Omega Protein Exceeds Limit, Keeps Harvesting

The Canadian menhaden-reduction operator says it has exceeded the catch cap set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in the Chesapeake Bay but will continue harvesting pogies anyway.

Omega Protein harvesting seafood
An infinitesimal fraction of the more-than-87,000 metric tons Omega Protein plans to harvest from the Chesapeake Bay this year.Courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The largest harvester of menhaden in U.S. waters, Canadian-owned Omega Protein, acknowledged that it has exceeded the cap in total harvest for Chesapeake Bay menhaden, yet it is continuing to haul in pogies. The company has said it will instead comply with a considerably higher catch limit set by the state of Virginia.

The ASMFC recommended a 51,000-metric-ton cap on menhaden harvest in the Chesapeake Bay, while Virginia has set that cap at 87,216 metric tons.

The lower limit was “arbitrarily low and unscientific” according to an Omega statement. It further cited safety of its fishermen, claiming that rough weather outside the bay that forced its industrial seiners to work inside the bay.

The ASFMC has denied that there is anything "arbitrary" about the 51,000-ton limit, a spokesman telling Undercurrent that the agency has used the same approach to set limits for many species in many fisheries. The ASFMC is scheduled to further consider menhaden on Oct. 28.

In a statement issued Sept. 13, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation observed that the ASMC cap was overwhelmingly adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) as a precautionary measure to ensure that the menhaden population left in the Bay can support species that prey on it, such as striped bass and bluefish, as well as marine mammals and birds.

Foundation scientist Chris Moore pointed out that scientists, conservationists, anglers and concerned citizens all participated in the bay menhaden cap. “This violation is unfortunately another example of Omega’s refusal to do the right thing when it comes to the region’s natural resources. It continues a long history of damaging environmental actions that have included millions of dollars in fines for water quality violations.”

Despite strong objections from a coalition of anglers’ and conservation groups, Omega Protein was recently certified as a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council.