Secretary of Commerce Decision on Menhaden

Dec 19, 2019

Tony Friedrich VP/Policy Director

Secretary Wilbur Ross upheld the finding of non-compliance for the state of Virginia and the reduction fishery for menhaden.

Omega Protein, a subsidiary of Canadian owned Cooke Aquaculture, knowingly exceeded the Bay Cap by 35 million pounds in 2019. The Bay Cap is a harvest maximum that limits the amount of menhaden that can be taken from inside the Chesapeake Bay.

Omega Protein uses large ships, 5000 foot purse seines, and spotter planes to zero in on large schools of menhaden that would normally be filtering water as well as fulfilling their role as a critical forage species to countless predators.

Earlier in the fall, the Governor of Virginia requested that Omega be found out of compliance. This was the first time we can recall that a governor requested that their own state be punished. Furthermore, nine governors signed a letter requesting that Secretary Ross uphold the non-compliance finding. Finally, at the October meeting of ASMFC, the commissioners delivered a unanimous vote for non-compliance.

Where do we go from here? As noted in the letter, the moratorium on the reduction fishery will take effect in June 2020. Why June? Because when the Commerce Department makes a decision of this nature, there is a six month deadline. June is six months away. Omega will not overfish the Bay Cap by June. So, nothing to see here.

Menhaden are regulated by the Virginia Legislature. That means that the state’s lawmakers have to pass legislation that brings Omega into compliance and limit their catch within the boundaries of the Chesapeake. In 2017, Omega’s overall harvest was increased by 8%. However, the Bay Cap was moved from 87,000 mt to 51,000 mt. Since Omega is managed through the legislature, a law must be passed to comply with the new Bay Cap.

Last year, the Governor of Virginia attempted to pass such legislation but was stopped at every turn. This time, there is no option. If the legislature doesn’t pass something, Omega will be shut down on June 17, 2020.

The interesting part of all of this is that there could be some serious implications for Omega. Maybe the legislation will shift control from the legislature to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission? Hopefully, there will be a payback clause for the additional 35 million ponds of Menhaden harvested.

We won’t know until the bill is presented. The clock is ticking and Omega has lost a ton of political capitol with their bad behavior.

We would like to thank all the folks that signed on to our letter, all the groups that advocated for the resource, Governor Northam, Natural Resources Secretary Strickler, and Secretary Ross for the all the hard work to bring Omega back down to Earth.

Stay tuned to our blog for updates.

3 Responses

  1. Simply coming into compliance does nothing to punish Omega for being a bad player. Imagine the time, money and effort that has gone into holding Omega responsible for their overharvest let alone the impact on the fishery. Their must be a payback clause that reduces future harvest totals by their overage (along with a penalty). Bad players must know that there are a serious consequence for knowingly exceeding harvest limits. Without a payback or penalty what is to stop others from doing the same?

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