Bay Menhaden

Menhaden, a bait fish, clean the water and are an important link in the Chesapeake Bay food web.

Fishing tourism is huge in Virginia. Last year, 990,905 anglers spent $998 million while fishing in Virginia. At the heart of our valuable fishing is the Chesapeake Bay and a politically charged bait fish called menhaden, which both cleans the water and feeds our valuable sportfish.

Yet, every year, a Canadian company industrially harvests massive amounts of this critical fish, leaving our water dirtier and our rockfish and bluefish hungry.

Why on earth do we allow a non-U.S. company to export the cornerstone of Virginia’s marine ecosystem, threatening our tourist economy, jobs and state economy?

Each year, an interstate commission, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), sets the limits on how much this company can harvest from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The limit set two years ago is 51,000 metric tons of menhaden.

The New Brunswick, Canada-based company, Cooke Inc., is the only company allowed to take menhaden, and Virginia is the only state on the East Coast that allows Cooke to operate.

Our selfishness is not only impacting our jobs and economy, it is also negatively impacting our neighbors in Maryland and Delaware. In fact, a recent striped bass assessment has led to a recommendation that fishing next year be cut by 18%, including reduced quotas for commercial fisheries, and changes in bag limits, minimum sizes and slot size limits for the recreational sector.

Now Cooke, through its subsidiary, Omega Protein, has announced to the regional fishery management body that they have violated the 51,000-ton limit, and do not intend to honor it going forward.

Oversight of this incredible arrogance falls to the ASMFC, which will meet in New Hampshire on Oct. 28 to review Cooke/Omega’s behavior, and hopefully will rule that the commonwealth of Virginia is “out of compliance”. This would be a good thing, and Gov. Ralph Northam and our leaders should welcome this move by ASMFC. Here’s a link to the meeting and additional materials: http://www.asmfc.org/files/Meetings/78AnnualMeeting/AtlanticMenhadenBoard.pdf.

The key here is to not just keep Cooke/Omega honest: Our essential mission is to realize that, by allowing them to take our feeder fish from Virginian waters to Canada to feed their fish, it severely impacts our fish stocks, which then lowers fresh fish in our restaurants, our homes, and curtails the revenue we make from all this recreational and tourism activity in our Virginia waters.

It is a zero-sum game: Canada’s gain is our loss.

A recent study indicated that Cooke/Omega is reducing our striped bass fish stocks by nearly 30%. Given that the striped bass fishery is worth a whopping $7.8 billion dollars to the East Coast economy, and, at a time when recreational and commercial fisherman are being asked to reduce the striped bass catch, why would the U.S. allow this Canadian company to wreak such havoc on our domestic fisheries and economy?

It is time to stop the madness, and kick them back to Canada.

Receive daily news emails sent directly to your email inbox

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Christopher Bancroft Burnham, who lives in McLean, is former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State, under secretary general of the United Nations, and served three terms in the Connecticut House of Representatives and also as state treasurer of Connecticut. Contact him at: cb@ipfiusa.org

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.