Action Alert: VA Menhaden Fishery Gear Restrictions

Photo Credit: David Shupp

ACTION ALERT: VA Menhaden Fishery Gear Restrictions

Taylor Vavra | Vice President


Menhaden need your help! Menhaden are an important food source, not only for striped bass, also; whales, dolphins, red drum (redfish), weakfish, fluke, osprey, crab, the list goes on. Nearly all marine life benefits in some way from a healthy and abundant menhaden population. Omega Protein Corporation, owned by the Canadian multinational Cooke Inc., removes hundreds of millions of pounds of menhaden from the Atlantic ocean every year. In Virginia, they are allowed to remove 112 million pounds from the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay each year. Now it has been discovered that their methods and locations of fishing are doing even more damage to the bay and its marine life. Using purse seine nets in waters with a depth that is less than the length of the net is catastrophic in a variety of ways. But first, a little understanding of what a purse seine net is and how it operates is important.

A purse seine is a large wall of netting deployed around an entire area or school of fish. The seine has floats along the top line with a lead line threaded through rings along the bottom. Once a school of fish is located, skiffs encircles the school with the net. At that point the bottom of the net is left open for a period of time to allow bycatch (non-targeted species) to escape. The lead line is then pulled in, “pursing” the net closed on the bottom, preventing fish from escaping by swimming downward.

Illustration: NOAA

The issue being addressed by this petition revolves around the use of this type of net in water depths in which the bottom of the net sits directly on the seabed. In doing so, it not only prevents bycatch from escaping through the bottom of the net, but is also greatly disturbs the seabed. Sea grass and marine life who make the seabed their home are directly and gravely impacted. Omega Protein operates under the Marine Stewardship Council Sustainability Certification which requires that the net “has no contact with the seabed” in order to have low levels of bycatch. Supporting this petition is a no brainer, Omega Protein is using fishing gear improperly and violating the terms of their sustainability certification.

So how can you help? It’s really quite easy, an online petition has been established in Virginia, you can view it clicking here. You can quickly and easily submit your comments by clicking here. Below are a few important points to mention in your comments.

  • Omega Protein is using purse seine nets improperly and in violation of the Marine Stewardship Council Sustainability Certification under which they operate.
  • Use of these nets in shallow water, less than 60 feet, does not allow bycatch (non-targeted species) to escape.
  • Use of these nets in shallow water, less than 60 feet, causes catastrophic damage to the seabed, seagrass and marine life.
  • Restricting the depth in which these nets can be used will also help to avoid unnecessary net spills, tears and in turn a waste of the resource.

Please take a few minutes of your time to submit your comments and be part of the process. Accountability is an extremely important part of fisheries management and we all must do what we can to ensure that Omega Protein operates in a way which minimizes damage to the ecosystems in which they operate. Thank you for your continued support!


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