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Environmental Group Speaks Out Against Possible Omega Protein Certification

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission regulates 27 nearshore species including menhaden, for Atlantic coastal states. (Icewall42/Pixabay)
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission regulates 27 nearshore species including menhaden, for Atlantic coastal states. (Icewall42/Pixabay)
December 13, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. – Omega Protein Inc. is in the process of acquiring approval to raise the number of menhaden fish it can harvest, but environmental observers worry that certifying the company will mislead consumers.

Currently, Omega Protein can harvest 50,000 tons of menhaden a year from its Chesapeake Bay location.

The company looks to increase that number with a certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, which would verify that the practice is sustainable.

Omega Protein maintains its harvesting practice is sustainable and won't affect the menhaden population, but the Chesapeake Bay Foundation disagrees.

Chris Moore, a senior scientist with the foundation, says the company is not even following the guidelines for Atlantic Coast fishery management.

"It's especially important that consumers don't get the false sense of hope that this is a fishery that is well managed and that the folks participating in the fishery are working within the confines of the fishery management plan that's been adopted for that particular fishery," he states.

According to Moore, Omega Protein has fought the guidelines, making Virginia the only state not in compliance with the plan. The company's Vice President of Operations, Monty Diehl, quoted in a company news release, said that “Omega Protein and the Atlantic menhaden fishery have operated according to the highest standards of sustainability for a long time."

There is a 40-day public comment period on the Marine Stewardship Council website, where all comments will be compiled in a final report.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also described ecological impacts if harvest numbers were to increase.

The menhaden's main role in the bay is to be eaten. They are food for bass, flounder, whales, dolphins and more.

Moore says limiting harvests of the species would keep them from declining further.

"The menhaden population in Chesapeake Bay has been lower than historical numbers for about the last 20 years or so, and actually the part of the management plan that Omega Protein fought was the piece that would've helped ensure we actually had a healthier population," he states.

The public comment period lasts until Jan. 4, 2019, and the assessment team must respond to each of the responses from the public.

An official determination on compliance is expected in February.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA