Photo from video of a jet ski harassing commercial watermen on September 23, 2023

This was the third incident of this type which occurred during the late summer months of last year.

While it is individuals who are carrying out these attacks, they are being instigated and fueled by the rhetoric of participants in various sport fishing organizations. These groups monitor and report where commercial boats are operating and where they are anchoring each evening, which appears to have encouraged their membership to harass and disrupt fishing operations.

Some of the threats made online include:

  1. "Navy should use them for target practice."
  2. "Sink them and blame it on Putin. Need to do like they do on Whale Wars."
  3. "Fire the cannons."
  4. "Starting to wonder if we can't do some Whale Wars type stuff to these guys."
  5. "We need Greenpeace to harass them. Or attack submarines."
  6. "Where's the Sea Shepherd… Get the prop fouler out. It can't be that illegal to mess with them."
  7. "I have several rifles with scopes and suppression. If someone is a better shot than me, you're welcome to borrow them to sever the net ropes."
  8. "It's going to take an organization such as Sea Shepherd in order to wake this state up into action. …Now I know why Capt. Paul took matters into his own hands on Whale Wars."
  9. "You got whale war, it's time for menhaden war."
  10. "Yeah, I'd love to do a local 'Sea Shepherd' operation on these fools. Jet skis with prop foulers, etc."
  11. "Where is the Sea Shepherd when you need it?"
  12. "Where's an errant WWII German U-Boat when you really need one…? I've got a small boat and plenty of bottle rockets."
  13. "Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done, at least non-violently."

The jet ski incident described above was reported to the United States Coast Guard and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). The incident was investigated by the VMRC. When the investigator was unable to get a commitment from local prosecutors to take the case, it was prosecuted as a VMRC offense. The perpetrator plead guilty and received a $500 fine, but bragged about his actions on social media, showing no remorse.

"While it's no secret that there have been disagreements between recreational boaters and the commercial menhaden fishery, that animosity has previously been confined to places where it belongs -- debates in public meetings before the regulatory commissions that oversee our fisheries," said Kenny Pinkard , United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 Executive Board Vice President. "We want to thank the delegates and senators who share the concern for our union members who are being put in danger by harassment on the water from individuals in pleasure craft, and who are being threatened with bodily harm online."

(Screenshots of the social media threats listed above can be made available to journalists upon request.)

About the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition
The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition (MFC) is a collective of menhaden fishermen, related businesses, and supporting industries. Comprised of businesses along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition conducts media and public outreach on behalf of the menhaden industry to ensure that members of the public, media, and government are informed of important issues, events, and facts about the fishery.

Stove Boat Communications
(202) 333-2628
[email protected]

SOURCE: Menhaden Fisheries Coalition

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