NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- This year’s menhaden catch so far in the Chesapeake Bay is worrying Virginia’s top fisheries regulator, but the company harvesting most of the oily fish say they won’t exceed a set quota.
Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Steven Bowman wrote that Omega Protein has already caught 75% of the bay’s quota, the Daily Press of Newport News reported.
“This is a troubling development, as recent harvest rates mirror those from 2019 when Omega did exceed the Bay harvest cap by 15,000 metric tons,” Bowman wrote to the Virginia-based company, which operates a fish oil and fishmeal plant in Reedville.
Omega spokesman Ben Landry said the company has no intention of breaking the law: “We are not going to exceed the Bay cap.”
In 2019, Virginia had a different quota from the Chesapeake Bay than the one set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate body that manages several fish species. Omega’s catch was within the state cap, Landry said.
The differing quotas led to a federal order closing the menhaden fishery unless Virginia adopted the Atlantic States commission cap and cut the allowable catch for 2020 to make up for what was caught in 2019, the newspaper reported. Virginia complied, and Omega did not exceed the 2020 cap.
Bowman’s letter said the state could face a moratorium and further quota cuts in 2022 if this year’s cap is exceeded.
Landry said the company’s six boats have been limited to an equal share of the cap, and their captains are responsible to comply. He said menhaden in the lower Chesapeake Bay have tended to school during the May-November seasons inside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the cap's boundary line.
Bowman also wrote that he was concerned about recent fish spills from Omega’s nets.