Omega Protein Overfishes Menhaden Cap for Chesapeake Bay

15 hours ago

Omega ships at the company's plant in Reedville.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

Last week, Omega Protein, a menhaden fishing fleet, exceeded the amount of fish they were told they could harvest from the Chesapeake Bay.

Omega, renders the fish into food for farm-raised fish and oil supplements for people.

In 2017, commissioners from Florida to Maine who manage the Atlantic fisheries, worried the harvesting of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay may not be sustainable. So, they capped harvests at 51,000 metric tons.

That was not a problem until bad weather dogged Omega this year making fishing in the Atlantic unsafe. Ben Landry, a spokesman for Omega, said huge schools of menhaden have been just inside the bay at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel this season.  "So, if weather is inclement in the ocean, our only option at that point is do we catch fish in the Chesapeake Bay or do we just tie up at the dock as we try to conserve the state cap. We made the decision that we were going to harvest these fish, make sure that our employees continued to get their paychecks every week," Landry said.

Last month, Omega paid a $400,000 fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission after the company misrepresented to investors it was in compliance with covenants related to loan agreements with the federal government. The SEC called the company “a repeat offender of the Clean Water Act.”

The harvest cap violation will be taken up in November by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which can initiate an enforcement action or wait until February for a much-anticipated science-based assessment on how fishing impacts other bay species that eat menhaden, including striped bass and bald eagles.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.