REEDVILLE, VA / ACCESSWIRE / September 14, 2021 / Last week, there was an unfortunate incident in the Chesapeake Bay leading to a fish spill from a vessel fishing for Omega Protein. The Company takes this issue very seriously, and, contrary to sensationalistic accounts of the incident, makes every effort to avoid spills, and to minimize their impact when they do occur.
When a spill does occur, Company policy is to immediately notify Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) officials, provide them with the coordinates of the spill, and an estimation of how many fish escaped. Spotter pilots will then monitor the area for 2-3 days to look for any dead fish, and will then report those to the VMRC as well. The Company claims responsibility for any spill it is involved in and thoroughly cleans any impacted beach or shoreline areas.
The protocol was followed in this instance. Despite initial news reports to the contrary, there was only one fish spill in the Bay, originating from a single vessel. In tracking the spill, spotters working with Omega Protein found that only a fraction of fish that were released had actually died, and none of those were found to have washed up on nearby beaches.
This is not unusual: in roughly half of the spills the Company has reported to the VMRC, there is no evidence of dead fish. While possible with any fish spill, it is not a guarantee that all fish involved will die or wash up on shore.
Menhaden fishing crews, which work directly for company Ocean Harvesters, which has a long-term supply contract with Omega Protein, are among the most experienced in the Bay. Boat captains have an average of over 35 years experience, and many fishermen come from multi-generational fishing families that have fished on the Bay for decades. They know the Bay, and are among the best at avoiding fish spills and other hazards inherent in fishing.
As a result, fish spills are a rare occurrence. On average, menhaden fishing boats will make about 2,500 sets per year. Of those sets, an average of only 3, or 0.12 percent of all sets, will result in a net tear and a fish spill.
However, while rare, fish spills do occur, and sometimes can be unavoidable. As Ocean Harvesters Vice President Monty Deihl detailed in a September 10, 2021 letter to the VMRC, "most net tears occur when our net is ballooned out underneath the water, and we are beside our 'mother ship', pumping fish from the net. At this stage of our operations, we are most vulnerable because we are adrift with the tides. As we are pumping fish, we cannot engage the propellers for risk of entanglement, due to the amount of net around and under the vessel. While adrift, if we pass over something protruding from the seabed, it can slice or entangle our net, resulting in a rip or tear."
Outside groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have used the spill to fundraise and score cheap political points using hyperbolic and misleading statements, and also to claim that the menhaden fishery is on course to exceed the cap on menhaden harvests in the Chesapeake Bay. This is not true. Omega Protein and Ocean Harvesters are closely monitoring the fishery, and follow all Virginia laws relating to the Bay cap.
About Omega Protein
Omega Protein Corporation is a century old nutritional product company that develops, produces and delivers healthy products throughout the world to improve the nutritional integrity of foods, dietary supplements and animal feeds. Omega Protein's mission is to help people lead healthier lives with better nutrition through sustainably sourced ingredients such as highly-refined specialty oils, specialty proteins products and nutraceuticals. Omega Protein is a division of Cooke Inc., a family owned fishery company based in New Brunswick, Canada.
The Company operates seven manufacturing facilities located in the United States, Canada and Europe. The Company also has a long-term supply contract with Ocean Harvesters, which owns 30 vessels which harvest menhaden, a fish abundantly found off the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The Company's website is www.omegaprotein.com.
All fishing vessels formerly owned by Omega Protein are owned and operated by Ocean Harvesters, an independent company.
SOURCE: Omega Protein