VIRGINIA BEACH — Steven Epstein, founder of Chesapeake Bay Defense, has worked with citizens and government officials to limit menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.
Despite hope on the part of proponents this year, bills that sought to limit where menhaden can be caught and change oversight of menhaden fishing died during the General Assembly session.
Now Epstein and the organization, formerly called the Chesapeake Bay Defense Foundation, have taken a step back from protesting Omega Protein fishery, whose industry the group says causes damage to the bay.
“We really need to respect our waterways and make sure politics aren’t played dirty,” Epstein said. “Thing should happen the way they should so future generations don’t have to pay for it. The main goal is for our kids to enjoy the same [water] we enjoy now.”
Epstein has lived in the Hampton Road area his entire life. He was born in Newport News, lived in Hampton, and now resides in Virginia Beach. He knows and admires the Hampton Roads area.
He’s also an avid boater and offshore fisherman. Epstein’s Facebook page for the group has over 4,000 likes, and a website has links to information that display pictures such as dead menhaden washed up on the shores. The website promotes an end to close shore fishing of menhaden.
“The main goal is to not to necessarily end fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, but to push them away from the shore” Epstein said. “So it’ll allow room for the fish to reproduce and breed.”
As forage fish, menhaden are important in converting nutrients for larger fish. Menhaden are also eaten by larger fish which essentially makes them a source of sustenance in the bay. When Omega Protein boats fish near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, it affects local fisherman as well, Epstein said.
“We’re not out there to fix this for ourselves,” he said. “This is a long-term problem with a long term solution.”
Ben Landry, public affairs director for Omega Protein, said he did not know Epstein, but found him “to be very passionate about the position he believes in. …
“I also find that some of the communication he’s had … under the umbrella of the Chesapeake Bay Defense Foundation has not been rooted in fact, and that’s an issue that Omega Protein has with him. … And I look forward to meeting Mr. Epstein and having a civil dialogue.”
In light of the recent failure to pass bills to control menhaden fishing, Epstein said the group cannot do much until next year. He’s corresponded with state Del. Barry Knight, R-81st, who has introduced bills to limit menhaden fishing and change the way Virginia oversees menhaden fishing.
Knight, reached by email, wrote, “Steven is a passionate activist and an ally in the cause to see responsible regulations for the menhaden fish population in the Chesapeake Bay. His dedication to the movement shows he genuinely cares about preserving the Chesapeake Bay for future generations.”
Change can be slow.
“It’s a slow moving beast with fishing management, the Atlantic States Marine Fishing Commission,” Epstein said. “They’re making an amendment to the current stock assessment, but nothing happens fast.”
Epstein says he’s not done yet.
“We’re going to do the same thing we did last year,” he said. “We’re not giving upon on what’s happening. It’s definitely frustrating, but I don’t think we did the work for nothing. I think we brought a lot of attention … and, hopefully, it’ll influence things on the fishery management side.”
Epstein’s supporters were largely from the area around the Chesapeake Bay.
“What we can do is say this is wrong, this is why it’s wrong and keep saying it until enough people hear it,” Donnie Edwards, a local supporter of the group, said.
Previously, the group ran a booth promoting their cause at the Shore Drive Farm Market, 2961 Shore Drive, but are currently reorganizing so they can attend more farmers markets with a new strategy, according to Epstein.
“It’s a grassroots effort,” he added, “and, as soon as we’re in a position to be out in the public, we will be back.”
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