The powers that be in Virginia made their first move yesterday toward implementing a cap on the number of commercially caught menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay. One month after allowing a deadline to pass that would have capped this year’s catch, Governor Tim Kaine and the Omega Protein company announced yesterday that they’ve agreed upon a ceiling of 109 thousand metric tons for the next five years.

That number is more than three thousand metric tons higher than last year’s proposal from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission of 105.8 thousand. But despite the jump, Todd Keller, of the grassroots conservation group Menhaden Matter, called it a benchmark day for their organization after five years of petitioning for a cap.

“When we started five years ago we proposed a cap of 110 thousand,” Keller said. “Now we’ve done a lot more studies, and there should be no problem going forward from here.”

During the course of the debate, menhaden have often been called “The Most Important Fish in the Sea” due to its role as a food source for countless other species including sport fish like striped bass and bluefish. But as studies continued to show the health benefits of increased amino acids, more and more oily menhaden have been ground up and rendered into a dietary supplement.

Now the proposal will return to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission who will need to approve the new number before it can be officially put in place by the Virginia legislature. That process will last, at least, a couple months Keller said.