Omega Protein Corrects the Record on Menhaden Fishing in the Chesapeake Bay

REEDVILLE, VA / ACCESSWIRE / September 19, 2023 / Omega Protein and its fishing partners, Ocean Harvesters, take seriously their commitment to responsible fishing and environmental stewardship. That is why it is important to correct inaccuracies in reporting about the Company's fishing record, like in a recently published op-ed in the Capital Gazette.

The op-ed ("Ospreys as symbols of hope and warning of new threats," 9/08), written by Gerald Winegrad, is the latest in a string of articles that alleges that the menhaden fishery is threatening osprey populations in the Chesapeake Bay, specifically that "overharvesting" is leading to a "collapse" of osprey. But all scientific evidence points to the opposite conclusion: Atlantic menhaden is sustainably harvested and effectively managed.

Atlantic menhaden are not overfished, and have not been overfished for decades. This is a fact that has been established by a long string of Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) assessments, including in 2022, 2020, 2017, and 2015. The last assessment, in 2022, was one of the first in the country to include ecological reference points, which are specifically designed to evaluate the health of the species not just on its own, but in relation to its role in the ecosystem. Under this lens, the Commission still found that the fishery was sustainable, and that enough menhaden remained in the water to fulfill their ecological role. In fact, the ASMFC has so much confidence in the stock's health, it increased the coastwide quota by 20 percent in late 2022.

This sustainability has been internationally recognized. Since 2019, the fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the preeminent international seafood certification body. MSC certification ensures that a fishery complies with stringent requirements demonstrating that its management is sustainable and that its environmental impact is minimal, requirements that the menhaden fishery has easily met.

Like many similar pieces before it, the op-ed cites a recent paper, a master's thesis, that found declining numbers of osprey in a particular area of the Chesapeake, Mobjack Bay, and places blame for it on menhaden fishing. But it is worth highlighting that the concept of locally depleting the Mobjack Bay is a farce. Catch records from NOAA Fisheries show that menhaden fishing in Mobjack Bay is very rare; there have only been a handful of sets by fishing boats in the last 20 years. The menhaden fishery is simply not a direct competitor with the osprey in the area.

All scientific evidence indicates that the menhaden fishery is sustainable. Photo credit: NOAA

More broadly, there is no evidence that there is too much menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, a concept known as "localized depletion." In public meetings, scientists from both the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) have stated that claims of localized depletion in the Bay are, at best, speculative, and that there is no data that supports such claims. Menhaden fishing in the Bay is significantly lower than its historic highs. The amount of menhaden caught has decreased by 65 percent since 1986, a decrease that has not shown any correlation with the health of the Bay's osprey population.

The menhaden fishery has existed in Reedville, Virginia for close to 150 years, and it is an integral part of its community. It has been able to last that long because it has always sought to fish in an environmentally responsible way. The fishery will continue to operate by these principles to remain in business for many more years to come.

One would be wise not to take the bait on inaccurate claims surrounding the healthy Atlantic menhaden population.

About Omega Protein
Omega Protein Corporation is a century old nutritional product company that develops, produces, and delivers healthy products derived from menhaden, a fish found abundantly off the U.S. Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Omega Protein Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary and division of Cooke Inc., a family-owned company based in New Brunswick, Canada.

Through its subsidiaries, Omega Protein owns three menhaden manufacturing facilities in the United States. Omega Protein also has a long-term supply contract with Ocean Harvesters, which owns 30 fishing vessels which harvest menhaden. All fishing vessels owned and operated by Ocean Harvesters, an independent company, were formerly owned by Omega Protein. Any references to commercial fishing of menhaden relate to Ocean Harvesters, not Omega Protein or Cooke Inc.

Ben Landry

SOURCE: Omega Protein

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