Update on Atlantic Menhaden Management : MENHADEN MUDDLE #18

by Charlie Hutchinson

Those who follow activities related to the management of menhaden certainly got an eyeful of the political processes in Virginia this year. Each year, for the past several years, legislation has been proposed to either decrease the catch or transfer the responsibility for management out of the legislature. All of these bills have died in committee. The General Assembly as a body probably has never seen the proposed changes, let alone vote on them. Representatives of the public, and therefore the public, have been prevented from governance of constituents property. Omega has, in effect, become the manager of the sustainability of menhaden at least in Virginia waters.

All of this has been accomplished at modest costs since mainly those critical to Omega’s interests have been rewarded. Politics at its worst, and so blatant it is disgusting. At least their antics, so far, have been restricted to Virginia, but maybe this is only a training exercise for future more inclusive action   Irrespective of who is responsible for menhaden management in Virginia, the ultimate authority lies with the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board.

Hopefully the Commissioners are aware of the state of Virginia’s willingness to avoid responsible action even if it leads to negative effects in the other fourteen states that make up the ASMFC. For Omega and roughly 20 legislators  to hold other states hostage is just unacceptable. Their attitude should be one of the factors considered in correcting the overfishing situation.  The remedy should be strong enough to restore the stock sufficiently to meet predators needs on a coastal basis regardless of Virginias limited interests.

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12 Responses to Update on Atlantic Menhaden Management : MENHADEN MUDDLE #18

  1. Yes, this is an outrage. We need to wage this struggle both in Virginia and on the national front. In Virginia, people concerned about the collapse of menhaden and the ecology of the Chesapeake could be actively seeking out candidates to run against Omega’s whores in the state legislature. On the national front, we should all be looking for new sponsors of legislation to protect menhaden. We should also be working hard to get some action from the one person who could actually impose some limits on Omega’s slaughters: Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA. Omega operates without any regulation whatsoever in federal waters, which allows them to scoop up the schools of adult spawners in the EEZ. Just as Dr. Lubchenco was able to order an immediate ban on fishing for black sea bass in the EEZ, she has the power to stop the slaughter of menhaden immediately in the Atlantic EEZ. This would probably force Omega to shut down their Atlantic coast activities altogether.

  2. scott says:

    Mr. Franklin i know people wouldn’t dare post anything on here without getting the facts right first. but omega has had to regulate its boats the past few years due to an abundance of fish, the processing plant couldn’t handle the volume. Menhaden have been fished on for over two hundred years on the bay back when their were over a hundred boats instead of just the twelve or thirteen now. You people take and take but always want more. It’s truly sad that this will en up costing fisherman their jobs and they will have to watch their families starve

    • The official ASMC stock assessment shows that the Atlantic menhaden population has been plummeting for a quarter of a century and is now 12% of what it was 25 years ago. Yes, Omega Protein has been devastating the schools of adult spawners in the Atlantic because there are absolutely no restrictions whatsoever on their activities in the EEZ.

      Omega’s public concern for their workers would be laughable if it were not so sad. When I interviewed Omega’s management, they crowed happily about the huge numbers of workers they had eliminated by developing the power block, and in the course of absorbing other companies they fired many hundreds of workers (see p. 181 of THE MOST IMPORTANT FISH IN THE SEA for detailed evidence). Furthermore, Omega’s working conditions are so deplorable that many idisabled workers are currently suing the company for their grave on-the-job injuries.

  3. Charlie as usual is absolutely right. We all need to get into the act. The menhaden population is crashing, and we don’t have all the time in the world to save the species.

    Bruce Franklin

  4. Tom Miller says:

    This year several Board members of the Friends of the Rivers of Virginia (FORVA) that primarily follow river conservation issues in the Virginia General Assembly (GA), myself included, became interested in the menhaden issue after attending Virginia Conservation Network’s (VCN) Lobbying Day on January 17th. There we heard about SB765 and HB2280 which would move the management of menhaden from the GA to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). As river conservationists we have long connected the dots of the health of the Bay to the health of our rivers. So if anything, our interest in the Chesapeake Bay has increased over the years.

    So we started to follow SB765 and its companion HB2280 as they were assigned to the Senate and House conservation committees respectively in the Virginia General Assembly. We’d never heard of Omega Protein and wonder why on earth the menhaden were the only salt water species NOT managed by the VMRC. It only took a little research and tuning into the issue for us to realize that our politicians here in Virginia had been bought by Omega Protein and SB765 and HB2280 both died quiet deaths in their respective committees. In fact in the House committee the subcommittee never even consider HB2280 as no member of that subcommittee would make any motion on the bill. Alas no vote was taken for or against, so none of the subcommittee members are on record of voting against HB2280, tricky move! One member of that subcommittee had received a $3000.00 campaign contribution from Omega Protein.

    Quiet Death? Well maybe not so quiet…. On Jan 26th the Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) posted an editorial on the Va GA and gave a “thumbs down” to our lawmakers decision to retain management of menhaden rather than hand it over to the VMRC citing Omega Protein giving “hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign coffers of Virginia politicos”. Then on Feb 1st another RTD article by Rex Springston about the Senate and House vote on the menhaden bills and Omega Protein’s influence. And on Feb 6th Andy Thompson, RDT again addresses the menhaden vote stating, “What does the General Assembly know about fisheries management?, and ends his article with, “Smell anything yet? That’s not fish oil.” The Virginia Pilot (Norfolk), the Daily Press (Hampton-Newport News) and a blogger from the Baltimore Sun all ran editorials/articles critical of our legislature’s actions on menhaden and their receiving campaign contributions from Omega Protein.

    How long this “smell” lingers in the minds of Virginia voters is yet to be seen, but we do elect the entire General Assembly in November, both the House of Delegates and the Senate. And we will have new districts in place for both these elections.

    The time for Virginians to do something about mismanagement of the menhaden fishery and what our elected officials did or failed to do is this November. I intend to do exactly that.

    Tom Miller, FORVA Board

  5. Bill Tanger, FORVA says:

    from the Va Public Access Project website:
    When it comes to regulating money in politics, Virginia goes its own way. Most states seek to curb the influence of money in politics through regulations such as contribution limits. Virginia is one of only a handful of states with no limits. Candidates for state and local offices can accept donations in any amount, as long as they disclose the identity of any donor who gives more than $100.
    In other words, Virginia has Payola Politics. The Menhaden debacle is a perfect example of this syndrome. I think the key to breaking the Omega payola is exposure of the matter to the public in a way that gets the message to Virginians that they no longer have legislators… just Payola Players.
    We must appeal to the voters on the broader issue of legislative accountability, using menhaden as the prime example of the moment, but letting the voters know that the same Payola applies to mountaintop mining, uranium mining, all Bay initiatives and virtually everything in Virginia.
    In other words, the public interest is no longer being served. Only the interests of those with money who can pay off legislators.
    We at FORVA suggest a state meeting on this matter… the menhaden issue, but broadened to include Payola Politics.

  6. Joseph Corcoran says:

    Ten or so years ago some not-too-bright people tried to have a large prison built on the south end of Northampton County on The eastern Shore . A concerted and coordinated effort stopped the project cold.

    As I follow the menhaden over fishing issue I find it difficult to comprehend how Omega can buy off the boys in Richmond so cheaply in the face of enormous opposition.

    The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) names the legislators who take money from Omega and Del. Linwood Louis right here on the Eastern Shore is one of them.
    It seems to me that we could go after people like Louis and expose them to the voters at large. Force them to see the light or force them out the door.

  7. wendelin says:

    The spawning biomass of menhaden in 1845 was 100 times greater than todays. The entire shelf has had its aorta cut by this insanity. Referring to this holocaust as a “managed fishery” is a beyond laughable. NMFS stepped in on the west coast sardine fishery . NMFS has to step in on menhaden immediately and write a FMP with full recovery to 2 million tons of spawners within fifty years , close federal waters to menhaden removal immediately, ensure return of historic fish levels in northern range of northern Maine/Nova Scotia, and endure all year classes are represented in all geographic area of historic range. The people assigned from each state to ASMC have no interest, understanding of how or reason to protect stock. Their votes are rubber stamps of tortured calculus based voodoo that few of them can argue as they lack math skills and historic understanding of stock biomass . Remember NMFS and the VPA/ Fish Calculus collapsed the largest fishery in the world in our west coast sardine and the most important fishery in the Atlantic Ocean, codfish. Don’t expect much from them as regardless of what happens they still retain their jobs. Ever heard of a fisheries scientist fired after a stock collapse? ASMFC is hopeless and incapable of task rebuilding this stock. The shelf’s aorta has been cut, we’ve been watching it die since 1895.

  8. Bill Tanger, FORVA says:

    In response to scott who would not disclose his last name.
    Bruce Franklin is much too nice to Scott. Clearly Scott knows better and is just throwing misinformation out to muddy the water.
    Scott really does not deserve a response. No one is that ignorant of the menhaden facts, so his misinformation must be intentional.

  9. scott says:

    Bill Tanger, my name is Scott Mitchell. So your saying i shouldn’t be allowed to post on here because you don’t like the information i gave? Well it’s fact, i live in Reedville,Va. where the boats hail out of. They have had more fish than they can handle the past 10 years. You get your information from the same scientists who said the fishery would be extinct back in the 80’s. Ignorance really is bliss i guess

    • Jerry Benson says:

      It is certainly true that there are currently enough menhaden in the sea for Omega Protein, using spotter airplanes and industrial methods, to make a living. The question is whether the Atlantic/Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is healthy for fish, bird, and marine mammal predators considering that the current abundance has plummeted 88% in the last 25 years to a historic low. Also, the current maximum spawning potential (%MSP) of the Atlantic/Bay stock is only 8% of an unfished stock. Those figures are ASMFC figures!!! Further, the ASMFC will on March 22 declare what we have known for some time: based on the current very liberal reference points (which will be tightened up over the next year), the Atlantic menhaden stock IS BEING OVERFISHED.

  10. Lewis Graves says:

    Why are we so worried about the 300 Omega Protein Workers loosing there jobs, 75% to 80% of the workers go immediately to the unemployment office and file for Benefits, the workers are costing the State. If you don’t believe me call the unemployment office in Warsaw for your self! It sounds like the fate of the Bay is based on how much Omega Protein pays the Legislaters to have the Bills pulled! I think we need to keep the names of these Legislaters that receive money from Omega in every piece of Media source we can! I bet most of these whores wouldn’t know a Menhaden from a Shad or Herring!

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