Anglers and CBF say Omega is responsible for lower rockfish numbers

47 ABC –  Anglers and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are pointing their fingers at the Omega Protein Company for the lower rockfish numbers in the bay.

Earlier this month Omega admitted to exceeding the 51,000 metric ton cap set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on the amount of menhaden, a primary food source of rockfish,  they can catch in the bay.

“Scientists believe that a lot of the poor rockfish health figures are due to the face that menhaden has been caught to such an extent that there aren’t sufficient numbers to sustain the rockfish population,” said Alan Girard, Eastern Shore Director for the CBF.

Girard was also critical of Omega’s decision to exceed the cap saying, “For Omega to just ignore the quota or the caps is really egregious and a major concern.”

Tuesday, Ben Landry, the director of public affairs for Omega Protein defended their decision to 47 ABC.

“We took the decision very seriously and wasn’t anything where we made the decision overnight,” Landry said. “In the end, we decided to go over the 51,000 metric ton number, we voluntarily capped ourselves at the 67,000 metric ton number which would still provide a two year average below that 51,000 that the ASMFC wanted us to stay within.”

Landry also went to say that a major factor in their decision was a stretch of bad weather that made the waters too rough out in the ocean, so for safety reasons Omega chose to allow their employees to continue to fish menhaden in the bay. Had the chosen not to send out their boats at all, Landry said their employees would have gone without pay. He also pointed out that at that point there were vast schools of menhaden in the bay versus in the ocean and that overall the menhaden population has been flourishing in Omega’s opinion.

“In our view, it was a short term ability to make sure that our employees safely caught fish and safely were able to continue to receive paychecks,” Landry said about the decision.

Regardless of their reasoning behind the decision, that hasn’t changed the fact that local anglers and the CBF say the amount of healthy rockfish has taken a hit because of the amount of menhaden that have been caught.

“I’m furious about it and everybody else that I know that fishes is furious about it as well,” said Bryan Schuster, a local angler.

Schuster says he goes fishing regularly and cannot remember a year when fishing for healthy, legal rockfish has been so poor.

“We’re still catching fish, but it’s just not the way it used to be,” Schuster said.

The ASMFC Policy Board is set to review the issue regarding Omega going over the limit and may determine to forward the issue to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which will determine any penalties for noncompliance.


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