OMEGA AND FISHERMEN WHO DEPEND UPON THEM MAY BE IN DANGER

Generations of fishermen who have made a living catching Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, may soon be out of work. That’s because Omega Protein exceeded their catch limits last year, and now they may face a moratorium on fishing in Virginia waters. Additionally, some environmental groups, sport fishermen, and even some state lawmakers are now calling for further restrictions on Omega’s operations in the bay. Menhaden is used to make fish oil pills and farm-raised salmon feed. But some regulators and environmentalists argue that harvesting the menhaden threatens the bay’s ecosystem by taking away an important source of food for other fish. Omega however, says menhaden aren’t overfished and that no damage has been done to the bay. The harvest cap and regulations are set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. While Omega Protein has promised to abide by the catch limits moving forward, the company maintains there is no direct scientific evidence that the species is being overfished or that the bay’s ecosystem is being harmed. Omega Protein is an economic anchor in Northumberland County and the Northern Neck. The company contributes $88 million to the state’s economy. Closing down Omega would lead to a 14% decline in county income and an 8% decline in employment. Omega Protein’s plant is now the last one standing on the Atlantic coast. Omega Protein in 1999, had 13 ships and roughly 300 employees. Today, there are seven ships and about 230 workers.