We recently reported on industrial fishing giant Omega Protein blatantly ignoring the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) 51,000 metric ton catch limit for menhaden (bunker, pogies) in Chesapeake Bay. The ASMFC’s Menhaden Management Board responded last week by voting unanimously to find Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery out of compliance with the regional fishery management plan.
A press release issued by The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, noted that they, the American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association all objected to Omega Protein’s fishing practices, which intentionally ignored the Commission’s Chesapeake Bay catch limit. Omega previously made a commitment to comply with the limit, but last month announced it would exceed the cap.
“We commend the Board for holding Omega accountable and finding Virginia out of compliance with the management plan,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Association. “We are confident that the Secretary of Commerce will recognize the powerful economics of fishing for all species and not allow a single foreign company to set their own catch limits and jeopardize coastal economies that depend on sport fishing.”
“The Chesapeake Bay Harvest Cap is a wise management solution that conserves menhaden as critical forage for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem while reducing conflicts between an industrial fishing fleet and the sport fishing community,” said Mike Waine, Atlantic fisheries policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “Allowing Omega to make its own rules when harvesting America’s natural resources is not in the best interest of the nation’s sport fishing businesses and anglers.”
“It’s significant this was a unanimous vote of all Atlantic coast states to find Omega out of compliance,” said Richen Brame, Atlantic states fisheries director for the Coastal Conservation Association. “The vote included each state’s fishery agency director or their representative, all trained natural resource professionals, and they found Omega had crossed the line. We sincerely hope Secretary Ross agrees and does the right thing – close down menhaden harvest until they come into compliance.”
Research suggests industrial fishing of menhaden could be responsible for as much as a 30-percent decline in striped bass. A study determined the 2016 striped bass fishery generated $7.8 billion toward our nation’s gross domestic product.
The ASMFC Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board and the full Commission were working towards a final decision on Virginia’s compliance with the Menhaden Management Plan last week, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will then make a concurrence determination within 30 days. Should the Secretary side with the unanimous decision of the states on the Menhaden Management Board, then the fishery will be shut down until Virginia comes into compliance with the regional fishery management plan.
Omega Protein, a division of Canadian-owned Cooke Inc., is the only reduction fishing operation on the U.S. East Coast. The company harvests more than 140,000 metric tons of fish per year – 74 percent of the total coastwide quota.
The full Commission will vote in 2020 on whether to implement an ecosystem-based management plan for menhaden. Recent management efforts have resulted in an abundance of bunker along the Northeast Coast, resulting in a dramatic increase in whales, porpoises, sharks, tuna and other species that have taken advantage of the abundant forage. While a healthy supply of bunker is critical to the Chesapeake Bay fishery, the oily baitfish are also a major food source for striped bass throughout their range. Needless to say, many people will anxiously be awaiting Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision on whether or not to shut down the fishery.