Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Organizations Object to Certification of the “Most Important Fish in the Sea”

Credibility of the Marine Stewardship Council at Stake with Atlantic Menhaden Reduction Fishery
East Coast conservation groups and recreational fishing organizations recently objected to a recommendation by the consulting firm SAI Global to certify the industrial fishery for Atlantic menhaden as sustainable.  The recommendation came as part of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme which considers whether or not Omega Protein Inc, a purse seining operation that “reduces” billions of fish meal and oil for use in pet food and aquaculture feed, fishes sustainably. 

Menhaden are often called “the most important fish in the sea” for the critical role they play in the marine ecosystem as forage food for dozens of predators, including bald eagles, ospreys, humpback whales, bluefin tuna, tarpon, and striped bass. 
“It would be a travesty if the Marine Stewardship Council agrees to certify this fishery,” said Paul Eidman of Menhaden Defenders.  “Until menhaden are managed to account for the needs of predators, the MSC should hold off.”
"Omega Protein has literally been taking food right out of the mouths of the whales and dolphins feeding in the waters off of New York and New Jersey,” added Paul Sieswerda of Gotham Whale.  “How can that possibly be considered sustainable?”

Cooke Inc, the Canadian company that recently acquired Omega Protein, now owns the only remaining reduction fishery on the East Coast.  Each year, the Virginia based subsidiary, catches hundreds of millions of these “forage” fish and grinds them up for sale on a global commodities market. 
Recent scientific studies have quantified the adverse impacts of the menhaden reduction fishery on other species, including a recent one from the University of Maryland which found that the reduction fishery reduced the striped bass biomass by 28%. 

“As a striped bass fisherman, I find it repulsive that the reduction industry is allowed to deplete the striped bass fishery by almost 30%,” said John Bello of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. “Instead of certifying the fishery as sustainable, elected officials should ban this antiquated practice altogether.  Virginia should join every other East coast state in the 21​st​ Century.” 

The Marine Stewardship Council certification scheme is funded largely by the industrial fishing applicants who also choose which consultants will do the review. 
“This is a pay-to-play system through and through,” said Eidman.  “otherwise, why would the industry be certified BEFORE meeting the MSC standard for forage fish management.” 

 “Certifying this fishery would be premature,” said George Jackman, of Riverkeeper.  “It’s like awarding a diploma to a student who hasn’t even enrolled in school.”
“Omega Protein has fought every conservation provision ever imposed on the fishery,” said Bello.  “Why would anyone think that will change now?” Many organizations recently submitted public comments prior to the January 14​th​ deadline calling for the MSC to reject the Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery certification.  The decision will be announced as soon as mid-February. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

May 5th 2015- Menhaden Meeting Coming your way

Atlantic Menhaden (Bunker)
2015 Quota and Ecosystem Management

On May 5, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) will make pivotal votes about the 2015 Atlantic menhaden quota and could begin work to change future management, including conservation and allocation decisions.  The ASMFC could increase the quota for this year with no understanding of the impact on predators like striped bass, or managers could adopt ecosystem goals and advance responsible management of this most important fish in the sea.  Managers should not increase the 2015 quota for menhaden unless they leave enough in the ocean as food for predators.  Current quota shortages should be addressed by reallocation or trading, not by sacrificing coastwide conservation.

Despite some positive trends, Atlantic menhaden is still in need of conservation. 

·              A new stock assessment shows that coastwide Atlantic menhaden biomass (the combined weight of all fish) has increased in recent years after a steep decline in the 1990s.

·              The stock assessment also finds that the actual abundance (number of fish) remains well below historic levels. This is what matters most to predators like striped bass.

·              Recruitment (the number of fish surviving past 1 year) remains low.

·              The menhaden population has not recovered throughout its historic range from Maine to Florida.

·              Fishing effort is highly concentrated in the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic which risks localized depletion.

·              See below for charts from the assessment showing biomass and abundance trends (Figure 1), then recruitment (Figure 2). 

 The ASFMC should not increase the menhaden catch limit without providing for predators. 

·              On May 5, the Commission should adopt interim Ecological Reference Points (accounting for predator needs) when making decisions about the 2015 quota and initiate an amendment to transition to long term ecological management.   

·              Increasing the coastwide menhaden catch without consideration of the cost to predators would be irresponsible.  Most menhaden predator populations are at best stable, and in many cases are declining. 

·              The Commission just made a difficult decision to reduce the striped bass catch to address a decline.  Other Atlantic menhaden predators that are important for recreational and commercial fishing include highly-depleted weakfish, cod, and bluefin tuna.  The Commission must provide enough food for these predator populations to rebuild and thrive, and avoid future quota cuts. 

·              Menhaden are also food for seabirds like osprey and eagles, and cetaceans like humpback whales which support ecotourism businesses.  These wildlife species are economically important to Atlantic states. 

·              Consider the potential value that a growth in menhaden abundance would provide for the local seafood supply and associated jobs along the Atlantic coast.  Why risk undermining broader conservation efforts?

The ASMFC should adopt ecosystem-based management of menhaden.

·         The time has come for managers to transition to ecosystem-based fishery management for Atlantic menhaden.  In 2001, the ASFMC’s first amendment for menhaden included this objective: “Protect and maintain the important ecological role Atlantic menhaden play along the coast.”  

·         The new stock assessment’s peer review:  “strongly encourages the [technical committee] and the Management Board to initiate a formal dialog, ideally inclusive of key stakeholder groups, to inform the development of Ecological Reference Points…to develop a common perspective among scientists, managers, and stakeholders about the strategy for defining reference points that reflect a broader ecological perspective on the Atlantic menhaden fishery…The [technical committee] has done a thorough job of investigating and summarizing the options. Now it is time for managers and stakeholders to guide the way forward.” (Review Workshop Report, page 27).  

·         The Commission should heed this call and act now to advance ecosystem management for this important forage fish.  
Contact info for NY, NJ, DE commissioners:

New York:
Jim Gilmore (NY DEC)

Emerson Hasbrouck
Cornell Cooperative Extension

Sen. Philip Boyle

New Jersey
David Chanda (NJ DEP)

Tom Fote

Assemblyman Sgt. Robert Andrzejczak

Proxy:  Adam Nowalsky

David Savekis (DNR)

Roy miller

Represenative William Carson

The ASFMC should not increase the catch without reallocation.

·         All states stand to benefit from effective conservation, and only one would benefit significantly from increasing the quota in 2015 (Virginia).  A proportional increase to the 2015 quota (for example, even the maximum proposed 20 percent increase over the 2014 quota for each state), without reallocation, will not solve any state’s quota shortages or bait industry challenges.  See below for a chart that shows the quota by state if the proposed 10 or 20 percent increases occurred without reallocation.  (Figure 3)

·         The ASMFC should not risk the health of the coastal ecosystem to give nearly all of the increase to Virginia, which does not need an immediate quota increase. 

·         The reduction fishery (Omega Protein) has 80 percent of the coastwide quota and continued to be successful in 2014, the second year under the current catch limit. 

·         From their 2014 performance press release: “Revenues in the twelve months ended December 31, 2014 increased 26% to $308.6 million compared to revenues of $244.3 million for the twelve months ended December 31, 2013.”  
·         Under the current (Amendment 2) management system, quota can be traded between states.  Virginia could transfer a relatively small amount of quota and solve all other states’ current shortages without increasing the coastwide catch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Another Omega Public Relations smokescreen

 Scooping up pogies  faster and easier than ever before, send the old ships to the gulf and add a couple of really nice BIG ones to the Mid Atlantic fleet... here's one of two of Omega's latest fleet additions docked in Reedville, VA


In a recent article in The National Fisherman*, (a commercial fishing magazine) Omega Protein Corporation public relations officer bemoans recently implemented regulations aimed at restoring and rebuilding stocks of the most important fish in the sea.

One would think that a company that claims to be such a caring, responsible steward of the waters would embrace conservation measures with open arms. The measures not only provide an assurance of an abundant catch in the future as well as added job security for their employees, but also a bonus of being able to fish closer to home, cutting fuel costs and adding even more profit to the bottom line. Business is booming for Omega right now, so it’s hard to believe they would bother focusing on the negative instead of the bounty before them. By making some very clever company acquisitions, market diversification and cost cutting measures, Omegas stock (OME) has gone from $4 per share to over $14 per share over the past 5 years!

Instead, once again, Ben Landry, Omega's suited up PR director climbs down from his perch above the commoners of Reedville to poke at a blog post** by Peter Baker of Pew Charitable trust which heralds the successful implementation of the first ever catch limits in 2013. 
Mr. Landry tactfully draws the readers focus to a couple of states (NY & MD) that did not reduce their landings in 2013, one through a “bycatch” loophole for pound nets and the other through a “quota swap.”   While I agree that all states MUST comply with the new measures and provide accurate data to the ASMFC, I find it peculiar that Mr. Landry is even concerned about an amount of bunker that would be a mere fish stain on the deck of a 190 foot long Omega factory ship.

It’s more important now than ever before to remember that on that fateful December day back in 2012, Omega was in fact, granted the lion share of all the bunker on the east coast, a full 85+% of the total harvest went to Virginia, leaving other states bait harvesters along the coast to fight over the scrappy percentage left behind. For the life of me, I can't believe that the Reedville watermen themselves, would screw over fellow baymen , especially in these hard times. These fishermen literally share the same waters, yet the corporation acts in complete disregard of baymen gathering fresh bait out of pound nets right across the bay. Would it have been so hard to give up just a few more tons to help out the little guys in MD or NY?

This is just the tip of the iceberg for selfish Omega, as they will do just about anything to build profits and keep stock prices soaring and in turn, shareholders happy. What gets very little notice in the media is that when these giant ships move into an area and proceed to fill up the hull, they leave a void behind. With all the bait fish removed, the gamefish move off, and the local fisherman that depend upon a healthy stock of gamefish to provide a day’s catch are screwed.  All of us on the water know "localized depletion" well, and Omega could care less. 

Whether operating in the mid Atlantic or in the Gulf of Mexico (where there are still no catch limits) anglers and the eco system are always left with the short end of the stick. The industrial scale and rate of removal of these talented ship captains and spotter plane pilots is second to none. Make no mistake about it, this is the largest commercial fishery, in numbers of fish, in the USA and this type of fishing, day after day, leaves nothing but slimy smelly foam in its wake.

Mr. Landry continues to distract  from the facts of doing business as usual. Distracting investors away from the fact that in 2012, execs got $900,000 worth of bonuses while the average Reedville boatman was paid $35,000 for the whole season. Omega execs are lining their pockets with this overflow due in part to more than 50% of the American baitfish that they scoop up are ground up and shipped to China's booming aquaculture industry. This end of the business, while less profitable than the human nutrition end of things, is projected grow at the rate of more that 8-10% a year right on thru until cheap Chinese labor runs out.

The bottom line is that Omega Protein Execs continue to reap  profits from a free American resource, while exploiting the bottom rung of the food chain, and, in turn, fellow Americans that depend on healthy waters to make a living. The time has come to put an end to the antiquated practice of harvesting vast quantities of forage fish, reducing them to oil and meal, and taking meals away from the very fish that we rely upon for food and sport.  (Virginia is the only East Coast State which still allows reduction fishing).  

Leaving an imbalanced ecosystem and too little  food for predator fish or marine life in the water is about as selfish a corporate act as I can imagine. It’s clearly time for Omega to diversify and re invest in sustainable, organic protein/Omega-3 sources, from algae, flax seed, soy, camelina etc. and to finally become the good corporate citizen that they say they are.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Support Menhaden Defenders get your T Shirts and Bumper stickers now!

We are excited to announce that local fishing club donations have enabled us to finally offer these long awaited shirts and stickers! 
Your purchase will directly fund our continuing efforts to fight against exploitation of our Atlantic Menhaden stocks (aka Bunker & Pogy) and continue our work to rebuild stocks back to historic levels.

Long and short sleeve shirts are available.
Shirts are quality ultra cotton light gray and printed 3 color on the back and left arm.
Stickers are 8" long, die cut striped bass shape, full color, 3M outdoor quality

Short sleeve shirts $20
Long sleeve shirts $30
Please add $5.00 to cover U.S.P.S for shirts

Stickers $5 each >>> 2 for $8 and 3 for $12  (no postage)

You can use paypal, just go to
enter email address
and follow instructions from there.
OR if you prefer to just mail a check, email us
Check made out to "Menhaden Defenders"
and be sure to include email and mailing address, quantity and sizes desired

Thank You in advance for your support and helping to spread the word.
No Bunker = No Bass!!

Capt. Paul Eidman
Menhaden Defenders

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grinding up our fishing future for China

Omega Protein Inc. located in Reedville, Virginia,USA is very busy these days, quietly exporting tons of our most vital forage fish to China and other countries. Atlantic Menhaden are the backbone of America’s east coast marine ecosystem and coastal recreational fishing business.  Omega is the only company left that still grinds up these fish, also known as bunker, down to fishmeal and oil in a procedure called “reduction”.  From Omega’s Reedville location alone they catch, process and reduce over 160,000 metric tons annually of our east coast native menhaden.

As the world’s population increases, so does the demand for fish. People don’t eat menhaden directly, but many of the fish that we commonly eat are farmed fish that are fed menhaden as fishmeal and oil. Omega Protein is strategically positioned to profit from this exploding aquaculture market.(fish farming)

Americans are eating a lot of fish, but now that over 80% of the fish consumed by Americans now comes from overseas fish farms.  Top sellers like farm raised shrimp, salmon, tilapia and Swai or Basa (Pangasious catfish) are fed mass quantities of the menhaden based, protein packed pellets that accelerate growth and get them to market faster.

As if depleting our marine food chain wasn’t enough, the majority of these fish are raised in deplorable, unregulated, contaminated, sewer-like conditions and are then processed with cheap labor, flash frozen and shipped back to American supermarkets and big box stores like Wal Mart and many others. The FDA openly admits that with so much coming over the borders, proper quality control is impossible.

Menhaden are free for the taking and Omega’s captains and crew have become very efficient at catching them. Directed to the acre sized schools by spotter planes, smaller boats swiftly encircle them with a purse seine net, and position the load next to the ship, dropping a large vacuum pump into the penned fish and quickly suck them out. Up a massive hose and into the refrigerated seawater storage hold they go.

They specifically focus on the older, larger fish that bring in the most money.

Unfortunately, these are the same fish that produce the most eggs and determine the future of the menhaden and to our fishing.

Menhaden have historically ranged from Maine to Florida, but now with stocks at the lowest point in history, the upper and lower portions of the biomass are gone and now predominantly left in the Mid to upper Atlantic region, roughly from Cape Cod to the Carolinas. You don’t have to be a marine biologist to see that something is very wrong here, the writing is on the wall and it reads “Warning- biomass collapse level reached-reduce catch now or pay the price later”

Insisting that they are operating a “sustainable operation”, publicly held Omega protein has clearly taken a blind eye to this and continues to vacuum up the very fish that provide essential nutrition for Striped Bass, Bluefin Tuna, Weakfish and many other fish and marine mammal species that occupy the top strata of the marine food chain. Company spokesmen continue to boast that spotter plane pilots are seeing more bunker than ever before, while tuna fishermen in New England and fishermen in Florida havent seen abundant adult schools in years.  ASMFC scientific study teams have released data that concluded that Atlantic menhaden overfishing has been occurring for 52 of the past 54 years, regardless of this, Omega Protein continues to selfishly profit from this wild resource while our fishing related businesses along the coast go bust.

A 2010 study by the economic James Kirkley at the Virginia Institute of Marine Resources found that the reduction industry has an $88 million economic impact on the Chesapeake Bay region, supplying 300 jobs at Omega Protein, and 219 jobs in industries supported by the reduction fishery. But those figures pale in comparison to recreational fishing activities, which have a $332 million economic impact in Virginia and Maryland, and supports 3,500 jobs in those two states alone.

Sadly, Menhaden are one of the few fish left that remain unregulated, yes, there is no limit on the amount of these fish that can be caught. But, this is about to change and you can do something about this insanity and help to change the way Omega does business.The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC) will vote to put catch limits on this fishery on December 14th. The outcome of this vote will tell all of us if the ASMFC truly cares about our sport, our jobs, and our environment. Visit the website and just click on the menhaden.


Grinding up our fishing future for China