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Something’s Fishy In Reedville, VA

Why You Shouldn’t Go There (And It’s Not Why You Think)

by Chris | Jun 10, 2014 | Vacilando - a Cal 35 | 112 comments


Menhaden Fish - Reedville, VA - Fish Plant

1/2 a billion pounds annually. Try to conceptualize that amount. One-half of a billion pounds every single year.


I don’t consider myself a journalist by any means, and most certainly not an investigative journalist. While I do love the investigative spirit that exposes corruption and abuse, I don’t know that I have the patience to sift through all the misinformation nor do I have the gene that keeps me from screaming “********!” in the face of the politicians and industry mouth pieces mid-sentence.

That said, after spending some time in the seemingly lovely little town of Reedville, Virginia, Melody and I started asking some questions about the foul-smelling fish plant that dominates the landscape. People around the lower Chesapeake Bay don’t seem to want to discuss the Reedville Menhaden Plant owned by Houston-based Omega Protein Corporation. They just simply shake their heads and, “They’re never gonna close that place.” Hmm.

A Little History, Shall We?


Captain Elijah W. Reed arrived in Reedville (of course not yet named that) from Maine in 1874 where Native American Indians had shown the white man how to use a small oily fish called Menhaden*, as fertilizer. Reed then developed a method of extracting large quantities of oil from the fish by rendering them by the millions. The oil was then used as a lubricant or in lighting (as whale oil was) and the leftover carcasses and bones were buried for fertilizer.

Cut to today… the Omega Protein owned fish plant is second only to Dutch Harbor, Alaska for the amount of fish processed. They employ somewhere from 250 to 350 workers depending on the season, have 8 modern day fishing boats and 8 spotter aircraft.


Here’s How It Works:

Spotter aircraft circle the Bay looking for the large schools of menhaden that swim near the surface. They cause disturbances on the water and once spotted, the planes radio the fleet and it is immediately dispersed to the area to scoop up the large schools of fish to be processed at the plant and used in everything from cat food to cosmetics to the popular Omega-3 Fish Oil many of us take for our health. It’s also added to feed for poultry and Tyson Foods is one of their biggest customers.


Here Are Some Facts About Reedville’s Omega Corporation:

Reedville is quite the idyllic town with many of it’s gorgeous homes featured in the historic registry. Omega is the largest employer in the area and is responsible for a reported $45 million dollars in annual economic benefits to the community. They employ hundreds of people and consider themselves part of the Chesapeake Bay “tradition”. And that’s where I scream ********!

Back in 2006-2007, Omega spent $770,000 to lobby congress to be able to hire foreign workers. Yep… 650 (nation wide) to be exact. Tradition? Hmmm. Not so much. They were awarded a judgement that enabled them to secure the H2B visas and did so with breakneck speed. The visas are only supposed to awarded when “…no local labor is available” and yet the unemployment numbers in Reedville at the time were 1.5% higher than the national average. Hm? Seems like some LOCAL people needed jobs to me… Oh yeah, and… Omega paid these foreign workers significantly less than their American counterparts.

Since 2002, OSHA (Occupation Safety and Health Administration) has cited Omega for a whopping 63 violations. One man was actually killed when he bled out after being caught in a machine. Very little information was ever provided to accident investigators or the family of the victim. The fine? $79,200. What did Omega pay? $50,000. I’m curious as to that seventy-nine thousand two hundred dollar assessment on a human life. Why the extra two-hundred bones? Why not an even 80k? But I digress…


In June 2013 Omega was assessed a 7.5 million dollar fine for dumping ammonia and bacteria (from ship toilets… that’s a nice way of saying raw sewage and cyanide) into Cockrell Creek which feeds directly into the bay from 2008-2010. Monty Deihl, General Manager of Omega Protein said, “It was not a good time for us here at the plant.” Huh? That is the equivalent of saying, “uh… my bad.” And I can’t stand when someone says that.


Here Are Some More Facts:

Menhaden are tiny bait fish that were once abundant up and down the Atlantic seaboard. They are filter feeders and have the ability to filter a volume of water equal to the entire Chesapeake Bay in less than one day with the potential annually to consume 25% of the nitrogen in the Bay. If you don’t know, nitrogen is not a friend to the bay. The survival of everything from bluefish to humpback whales depends on the small, oily fish. Eagles, Osprey and Pelican also need the fish to survive.

In recent years, the menhaden population has declined by… are you sitting down… 90 PERCENT! 90 F’ing PERCENT, people! You feel me? When you over fish the main fish that sustains the bay, you kill everything. When the Rockfish, Striped Bass, Bluefish and other species don’t have food, THEY DIE! Thusly THE BAY DIES!

One local fisherman/scientist did a study over a couple of years and dissected approximately 10,000 striped bass pulled from the lower Chesapeake Bay. The majority of those fish had ZERO body fat and empty stomachs. Their diet is predominantly menhaden. The striped bass are starving to death right before our very eyes because Omega Protein Corporation takes a half a billion pounds of menhaden out of the Chesapeake Bay every single year. And they have for decades.


Recently there have been heated debates about putting restrictions on this plant and they’ve all been defeated due to the serious money the lobby throws at the Richmond, VA governing officials. And that is the real issue at hand here. Do I think this place should be shut down completely? Yes. The real and inexcusable issue here is that Omega won’t even entertain the idea of placing a limit on their catch. They want unobstructed rights to every menhaden in the bay. THAT’s the crime.


Every other fishing and hunting activity has limits. You can’t kill all the deer you want. You can’t catch all the blue crab you want anymore. If everyone did that, there would be nothing left. Remember the American Buffalo? Hunted nearly to extinction? The Gray Wolf? That’s what’s quietly happening in Reedville, VA. .


The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) along with the Coastal Conservation Association of Virginia, are fighting hard to implement restrictions and save what’s left. I think they deserve support. If you live or sail or spend any time on the Chesapeake Bay, you need to get involved in this story. I’m not anti-fisherman. I’m not anti-corporations (usually). But I am pro-environment and when you have spotter planes and massive ships that suck up every living thing in a huge net, you’re ******* up a place that is not yours to **** with. What could possibly stand a chance?


The upper bay hasn’t seen a menhaden in years. They can’t make it past the gauntlet that is Reedville. Melody and I saw this firsthand on our trip up the bay. South of Reedville, the surface of the water was abuzz with schools of fish. Once we passed Reedville, nothing. We saw nothing and we didn’t even realize it until we were sitting at a local watering hole here in Solomons, Maryland, a scant 40 miles north and while talking about fishing with a local, the conversation turned to the lack of big fish in the upper bay and ultimately Reedville. “Nothing survives to make up here any more,” he said. “It’s been devastating to the Bay. Rockfish are now starting to eat the blue crab and all sorts of crazy stuff is happening.”


So there… my soap box. You can read all about it via the links. Fire off some emails, donate some money, share the story or don’t do anything. If you happen to know someone in Reedville or in Richmond, feel free to send them the link to this blog. Everyone has a voice. Social media has the power to effect change.

Sailors, boaters and travelers can also voice displeasure by NOT visiting Reedville, VA. Tourist dollars speak volumes and there are other places to go. Other places to anchor and buy fuel. I’m sorry but 250 jobs (not counting the foreign workers of course) does not equate to destroying the largest estuary on the planet. There is only one Chesapeake Bay. Bypass Reedville and head for Deltaville. It’s nicer and the air doesn't make you wanna vomit.

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It's terrible that corrupt politicians allow the bay to die because of crap like this. So now here in Maryland we get a rain tax to save the bay. It won't be long before Virginia does the same instead of shutting down the real problem.

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It amazes me how easily large scale operations can take whatever they want with almost no consequences. Whether it's fishing, large scale agriculture, or big business. The all mighty dollar is all they look at. What really bugs me is that if a bunch of recreational guys tried to prove a point but cutting into their catch they'd be fined out the ass and probably jailed.

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Hopefully this will get fixed? NOT


The only way the situation in Reedville will get fixed is by the banning of menhaden reduction, period. And that is not likely to happen until there is a catastrophic collapse of some fish population forcing "fish managers" to act.:mad:


The business / political history of the Reedville / Omega operation is interesting on one level and disgusting on every other level where fisheries management is concerned. I've been to town-hall meetings on menhaden hosted up and down the eastern Striper coast by NOAA & ASMFC. Omega shows up with an exec or two and a "hot" blonde who drives a Mercedes and handles their public affairs. They also showed up (at the Potomac Fisheries Commission ) with a representative of the local NAACP who basically said "we need the 200 low paying jobs Omega generates" ... this is because the watermen of the Northern Neck don't have oysters to take anymore. And at the time (about 4 years back) even blue crabbing was a sketchy business proposition as they had a brief collapse.


Add to this is the local Republican U.S. Congressman Rob Wittman. If you met him ... you'd say "Oh he's a pretty nice guy" ... but if you looked at what he has voted for and against you'd realize he is just a tool (a vote at the federal level) against the EPA / federal programs sponsored by NOAA, or whatever environmentalist might think makes for better management of the Chesapeake watershed. The guy is fundamentally a liar (I have studied his voting record -as an example ... he voted repeatedly against veteran's issues (like the new GI bill) while sending out mail flyers saying just the opposite).


The state representatives are no better .... probably worse, being ALEC led, Koch backed "Tea-publican" types. I can't say where the new Democratic Governor McAuliffe comes down on this issue which I'm sure is back burner at best ... but Omega gets to carry on and the ASMFC is only now looking at menhaden reduction up and down the coast because of pressure from NOAA and the other Atlantic states like New Jersey. NJ instituted a 3 mile (from shore line out to the Atlantic) buffer / ban on menhaden reduction. NJ folks (and their political reps) resented boats from Virginia taking menhaden off their shores (think about the fall run fueled by the menhaden migration down the north Jersey coast line).


But the central issue is this. Omega reduces (not harvest ...drop that word from your vernacular because it implies planting seed) ... Omega reduces on a scary industrial scale the base of the food chain for all higher level predatory fish. Go up the chain .... Stripers / Bluefish / False Albacore .... all the way to Giant Bluefin Tuna. Menhaden schools feed them all. The higher up you go in the chain the worse off those fish populations are due to massive industrial scale over fishing.


So I appreciate the posting on the controversial Omega Protein company ... but I will tell anyone who asks .... GET INVOLVED and put the heat on your political representatives otherwise there will be NO CHANGE!


Omega is a classic case of a few dudes who make about $1M a year eroding the base of the food chain. Does that bother you? Does that impact your life? .... Well FRACK you ... I got mine and your little baitfish too :shock: Toto!!

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Has anyone tried to contact the politicians directly without calling them names such as "Tea Party-publicans" ? This only shows your bias and they will most likely ignore you regardless of who is right. Also does it make any difference what hair color the woman has? How is that relevant?  A serious subject has been made to sound simply political. Gee, I wonder what party you belong to Kirona? I joined to read and discuss fishing but I guess an "activist" has to have an attack and destroy issue. That way you can be mean while pretending to have a just cause. Go ahead and attack me now or call me a name, you'll have to guess my hair color though.

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Has anyone tried to contact the politicians directly without calling them names such as "Tea Party-publicans" ? This only shows your bias and they will most likely ignore you regardless of who is right. Also does it make any difference what hair color the woman has? How is that relevant?  A serious subject has been made to sound simply political. Gee, I wonder what party you belong to Kirona? I joined to read and discuss fishing but I guess an "activist" has to have an attack and destroy issue. That way you can be mean while pretending to have a just cause. Go ahead and attack me now or call me a name, you'll have to guess my hair color though.


Since I got your attention and prompted the quote above allow me to clarify a few points ... without getting too political since there is a forum site at SOL just for trash talking politics.


Has anyone tried to contact the politicians directly without calling them names such as "Tea Party-publicans" ? 


Yes of course. Contact & coversation has been done on many levels, across the states of the Chesapeake Bay and up and down the coast. But your local politicians (meaning state level) are mostly Republicans and of late they've become radicalized and from a policy standpoint are pretty much spoon fed whatever ALEC thinks is good policy. That's a fact. On the national level for the past 10 years all you get out of them is obstruction. Especially if the policies enhance a federal agency. The modern GI Bill was obstructed for 2 years before Obama was elected and when the Democrats controlled the hill. It'll be interesting to see what the Republicans do now that they actually have to govern as a legislative body. Obstruction is tactic ... not policy making.


This only shows your bias and they will most likely ignore you regardless of who is right. 


Well your right about that .... but that doesn't mean this issue hasn't been broached by people in their own party who are environmentalist ... it has. It falls on deaf ears. People who's membership fees promote "Save the Bay" or CCA or the local fly fishing club come from all political persuasions. Friends of the Rappahannock River (the largest organized environmental oriented group in the area) hold an annual fund raising event and most of the contributing patrons are Republican types (the northern neck of Virginia is bound by the Potomac & Rappahannock Rivers) ... but you won't get them influencing the shut down of Omega Protein anytime soon. Because the Reedville operation lives on as a "jobs provider" ... anyhow that's their shtick .... We're an employer ... not a destroyer.


 Also does it make any difference what hair color the woman has?


Good point. I dig "hot" brunettes & redheads as much as blondes. The point about an attractive female selling the virtues of Omega Protein is just that. Many men would want to have a conversation with such a person, regardless of what she is selling. You see this in the pharmaceutical trade space all the time (if you're a male doctor). And maybe that's part of their selling strategy overall ... because Omega / Fish Oil is the magic pill that will save your life ... Don't you know? In the end what she is selling is the continued erosion of the base of the food chain that has deleterious effects on a continental / oceanic scale.


A serious subject has been made to sound simply political.


Well it is a very serious subject and policy making is very complicated. This issue however is a common cause issue at least amongst SOL participants. I didn't post the thread. I only commented that the resolution of the issue is mired in politics that do not favor any meaningful resolution anytime soon. And I encourage anyone who sees the Reedville operation as a blight on their recreational fishing to get involved ... but you've got to take a stand and fight for that cause. I provided an example of New Jersey types who got involved with their politicians ... and at least they imposed a ban on menhaden reduction out to 3 miles from the shoreline (an area where they had jurisdiction). I applaud NJ for that ... I just don't know or care what political party or individual got it done. I don't care really because regardless of political persuasion your representatives should represent you ... not some extremely narrow corporate interest.


Gee, I wonder what party you belong to Kirona?


That's easy isn't it... I'm a proud liberal. Want to fight about it? I'm game. I spent 12 years as a Marine Corps officer which some would think might make me a conservative ... and a spoiler for a fight. But alas I'm of the Smedley Darlington Butler school of USMC thought .... and I know better and believe that you should choose your battles carefully. The problem I have with Teapublicans is that they aren't what they say they are. They started off as Libertarians (to which I have some sympathies) but they've ended up as being Confederates. Worse than that ... their political leadership is largely comprised of self-serving hypocrites when it comes to policy making. I could provide some relevant examples but this commentary is better off said on the other SOL forum site.


I joined to read and discuss fishing but I guess an "activist" has to have an attack and destroy issue. .


Me too. But the thread maker and commentators posed a sentiment that I responded to and bashed .... because of the realities of the situation. The Chesapeake Bay is under extreme duress and has been for decades. All kinds of political and regulatory initiatives have been made only to be thwarted or obstructed. There are precious few examples of success. One notable success, though narrow was the imposed Striper moratorium of the late 1980s which spurred the rebound of that great fish. Other than that it's been incredibly hard to improve the circumstances surrounding the demise of this grand estuary. Recently a coalition for action was put together by the local states of the region and spearheaded by the EPA to reduce the run off of fertilizer chemicals in the bay (short story ... they cause dead zones). Actually the EPA had to be sued to act, by Save the Bay. But wouldn't you know ... their action as federally mandated per their charter is being sued (ie. obstruction by law suite). From whom you may ask? Well none other than the Governor of Florida (Is Rick Scott a Teapublican or just an a-hole? ... I don't know). What I do know is that Florida is hundreds of miles away from Virginia (driven it many times) and Scott has no business with the Chesapeake Bay other then this. He is a political lackey of the fertilizer industry. And apparently he's afraid of the precedent that would be set by the clean up action taken in the Chesapeake watershed. Can you believe that? The Miami Herald thought it was a stupid waste of taxpayer dollars (I think they're right). And it's not like Florida doesn't have its own environmental issues.


That way you can be mean while pretending to have a just cause. Go ahead and attack me now or call me a name, you'll have to guess my hair color though


Let's be clear. I did not attack you in any way shape or form. I did attack politicians (criticize really) and policies but in my mind in a very factual way. Fairness and Justice is the larger issue. Politicians have initiatives and voting records. That's about all you can go on. Not what they say or even believe in (like limited government) ... but what they actually do or don't do. When it comes to getting rid of the Reedville operation I am ALL FOR IT. We the people, should be evoking eminent domain and shut down the operation for the good of all fisheries and the bay. But the locals are not for it and it doesn't matter what their political persuasions are. They have been heavily influenced by Omega Protein and have been for years (black mailed by job prospects).


Regarding hair color (the gray response was pretty funny) ... but I would be hoping that you were a "hot blonde". If you fancy yourself a Teapublican than I would ask that you closely examine what you are for (not against) and then see how that comports with actual policy implementation. On one level it really amuses me that people protest against big government even though they'd be starving if it weren't for social security or medicaid or a government retirement scheme. You see it at every Tea Party rally. No the libertarians that spurred the the Tea Party have seen their movement hijacked by what I'll kindly call confederates ... and I personally don't look to the Republican party writ large for solutions. Not for the solutions or policies I want to see implemented for the greater good.


organize an attack raid or shutup and let them rape the bay. 


Actually that has been done on a few occasions by the Greenpeace people. Who got into small boats and attempted to obstruct / prevent reduction operations at sea (on the bay). They've stopped that tactic and fortunately NOAA and the AMFC are taking a harder look at quotas, etc. Still in my mind Omega Protein has got to go ... period! It's just not likely to happen anytime soon. :mad:

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I want to freshen this up. Folks we are still battling this here. Asmfc has set omega quota based on east coast stock assessment,  but they pull it all from the Chesapeake bay. We are in dire need of assistance from people willing to stand up.

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4 hours ago, Jim McFeeley said:

Whats the best way to help other than an all out assult of the place? This is horrible, so many people just dont understand the damage being done.

Get involved in the Amendment 3 process that is currently in progress at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Cmmission (ASMFC).  This amendment will set the regulations for the menhaden fishery for many years to come.  Virginia will have no choice but to comply with Federal Regulations or risk the Secretary of Commerce shutting down the fishery.  The draft of Amendment 3 will be released later this month with public hearings up and down the coast in September. The final vote on Amendment 3 will be in November, and the regulations will take effect in 2018.  Some of the major provisions contained in this amendment include Ecological Reference Points (ERP) for forage considerations, Quota Allocation to the states, and the Chesapeake Bay Cap.  ASMFC is comprised of all the East Coast States, USFWS, and NMFS.  Each State gets one vote; Virginia only gets one vote.   Your state representatives needs to hear from you on these issues.  Many organizations including the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Assn. (VSSA), CCA, and the Virginia Menhaden Alliance will be publishing their position on each of the Provisions in this Amendment.  Stay tuned.

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