Digest

October 31, 2007

Va. resists banning menhaden fishing

A top Virginia regulator said yesterday that there's no need for a ban on industrial menhaden fishing in his state's waters and that the oily baitfish that is a prime source of food for striped bass is not being depleted in the Chesapeake Bay.

"There's no evidence to suggest that it needs to be banned. In fact, there's no evidence at this point that localized depletion is even occurring," said Jack Travelstead, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Travelstead, in Annapolis yesterday to attend a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, was reacting to a bill introduced this month by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland. The Eastern Shore Republican is seeking to ban industrial menhaden fishing in federal and state waters.

Most East Coast states have banned so-called "reduction fisheries," in which fish are caught en masse to be ground into fish oil or animal food. But Virginia still has one, Omega Protein Co., which uses spotter planes to locate schools of menhaden and then drops large seine nets to scoop them up.

Omega takes millions of pounds of menhaden out of the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay each year. For years, recreational fishermen have complained that such efforts are starving the bay's striped bass populations, resulting in skinny, sickly fish.

The fisheries commission, though, has been reluctant to restrict Omega because data don't show the species is being overfished. The commission continues to study the issue, but thus far has no conclusive evidence on overfishing.

After years of pressure from environmental groups, the commission last capped Omega's harvest at 109,000 metric tons. But Omega caught only half that amount - an indication to Gilchrest that the species was in trouble.

James Price, a fisherman who has been pushing the commission to address the menhaden issue for more than a decade, said the Gilchrest bill is a step in the right direction.

"There's a lot of forces at work that are going to make something happen," he said. "We don't know exactly when or what, but it's all starting to come together."

Rona Kobell

Frederick County

Plan to purchase land delayed

A Muslim group's plan to purchase 224 acres of Walkersville farmland to use for an annual convention and other activities is on hold until the new year, when two different government bodies will vote on the issue.

The town's Board of Appeals voted Monday to postpone until Jan. 8 a public hearing on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's request to use the farmland for religious purposes. The Muslim group, which asked for more preparation time, needs the board's approval because the land is zoned for agriculture.

At the same time, the town's commissioners are considering a zoning amendment that would change the law and prohibit outright places of worship, schools and private clubs, among others, from building on agricultural land. After a public hearing on the amendment this month, which drew a crowd of about 150 people, commissioners agreed to delay voting on the matter until January.

The plans of the Ahmadiyya Muslims have roiled the town of 6,000 residents. While some support the group, currently based in Silver Spring, others say that Walkersville doesn't have the infrastructure to accommodate a convention that could draw as many as 10,000 people during an annual three-day convention.

Rona Marech

911 call said to record killing

Court documents say the fatal shooting of a Woodsboro woman was heard in a cell phone call to 911 and was recorded.

Charles Hahn, 57, was arrested Sunday in the killing of Pamela Hahn, 45. Charging documents say the 911 dispatcher who took the call heard heavy breathing and a female voice repeatedly saying "No!" then heard a gunshot before the call was disconnected.

The recording has not been made public because it is part of the investigation.

Dispatchers used coordinates from a cell phone tower to trace the call. Sheriff's deputies found Charles Hahn outside the couple's home on Wood Street and Pamela Hahn's body on a bed in an upstairs bedroom. She had gunshot wounds to her face and chest.

Charging documents say relatives told detectives the couple had been separated.

Associated Press

MARYLAND

Food-stamp access earns bonus

The Maryland Department of Human Resources has received a $1.1 million bonus from the federal government for successfully expanding local access to food stamps, according to a statement released by the agency.

The head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service was on hand to present the bonus check to Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald on Monday.

FNS Administrator Roberto Salazar said that Maryland was one of eight states with the best or most improved access to food stamps.

Maryland recently created a Web site that allows nonprofit organizations to submit online applications for food assistance on behalf of needy families.

As a result, the number of families receiving such assistance has increased, said Donald. The bonus money will be used to further improve access to food assistance programs, she said.

Lynn Anderson

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