Omega Protein critical of ASMFC actions on Chesapeake menhaden

Published on
May 7, 2018

A spokesman for Omega Protein said his company took exception to the statement released last week by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that put Virginia on notice for not implementing a reduced catch limit for menhaden in Chesapeake Bay. 

Ben Landry, Omega Protein’s director of public affairs, told SeafoodSource that the commission’s decision last November to reduce the Chesapeake Bay cap by more than 36,000 metric tons was “devoid of science.” The company processes menhaden at its Reedville, Virginia facility, which sits on the western shore of the bay.

“We feel that it’s targeting one company, which is what this provision applies to Omega,” said Landry, noting that there are no caps for the bait fishery. “It’s not in accordance with the best available science. It’s not necessary for the conservation of the species because it’s not overfished.”

Across the ASMFC’s jurisdiction, the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board raised the total allowable catch to 216,000 metric tons for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, representing an eight percent increase. However, the limit for Chesapeake Bay was set for just 51,000 metric tons. 

Environmental advocates argued for the Chesapeake cuts, claiming the bay is a critical nursery for the species. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, nearly 70 percent of Atlantic menhaden spend their first year in the bay. The fish also plays a key role in the bay’s food chain as menhaden consumes plankton to prevent blooms. In turn, other marine life, such as striped bass, prey on the fish.

“Successful menhaden management requires that each state play by the rules,” Joseph Gordon, Pew’s senior manager for mid-Atlantic conservation, wrote in a recent blog post. “Rather than reversing a 14-2 decision that is widely supported by the public, the commission must hold the line on the [b]ay cap to protect menhaden and its predators.”

States were supposed to have their management plans in place by 15 April. Virginia’s state legislature failed to act earlier this year on a couple of bills that would have codified the new catch limit, and last week, the commission notified the state it could be considered out of compliance by August. 

Rob O’Reilly, chief of fisheries management for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, told SeafoodSource in an email that the legislature holds the authority over menhaden fishery.

Landry said Omega Protein urged legislators not to pass the legislation, saying data shows the commission could have approved a much larger overall increase than the eight percent catch hike it approved for 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Should the commission rule Virginia out of compliance, it could lead to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to take such action as a moratorium on menhaden fishing in state waters. Landry, however, downplayed such a drastic scenario.

“They would have a hard time finding Virginia out of compliance,” he said.

Omega Protein’s origins date back to opening of the Reedville plant 140 years ago. Year-round, the facility employs about 125 people, Landry said. During peak fishing season, that number more than doubles.

The company processes menhaden for use in such products as pet food, human nutritional supplements and cosmetics.

Photo courtesy of Omega Protein

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