Omega Protein anticipates few COVID-19 impacts to Virginia’s menhaden season

Published on
May 7, 2020

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic's widespread impact on the U.S. seafood industry, Reedville, Virginia-based Omega Protein is expecting to have relatively few impacts to the menhaden fishery.

Omega Protein, a division of Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada-based Cooke Inc., is by-far the largest fisher of menhaden in the U.S. – catching tens of thousands of tons of the species each year. Primarily used for reduction purposes, the species has avoided the economic hardships of premium seafood species, according to Ben Landry, director of public affairs for Omega Protein.

“Thankfully, we have experienced little to no health nor financial impacts, aside from the necessary monetary expenses to protect our employees from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Landry told SeafoodSource.

The Menhaden fishing season only started recently on 20 April, which according to Landry helped the company prepare its facilities for the virus.

“Our fishing season started on Monday, April 20 so we were afforded a reasonable amount of time to develop COVID-19 safety and sanitary protocols for all our facilities,” Landry said. “We believe the procedures that we have established have worked great to ensure our employees’ safety.”

In fact, he said, the company is optimistic about the 2020 season.

“We are entering the 2020 fishing season with great optimism for several reasons,” he said. “Both fish stocks that we harvest, Atlantic and Gulf menhaden, are sustainably fished, and there are no concerns about the respective populations. Also, global demand for our fish meal and oil products remain strong, so we look forward to a productive year on the water as well as in the marketplace.”

He added that the business has remained stable since the COVID-19 pandemic started, despite supply chain challenges.

This year, the company will be dealing with a reduced quota for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, following a rebuke from U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Ross had imposed a moratorium, which would have taken effect in June, due to Omega Protein deliberately exceeding a 51,000-metric-ton (MT) cap on the species in the bay that had been established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The rebuke was also against the state of Virginia, which had failed to codify the 51,000-MT cap established by the ASMFC.  

That moratorium has been avoided, however, thanks to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission approving a set of menhaden regulations which started on 4 May, that established the previous 51,000-MT cap. Due to exceeding that cap in 2019, Omega Protein will only be able to land 36,000 MT of menhaden.

Omega Protein has already signaled its support of the new caps.

“Avoiding the possibility of a moratorium and protecting our hard-working employees in Reedville has always been our top priority,” Landry said. “Now that the VMRC has regulatory authority over menhaden, the company looks forward to working cooperatively with the commission on fisheries management decisions that are in accordance with the best available science.” 

Photo courtesy of Omega Protein

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