Bunker Factory Ships- OMEGA

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In case you didn't notice the Omega factory ships working the 3 mile line in late summer, here's the story below.

There were less bunker inshore in NJ this year and last year than I have seen in the past 15 years since we banned them in NJ.  They have been raising the quotas for the commercial catches in 2015 and 2016.  Coincidence?


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A tug-of-war over menhaden baitfish has been playing out for the last half-dozen years in quiet library meeting rooms and hotel lobbies from Maine to Florida.

Now it's taken to the high seas.  

Twice in three weeks, a pair of industrial-size reduction boats from Reedsville, Virginia, came within sight of Sandy Hook to net the bait, removing nearly 4 million pounds of the fish from the water on the two trips. 

That's a sum equal to a little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of all the menhaden in the ocean.  

The boats were fishing in federal waters that begin three miles from the shoreline and within their legal right, but a social media dust-up ensued with whale watchers and conservationists who aimed their cameras in on the boats. See the above video.

They then blasted their pictures and videos on the web, clamoring that the boats took the fish out of the mouths of hungry humpback whales.  "The simple sight of our vessels sets them off. They don't say anything about the bait guys who take 70 million pounds of fish," said Ben Landry, spokesman for Omega Protein, the company that owns the boats. 

Omega Protein operates the lone fish reduction industry on the East Coast. The company's name is a reference to menhaden's rich source of Omega 3 fatty acids.

The company's workforce is made up of multi-generational fishermen who have been harvesting the menhaden for years and raising their families on the fish.

But some want them to slow down, if not stop completely, and leave more menhaden in the water to feed big marine mammals such as whales and game fish.   

Menhaden, also known as bunker, play a vital role in the ecosystem as filter feeders that turn plankton into fat and protein. 

They've also played an important role historically in the soil. American Indians buried menhaden as fertilizer. 

People don't have a stomach for the oily menhaden, but the baitfish are consumed by striped bass and bluefish, which people do eat. Whales also feed on the menhaden, which can grow to a foot in length.  

Omega's boats were off the New Jersey coast on Aug. 30 and again on Sept. 6. Landry said the fish showed in huge numbers to the north and special interest groups are blowing things out of proportion. 

"There's no way our two days of fishing is going to collapse the ecosystem food network," said Landry. 

By statute, Omega Protein gets the largest chunk of the menhaden pie. Virginia gets 374 million pounds of the annual East Coast harvest, which stands at 476 million pounds. Virginia passed 340 million pounds of its quota into Omega Protein's hands.


An Omega Protein fishing boat nets menhaden in federal waters off the New Jersey coast on Sept. 6.

An Omega Protein fishing boat nets menhaden in federal waters off the New Jersey coast on Sept. 6. (Photo: Paul Eidman)

Omega processes the fish in Reedville, Virginia, grinding the menhaden into dietary supplements for people, meal to feed livestock and fish food at aquaculture farms. It employs 125 fishermen and another 125 to 135 plant workers. 

Conservationists have been calling for tighter fishing regulations on menhaden ever since federal regulators have begun to loosen the grip on quotas.  

"I just want to see them (Omega) fish with more moderation. They're pushing the envelope," said Paul Eidman, a fishing guide from Tinton Falls and conservationist who spearheads Menhaden Defenders.    

Eidman went out in his 20-foot Jones Brothers center console to watch Omega's large boats, each one over 160 feet in length, cinch a purse seine net around thousands of thrashing menhaden.    

The boats worked in unison with a spotter plane that circled above and relayed the location of the baitfish, which appear as dark clouds on the surface from the air. The fish had little chance for escape. 


Eidman and like-minded conservationists think the science on the fishery is wrong and the population of menhaden is not robust on the East Coast. A collapse of menhaden would be detrimental all across the food chain, Eidman said.   

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages the baitfish, estimates there are 2.6 billion pounds of menhaden from Florida to Maine.

"We're questioning the science. If there's so much menhaden in the water why does Omega have to travel 300 miles to New Jersey to find fish?" said Eidman.

Toni Kerns, the director of the ASMFC's Interstate Fisheries Management Program, says they're managing the fish quite conservatively.

"Under the current cap the projections show 0 percent chance of overfishing," Kerns said. 

Menhaden are loaded onto an industrial-size fishing boat owned by Omega Protein, when the boat was six miles off the New Jersey on Sept. 6.

Menhaden are loaded onto an industrial-size fishing boat owned by Omega Protein, when the boat was six miles off the New Jersey on Sept. 6. (Photo: Paul Eidman)

In 2012, the ASMFC adopted the first harvest cap on menhaden in history, after its stock assessment found the menhaden were overfished.

A heated year of public hearings that pitted conservationists against fishermen and even fishermen against fishermen preceded the ASMFC's vote to place a 376 million pound harvest limit on the fish.

The cap was a momentary victory for conservationists and a setback for the reduction fishermen in Reedville and commercial bait fishermen elsewhere who net the fish to sell to crabbers, lobstermen and surf fishermen. 

Two short years later, the ASMFC reversed its opinion after gathering more data and said menhaden were not overfished. In 2015, it increased the harvest to 440 million pounds and again in 2017 to 476 million pounds. 

"The rebuilding efforts worked but we're going to end up right back where we started if we keep this up," said Eidman. 

The quota, however, is set for 476 million pounds through 2019. During that year is the next time the ASMFC will convene to set harvest totals.

The ASMFC will also look at a new approach to management that will use ecological reference points instead of treating the fish as a single species. 

"It takes into an account how that species fits into an ecosystem and the predator-prey relationship," said Kerns. "Managers have to figure out how much of one species they need in the environment to keep it balanced.


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It looks like they are "legal" as long as they are in federal water. Here is the company response:


Contrary to Activist Claims, Omega Protein's Operations in Federal Waters Are Sustainable, Comply With Fisheries Regulations

REEDVILLE, VA / ACCESSWIRE / September 12, 2018 / Over the past two weeks, activist groups, including Gotham Whale, the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Menhaden Defenders, have attacked Omega Protein's operations in federal waters off the New York and New Jersey coast. This has led to widespread misinformation about the health of the menhaden fishery and the Company's operations.

Omega Protein would like to correct the record.

Missing from much of this debate is the fact that the Atlantic menhaden fishery is entirely sustainable. The last two stock assessments conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the interstate body that regulates menhaden fishing on the East Coas, foundt that menhaden is not overfished nor is overfishing occurring. These positive findings led the ASMFC to raise the coastwide menhaden quota in each of the last three years, most recently last November.

Concerns about bycatch from the fishery are also misplaced. According to NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Office, the menhaden fishery ''is one of the most selective, and effective fisheries, with a small bycatch.'' Marine mammal interactions - which are very rare - are actively monitored by NOAA.

The Company's recent trips to the New York, New Jersey area are perfectly in compliance with all state and federal regulations. Our fishermen are operating in federal - not state - waters, and the catches are being landed according to regulations in Virginia, as they are counted towards that state's annual allocation of the coastwide quota. The ASMFC sets this quota in a precautionary manner aimed at ensuring the continued sustainability of the species.

The number of fish the Company is harvesting from the area in question is a small fraction of the overall number of menhaden caught in New York and New Jersey state waters. Fishermen from those two states caught approximately 72 million fish in 2017, and that figure is likely to be higher this year due to quota reallocation. In comparison, Omega Protein has harvested roughly 4 million fish on average in the Northern New York/New Jersey Bight in recent years. Like the Virginia quota, the New York and New Jersey quotas are set at a level to ensure a sustainable fishery and a healthy ecosystem.

Critics have previously attacked the Company for our operations in the Chesapeake Bay on the basis of localized depletion - even though, as NOAA Fisheries recently pointed out, studies have not found any evidence to substantiate those concerns. Now, when the Company directs its operations to fish in other waters, some of those same groups continue to find fault.

Despite the overheated rhetoric of activist critics, Omega Protein continues to operate sustainably. The menhaden stock is thriving up and down the East Coast, a fact that is good news for all sides of this debate.

About Omega Protein

Omega Protein Corporation is a century old nutritional product company that develops, produces and delivers healthy products throughout the world to improve the nutritional integrity of foods, dietary supplements and animal feeds. Omega Protein's mission is to help people lead healthier lives with better nutrition through sustainably sourced ingredients such as highly-refined specialty oils, specialty proteins products and nutraceuticals. Omega Protein is a division of Cooke Inc., a family owned fishery company based in New Brunswick, Canada.

The Company operates seven manufacturing facilities located in the United States, Canada and Europe. The Company also has a long-term supply contract with Alpha VesselCo, LLC which owns 30 vessels which harvest menhaden, a fish abundantly found off the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. *

All fishing vessels formerly owned by Omega Protein are owned and operated by Alpha VesselCo, LLC, an independent company.


Ben Landry
Director of Public Affairs, Omega Protein
(713) 940-6183

SOURCE: Omega Protein Corporation

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I didn't read the above omega response. I'm sure it's full of bull****.

They send ships to nj/ny 250 miles from Virginia because that was the biggest concentration of bunker.

We all know that the biggest concentration of bunker will have all kinds of other fish shadowing it. Sharks blues ,bass , cobia ......

But the bycatch is minimal.

Yeah right!

 Wonder where the big blues went?

 Oh yeah that's right its cyclical. bull****!

After the first round I read that they said the 2 million pounds of bunker they took is just a tiny percentage and they left the rest to spawn and to continue to contribute to the stock.

 Them f'ers will be there until there is not enough left for it to be profitable for them to stretch out their nets.

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Bunker went bye bye in the Chessy because these guys and their spotter planes wiped it out. They sound no different than the guys who show up at the meetings telling us all, as if we are stupid, that the bass are all over the Stellwagen, outside the 3 mile etc. Any fish in those locations were always there. They have to sell the healthy population angle or they will get shut down, and as long as they put money in political pockets, it sells.

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Their pr person must be very well paid. Very good at making their business seem sustainable, but it’s not. The ocean used to hold fish. No longer. Stay out of New Jersey Omega. 

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Pretty simple. Guess there’s none in DelMarVa. Just like the rest when they can’t fill the quota they’ll ask for a subsidy. Can’t let them go out of business as you lose those votes! As others said, the bycatch must be absurd.

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6 hours ago, CharlieK said:

Well aren't they all honest hard working people? They wouldn't do anything to harm our environment just for money would they?

I hope your kidding. All these boats that work for omega should be blown out of the water. Just my opinion

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