This week Omega Protein, a Canadian owned seafood company, spilled more than 400,000 dead menhaden fish into Hampton Roads waters, according to a Sept. 8 letter by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). The fish spilled during two separate incidents this week. On one occasion a full fishing net off Grandview Beach in Hampton snagged an old anchor on the bottom, tearing the net and sending thousands of dead fish into the water. These fish may wash up on Hampton Roads beaches this weekend.
Menhaden are a key food fish for striped bass, osprey, whales, and many other animals. Omega Protein catches more than 70 percent of all menhaden harvested on the East Coast, grinding them up for fish-oil pills, fertilizer, and animal feed. The company uses planes to spot large schools of fish, then encircles them with nets that are pursed tight. Unfortunately, when these nets tear, they result in major fish spills.
In 2019 Omega Protein violated a harvest cap on menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, leading the U.S. Department of Commerce to threaten the company with a harvest moratorium. This week the VMRC noted that Omega Protein is nearing the harvest cap this year and reminded the company of the potential consequences of taking more menhaden than allowed.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore issued this statement.
“What an unfortunate waste of a precious Chesapeake Bay resource. Allowing hundreds of thousands of dead fish to go to waste and pollute our waters is not only irresponsible, it is another environmental failure by frequent violator Omega Protein. Rather than nourishing striped bass and whales, Omega Protein spilled 400,000 menhaden that could rot and foul beaches and waterways on a late summer weekend. Everyone in Hampton Roads should be on the lookout for dead fish in the water and report sightings to VMRC.
“Two major fish spills in one week is simply unacceptable. While Omega Protein prides itself on its 100 years of experience, it should know the Commonwealth’s waters well enough to avoid these major accidents. Especially after wasting so many fish that are not counted against the Chesapeake Bay harvest cap, the company must stay within Chesapeake Bay harvest limits or once again risk a complete shutdown of all menhaden fishing in Virginia’s waters due to non-compliance with the harvest quota.”
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