Omega Protein is no longer threatened with a moratorium on its menhaden fishing operations. Thursday, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission notified the U.S. Secretary of Commerce that Virginia is now in compliance with the menhaden catch limits set by the commission and exceeded by Omega last year. Thus, the Reedville operation is no longer facing a possible closure.
In 2019, Omega, faced with bad weather outside the Chesapeake Bay, took 15,000 metric tons more from the Bay than the ASMFC 51,000 metric tons limit permitted. The fish were targeted from a school that was just inside the Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Had the school been on the other side of the bridge-tunnel, there would have been no violation since that side is not in the Bay.
The ASMFC asked the Secretary to find Omega out of compliance and subject to a moratorium. The federal regulatory commission was supported by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a long-time opponent to the industrial menhaden operation and the secretary found Omega out of compliance and subject to a moratorium.
Northam and the General Assembly changed the law to remove regulation of the industry from the General Assembly and put it with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
The General Assembly had earlier declined to impose the ASMFC limits in Virginia waters, but the VMRC imposed its limit. It also cut the limit for 2020 to 36,000 metric tons to make up for the 2019 overage.
Omega spokesman Ben Landry said the new limit does not effect Omega’s over all limit so, unless fishing conditions in the ocean are bad, it should have no effect on Omega’s operations.
After taking precautions to assure none of its crew members had coronavirus, Omega sent its fleet of seven steamers out during the first week of May. Landry said the crew members are tested for the virus every day that they report to work and hand sanitizing stations are in place on all its ships and in the plant.
Omega has about 300 employees mainly from the Northern Neck.