After a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Menhaden Management Board on Tuesday, August 7, Reedville’s industrial menhaden operations at Omega Protein will be able to continue fishing for the rest of the year and its 300 employees will be able to keep working. There had been some question about that.
In 2017, the ASMFC reduced the menhaden catch limit from the Chesapeake Bay by 40 per cent to 51,000 metric tons. Since Virginia’s menhaden industry is controlled by the General Assembly the General Assembly would have had to enact a law accepting the limit for it to be in force in Virginia. It didn’t. That left Omega vulnerable to being found “out of compliance” by the ASMFC and to being shut down as a result. At the Aug 7 meeting, the management board put off a decision on the non-compliance question until its February 2019 meeting.
Steve Bowman, Commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, advised the management board that Omega’s landings from the Bay as of the end of June totaled 24,000 metric tons. It is highly unlikely that lands will reach the level of the cap by the end of the fishing season, he said. In those circumstances, he asked the management board not to consider the non-compliance question until the cap is actually exceeded.
The management board declined to adopt Bowman’s suggestion but did put off deciding the matter until its February meeting.
The management board may have been influenced by observations from Chip Lynch of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
He pointed out that federal law and the ASMFC’s own guidelines require a scientific finding of a need for conservation measures such as the new cap. The ASMFC’s own staff has concluded that the available science does not show a need for the cap.
Lynch also pointed out that all other findings of non-compliance have been in situations where over fishing was occurring.
In its response to the management board’s action, Omega said it was glad to have time to develop an equitable solution to the question. It also noted Lynch’s observation that “there is record evidence from the leadership of the Commission that the measure is not related to conservation.”
Omega’s operations have been under attack for many years by sports fishing groups, –Virginia Beach– which doesn’t like to see Omega’s steamers off its shoreline and environmental groups, notably the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Although the groups’ concerns have consistently been proven baseless, they have persisted in trying to shut down Omega.
Omega produces Omega-3 fish oil, a dietary supplement and its oil is used in products ranging from paint to lipstick.