Commission finds foreign company accountable for violating fishing rules

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Atlantic menhaden caught as part of Maryland's Estuarine Fish Community Sampling Program. Photo Frank Marenghi, Maryland DNR.

Atlantic menhaden caught as part of Maryland's Estuarine Fish Community Sampling Program. Photo Frank Marenghi, Maryland DNR.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission menhaden management board unanimously voted to find Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery out of compliance with the regional fishery management plan.

Menhaden are a forage fish critical to such species as striped bass, bluefin tuna, bluefish, weakfish, tarpon, summer flounder and sharks. The two U.S. menhaden fisheries are in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Omega Protein, which harvests the fish for dog food and fish supplements among other uses, made a commitment to comply with the catch limit of 51,000 metric tons, but last month announced it would exceed that 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, in a statement. “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 sportfishing.”

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.

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 a year, 74 percent of the total coastwide quota.

"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. "We sincerely hope Secretary [Wilbur] Ross agrees and does the right thing — close down menhaden harvest until they come into compliance."

“Allowing Omega to make its own rules when harvesting America’s natural resources is not in the best interest of the nation’s sportfishing businesses and anglers,” said Mike Waine, Atlantic fisheries policy director for the American Sportfishing Association.

The full Commission will vote in 2020 on whether to implement an ecosystem-based management plan for menhaden.

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