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The Great Menhaden Slaughter

September 25, 2018

It’s no mystery that our Mid Atlantic and New England Coastal waters are in deep s—t!  I‘ve written about it often. From leaking sewer plants, nitrogen run off, plastic pollution, to the effects of having closed inlets into our bays.   Efforts are being made to thwart the eventual “DEAD SEA” soon to be lapping on our shores. But right now the most critical issue is to demand the governments of New Jersey and New York, Indeed all states from the Carolinas to Maine to immediately halt the slaughter of the schools of menhaden populating our seas by factory ships until we have a environmentally sensible, sustainable Menhaden Fishery policy. We’re not talking about the little commercial fisherman making a living for his family here. We are talking about Omega Protein, a billion dollar industry owned by a billionaire in Houston. Menhaden by product is used to formulate women’s make up, fertilizers, lubricants etc.   
Menhaden are vital to our ecosystem. The reason we have so many whales, great whites and so many other large fish and mammals are presently off the coasts of New Jersey and New York is that in the last ten years the bunker have been here “in masse”. Now they are threatened by modern factory ships, support vessels and aerial spotter planes surrounding and netting schools of bunker in the millions while threatening whales and every other sea inhabitant that depend on this food source. Menhaden also supply striped bass, bluefish, fluke and biggies like sharks and whales with their protein.
In late August of this year, reports came in that the Purse Seining Bunker Fishing vessels were operating within view of the New York skyline. Their nets are dragged in an arc by satellite boats around giant schools of menhaden sighted by their spotter aircraft. The nets are then closed and dragged to the mother factory ship to be hauled aboard. Along with the Menhaden are stripped bass, blue fish, porgies, sea bass and even porpoises, which get trapped in these giant nets. These species are hauled aboard along with the menhaden and rarely survive. They are called “After Catch” and they are often thrown overboard dead. The whole operation is a lethal shock to the environment.
These ships are owned by a subsidiary of Houston based Omega Schools Protein Inc. (NYSE;OME). Omega and its allied operations are called - (get this) “The Menhaden Reduction Industry” and they do a great job of living up to their Industry name by reducing the schools mossbunker to a critical extreme. They take their work seriously indeed.  
For years they have been concentrating on the schools from Albemarle Sound in North Carolina up to the coast of Jersey with its central concentration in and outside the Chesapeake Bay. Omega operates a subsidiary company processing plant in Reedville, Virginia on the Chesapeake. Tragically the removal of such critical biomass of mossbunker has had a devastating effect on the Chesapeake’s marine environment. Of late the other species of fish from the Chesapeake have been subject to worrisome declines. A similar decline has been noticed on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound where the Omega factory ships have harvested close to their coast line.
It is interesting to note that factory ship menhaden fishing in most East Coast states is not controlled by each state Environmental Departments or under any Federal Environmental jurisdiction. Each State government administers the Menhaden Fishery in their own legislature.  This may sound odd until you realize that there is a political reason. It seems Omega has a habit of contributing to the political campaigns to many of OUR trusted representatives, from governors downward who support Omega’s business model. This is an arrangement that would make “Boss Tweed” proud. None of this is illegal mind you, but it is certainly questionable when you think that this is how any Menhaden Harvesting Policy is framed.
The New York State government has passed bills which actually increased mossbunker commercial harvesting in New York State more than thirteen times the previous years amounts of 250,000 tons in New York State to 3,400,000 tons making it commercially viable for these pirates to return to New York and harvest the resource. This shows the power of monetary influence and lobbying effects our political system all the way down to a small inedible fish.

But there is some hope. In New York State a bill introduced by Assemblyman Steve Englebright of Setauket has passed to ban factory ship purse seining for menhaden in New York waters by 2020. Now it moves to the Senate where Senator Kenneth LaSalle of Port Jefferson is promoting passage. This is a brave start but how will the fishery change in two years? And what happens in the Federal waters beyond the New York three mile state jurisdiction. It will take much more to put sense into this fishery.  There has to be a Master United States Coastal Environmental Plan for the entire menhaden fishery that makes sense for everyone and not just one billionaires company in Houston. I am not advocating closing down an industry, I am calling for a sensible approach that protects plenty of menhaden to bring our oceans and bays back to health and to leave enough for the guy who makes his living off his little boat catching bait.
The choice is yours. DEMAND your Federal congressmen, senators, state senators and assembly representatives, and environmental government agencies take a stand and come up with a sustainable plan for all. Call them, write them, e-mail, text and even Tweet about the need for reform! It’s that important!!!!

C. 2018 By Mark C. Nuccio All rights reserved for both article and illustration.
Contact the Author – mark@designedge.net

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