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1,455 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Time is now to protect menhaden

Candus Thomson -- On the Outdoors

May 8, 2005

THERE ARE TIMES when I don't feel like playing fair, usually because
someone else isn't.

This is one of those times.

Wednesday, the regulatory body that manages many of the Atlantic fish will
meet again to discuss how to protect menhaden, and perhaps by extension,
the future of striped bass and the Chesapeake Bay.

Everyone who remembers the five-year striped bass moratorium agrees
something must be done to protect the small, oily fish that is not eaten
by humans but is a major food source for other critters.

Everyone, that is, except the company making a profit by scooping up as
many Chesapeake Bay menhaden as it can get. Omega Protein is trying every
tactic possible -- divide and conquer, lawyer threats and bad-faith bargaining --
to derail efforts by the Menhaden Management Board of the Atlantic States
Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).

On the table Wednesday is a proposal to temporarily cap the number of fish
caught by the commercial fleet out of Reedville, Va., to give scientists
time to determine if overfishing is occurring and if so, the extent of the

The ceiling, proposed at the ASMFC February meeting, is based on the
average catch over the past five years. Omega, the Texas company that owns the
commercial fleet, could continue fishing at about its current level while
scientists do their work. No downtime. No layoffs.

Fair and reasonable, right?

The Ehrlich administration thinks so, as do the Chesapeake Bay Foundation,
the Coastal Conservation Association, the Maryland Saltwater
Sportfishermen's Association and Maryland Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara

Even Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association and an
ASMFC representative, told his fellow commissioners that while it was
difficult to "go against fellow fishermen," he concluded: "The only
[thing] we can really manage is the fishermen. I've been on the receiving end of
that enough to know it's not an easy pill to swallow. But I think the
prudent thing for us to do is cap it."

But not Omega, which began sending trawlers out last week -- aided by
spotter planes -- bound and determined to net every school it can find
before the commercial season ends in October.

Menhaden aren't just any fish. In addition to feeding striped bass and
other species, they filter bay water. Half of the menhaden caught each year on
the East Coast come from the bay.

Omega scoops them up and grinds them into fertilizers, food additives,
animal feed and fish oil that goes into Omega-3 pills. The so-called
reduction fishery and processing frenzy makes Reedville the nation's
third-largest commercial fishing port, when measured by tonnage of catch.

Every state along the Atlantic, except Virginia, has banned commercial
seine purse netting. But a ban ain't worth jack when the biggest loophole is at
the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Profits have been falling at the fish factory, from $12.2 million in 2002
to $5.8 million in 2003 to $3.2 million last year.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Omega executives, who
recently spent $20 million on a new plant in Reedville, have decided to start
throwing elbows.

For argument's sake, let's say that Omega is right. Commercial fishing
isn't depleting the menhaden population. It's warm water or low oxygen or the
fact that menhaden don't like Maryland politics. You'd still want to slow
commercial harvest until you figured out if you could fix the problem,
right? Because what's the sense of fixing it if you don't have any fish
left to populate the place when you're done?

But that logic doesn't help Omega's bottom line. To make money, it has to
keep catching as many fish as it can, even as that number decreases every
year. It has to protect its turf.

To that end, one of Omega's suits met early last month with officials of
the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a divide-and-conquer attempt to get them to
buy into the company's "conservation initiative."

First, Omega wants a "voluntary" three-year cap of 135 metric tons
annually. It arrived at the number by taking catch from 1997 to 2003, throwing out the lowest two years and using the average.

Second, it doesn't want to incur any penalties if its fleet exceeds the

Third, the company plans to do an end-run on the regulatory commission and
take its case to Congress.

Finally, Omega warned that it would sue the pants off anyone or anything
attempting to cap its operation.

Normally, this would be the place in the column where an Omega official
would have his say. But as I said, I'm not playing fair.

Luckily, foundation officials refused to negotiate behind the backs of its
partners, including Menhaden Matters, an umbrella organization of
concerned parties.

What's wrong with Omega's picture? Two things jump out.

The most obvious is that Omega's proposed cap is 40 percent higher than
what its trawlers caught in 2004, and more than 20 percent higher than what the
management board proposed.

Further, even though the data on the 2004 catch are available (and the
numbers are substantially lower than those of previous years), they are
conveniently being ignored so as not to put the kibosh on Omega's
non-ceiling ceiling.

The company's puppet on the ASMFC -- a Virginia representative,
naturally -- tried to spike the proposed ceiling during the February meeting by waving around a threatening letter from Omega's law firm. The move backfired.

In seconding the motion on the cap, Maryland's Pete Jensen reminded his
fellow commissioners of the striped bass moratorium: "We have had too many
experiences where we waited too long to be cautious, and we know what
happens ... it magnifies the kinds of actions we have to take in order to
correct a problem that gets away from us."

At this week's ASMFC meeting in Alexandria, Va., a vote is expected on a
motion to allow the public to comment on the proposal to temporarily cap
the harvest.

It's up to Maryland's representatives to hold firm and insist that the
public be heard.

As Jensen said: "I can't think of a better way to debate this issue than
to go through a public process. There certainly is lots of public interest,
and it's not going to go away. We are going to have to deal with it. It is not
appropriate or reasonable or responsible to say we'll wait until we get
more information."

595 Posts
MENHADEN MATTERS-When will our conservation folks come out against the wasteful polluting practice of chumming with ground menhaden? You won't find them if you continue to grind them. MOST Frozen chum originates in Reedville Va.

I'VE BEEN TOLD THAT OILY FISH SUCH AS MENHADEN ARE 30% oil. You can buy IT for $15 a gallon at BASS PRO. They recomend adding it to what ever your using for chum or put it out with a drip tube. The source of this oil is Reedville vA. .


4,428 Posts
[Q]Norm Bartlett originally wrote:
MENHADEN MATTERS-When will our conservation folks come out against the wasteful polluting practice of chumming with ground menhaden? You won't find them if you continue to grind them. MOST Frozen chum originates in Reedville Va.

I'VE BEEN TOLD THAT OILY FISH SUCH AS MENHADEN ARE 30% oil. You can buy IT for $15 a gallon at BASS PRO. They recomend adding it to what ever your using for chum or put it out with a drip tube. The source of this oil is Reedville vA. .


Norm that may well be, but you know damned well that
menhaden used for chum is just small pimple on a very
fat a$$ that is the tons of fish Omega sells for other purposes.

That said I have no problem urging people not to buy
menhaden oil and use only locally caught chum.


595 Posts
Bert-That small pimple is contributing to the spreading diseases such as mycobacteriosis. Homocide is a very small portion of the human cause of death, on those grounds should we legalize it? The compared too argument is wimping out as far as I'm concerned.

I'm looking foreward to letting a Federal judge decide!


1,455 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Actually it's P R I O R I T I E S. Tackle the big problems first. If the government gets serious enough about bay pollution, chumming will eventually have to go. But it really is a drop in the proverbial chum bucket. A menhaden swimming is better for the bay than one ground up and thrown back in. Besides the rec fishing community is fragmented and unorganized and will most likely be unable to mount much of a defense when push comes to shove.

602 Posts
It's just maybe neither principal or piorities, it maybe nothing less then G R E E D!

The same people that want to shut down the menhaden fishery, want to outlaw gill net fishing, Few have the balls to say such but, its obvious. CCA included.
409 Posts
Why not outlaw gill nets or for that matter all commercial fishing for Striped Bass? After all, doesn’t the rec sector contribute the most money to the economy? They should be entitled to harvest all the Striped Bass.

Following that line of thinking, maybe it should be carried one step further.

The rec fishermen, who fishes from shore, only buys tackle, therefore, he should be allowed only to harvest one Striped Bass every 2 weeks. He contributes the least to the economy.

The rec fishermen, who fishes from a small Jon Boat, has bought an inexpensive boat and the minimum of tackle, should be allowed to harvest one Striped Bass every 10 days.

I guess everyone gets the picture. Perhaps if you advocate greed, you may become the victim of greed.

5,348 Posts
"Boy, I get a big kick out of reading threads like this. Please continue.

Yeah yeah, shutdown the menhaden fishery but first, let me get a hundred pounds for chum. Yeah, right on!

Can anyone say "P R I N C I P A L?" "

Can you spell it?[wink]

1,455 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Who’s greed are we talking here? Methinks you refer to the “greedy” rec fisherman whose sole purpose in life is to drive those “greedy” commercial fisherman out of business. It is more likely to happen by overfishing than it is by legislation.

Fisherman who use menhaden for bait (that would be the “greedy” crabbers too, yes?) are a market just like the dog food companies and the pill makers. Everybody is part of the problem, some more, some less.

Is a #1 Jimmie cheaper now than when they were more plentiful? Nope. I say decrease the supply through regulation and the price will go up. You think people are going to stop feeding their pets? The price rise will make up for the reduction in volume. There will be more food in the bay for the rockfish and the water will be cleaner.

1,946 Posts
I read a posts a few back and thought, 'this is twice in one day I agreed with a CCA guy on conservation.' Then I realized paxfish had cut and pasted SBs post.

This ongoing "conservation" struggle over menhaden might be the most prolonged attempt at disingenuous self-indulgence by any user group in the history of marine management. CCA doesn't care about menhaden. This is a thing to get netters out of recs' way.

Sure menhaden are important to the marine environment. So are Oysters. Yes, purse seining takes loads of menhaden. So do pound nets. Here's an idea to make it fair for everybody: lets take an area and make sanctuary from all forms of fishing. Everybody suffers equally, right? Wrong. The CCA fishing club is the first and loudest to complain, to a point of fear mongering.

Nothing personal fellas, but CCA needs to put up or shut up. Time is not now to protect menhaden. Va's state legislature will not allow it. Time is now to figure out why this campaign isn't going anywhere.

1,455 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
[Q]Matt originally wrote:
CCA doesn't care about menhaden. This is a thing to get netters out of recs' way.
Sure menhaden are important to the marine environment. So are Oysters. Yes, purse seining takes loads of menhaden. So do pound nets.

It's only my opinion, but I don't think the menhaden fight is about HOW they are harvested, but HOW MANY. I haven't read the CCA bible but I feel fairly certain it doesn't say "thou shall not net". CCA makes no secret that is a group of people who like to catch fish with hook & line, and its issues are pro hook & line . Oysters are important but their aren't many folks who join CCA to fight for the oyster so being a volunteer organization it doesn't get as much support as it should. However I think oysters will take much longer to reestablish to the benefit of water quality than reducing the amount of menhaden removed annually.

Not to go to far down the oyster-paved road, but knowing what has happened , if you could go back in time, would you have supported a reduction in oyster harvest when they were healthier?

1,946 Posts
Yes, I would have supported an oyster moratorium ten years ago, and twenty years ago. How far back do we need to go? I've been arguing for oysters for at least ten years. Its coming up on ten years ago I argued with Rob Holtz about the CCA eight point crab emergency plan, of which not a single point of that plan was ever instituted.

I appreciate how you're sticking to a reasonable position in debate Kevin, but your leaders are hanging you out to dry. They have no problem using tidalfish to gather membership money, but where's their leadership on the very simplest of issues? Why can't they lead a discussion about what is really important to the recreational community? In my opinion, they don't care what other people think. There's a few guys at the top of the regional CCA org calling all the shots, period. These are older guys with more dollars than sense, who think their abundance of time should allow them to call the shots. Those are the guys I have the most trouble with, because they claim to represent recs, but they don't. The exploit recs. They mislead recs. They are stuck in perpetual panhandling mode, and there's no accountibility for their repeated failures.

Regarding the menhaden issue, if they really cared about "how many" menhaden were being taken, they would want data on the number of fish or pounds harvested from pound nets. Currently the pound net fishery also enjoys a widespread lack of accountibility. The vast majority of "bait" fish go from net to pot without a stroke of pen. "How many" is not the issue. The issue increasing membership, and they think they will keep doing that forever by focusing on the the dreaded purse seiners. Unfortunately Omega is protected. CCA could make the most compelling scientific case in the history of fishery science and it wouldn't matter. Omega is too important to the northern neck economy. CCA's repeated failure to deal with the economic aspect of this issue is a sign that 1) the leaders don't understand the issue, or 2) they understand the issue, know they're fighting a losing battle, but keep exploiting the issue to sell more memberships. Oysters don't sell memberships, i.e. "Oysters are important but their aren't many folks who join CCA to fight for the oyster..." Which takes us back to stanleybros relevant statement about principles. The menhaden campaign in its current form is not principle-centered. If an issue is only important if it sell memberships, your organization's motives will remain highly transparent, and results will remain sorely lacking. In terms of accountibility, I sure would like to see some cost-benefit analysis on this campaign. HOW MANY manhours have been spent on this campaign in the last five years, and what has changed as a result of that effort?

Bottomline, recs are squandering limited resources on a campaign that looks like an automobile crash test starring in the movie groundhog day.
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