Fishing Cap Nixxed to Appease Big Business

Feature story - February 24, 2006

The fishermen could see the writing on the wall.  Promises had been made, hands had been shook and ballots had been cast.  All that remained was to put one little stamp on one little document and thousands of fish would have been saved from Omega Protein’s industrial fishing fleet.  But the Virginia General Assembly must have ran out of ink, because the fight to save the menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay continues.

On January 26, three bills aiming to set a cap on the amount of menhaden that could be caught in the Chesapeake Bay this year were either killed or withdrawn in the Virginia legislature.  Omega Protein - the biggest culprit when it comes to menhaden fishing - had its best lobbyists on hand to argue that the bills should be tabled, and the subcommittee caved to their demands.

The vote in Virginia was considered nothing more than a formality because the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) - made up of 15 states from all up and down the Atlantic coast -  had already decided on the limits back in August.  The cap was largely influenced by our repeated protests against Omega and more than 15,000 Greenpeace supporters writing in asking for protection for the tiny fish.

Menhaden aren't beautiful or appetizing (humans don't eat them), but they play a crucial, irreplaceable role in the ecosystem.  Not only are they a food source for larger fish, but they are filter feeders, helping to clean up the highly polluted Chesapeake Bay.  Omega Protein vacuums this important fish out of the Bay in staggering numbers, for use as  protein supplements and fishmeal, which often goes to feed chickens and farmed fish.

Omega Protein may have gotten its way in the eleventh hour in Virginia, but it may turn out that it has only shot itself in the foot.  It now goes back to the ASMFC, which can ask the U.S. Commerce Secretary to step in and shut down the menhaden fishery completely in Virginia waters.  Rest assured that our efforts will be doubled to fight for the survival of this essential fish.

Our Work

On July 23, fishermen, scientists and local residents gathered in sailboats, canoes and kayaks to protest Omega Protein on the Chesapeake Bay.>>Read more

On August 1, our activists delivered 15,517 goldfish crackers to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Each cracker represented one of the letters our supporters wrote asking the commission to protect the menhaden.

On August 10, as giant factory fishing nets were about to scoop up tens of thousands of fish from the Chesapeake Bay, our activists sped onto the scene in inflatables to scatter the fish.>>Read more