The Virginia Marine Resources Commission, bowing to angry sports fishermen and pressure from Gov. Charles S. Robb, yesterday voted emergency measures restricting use of controversial gill nets to catch Chesapeake Bay bluefish.
The unanimous decision reversed a commission vote on Tuesday that declared operations by four Florida fishing vessels in the lower Bay -- which opponents said threatened to deplete the bay's bluefish population -- posed no emergency.
Under new regulations effective immediately, gill nets must be strung in a straight line at a minimum of 100-foot intervals. The rules ban encircling techniques, which critics said had the effect of scooping up virtually everything in the path of the nets. The 100-foot limit does not apply in bay tributaries.
The action followed mounting criticism of Robb, who was accused of inaction by charter-boat captains in both Maryland and Virginia. Robb also received a partisan blast yesterday from Republican Rep. Stanford E. Parris, who said he is introducing legislation that would restrict gill net fishing in all U.S. inland waters.
"Robb's judgment that it's not a crisis is obviously wrong," Parris said yesterday. "I think the Robb administration has failed to recognize the severity of the problem."
"There have been a lot of emotional statements all along that are not like the facts," Robb press secretary George Stoddart said later. "Sometimes it's more difficult to get the facts than to make statements."
Stoddart defended gill net techniques as "very specific on what would be caught." Recreational fishermen and charter-boat owners dispute that, however, contending the Florida vessels have taken a wide variety of bay fish while catching more than half the bay's average annual yield of 1.6 million pounds of bluefish.