Omega Protein issued a statement last week that they will comply with Virginia law when it comes to recognizing the fishing cap for menhaden in Chesapeake Bay, but they will take more than allowed under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).
Describing ASMFC’s cap as “low and unscientific” for 2019, Omega Protein said the 2006 cap of just over 109,000 mt was a “political compromise, not ... a scientific necessity.” The ASMFC wrote at the time that the cap was precautionary and not based on a scientifically quantified harvest threshold, fishery health index, or fishery population level study.
While Omega Protein opposed - and continues to oppose - management that is not based on science, it agreed to the 2006 Bay cap to satisfy the concerns of stakeholders while millions of research dollars were spent to determine the impacts of menhaden removals from the Bay. Despite all of the money spent and research conducted, none of the results provided any evidence of negative impacts from menhaden fishing in the Bay, they noted.
In 2012, Omega Protein agreed to, and Virginia adopted, a 20 percent reduction in the Bay cap to its current 87,216 mt figure, a change that stemmed from the ASMFC's fears of potential overfishing of the coastwide menhaden population. “Those fears were proven unwarranted by the 2015 Atlantic Menhaden Benchmark Assessment that indicated the population has not experienced overfishing since the 1960s,” Omega Protein said in their statement last week.
“While the ASMFC has since increased the quota three times, the Bay cap has never been concurrently increased.”
The Virginia General Assembly did not codify the ASMFC's 2017 decision to slash the Bay cap by over 41 percent to 51,000 mt, “an arbitrary figure that was not scientifically derived,” noted Omega Protein.
The proposed lower cap was based on the average harvest in the Bay over the previous 5-year period. Omega Protein said taking a multi-year average and making that average the maximum allowable harvest “removes necessary flexibility from the fishery, since it fails to provide for where fish are located and fluctuating weather conditions season-to-season.”
An example was this year’s season when adverse ocean conditions coincided with an abundance of menhaden in the Bay.
“Facing unfavorable weather conditions, the company frequently could not send its employees outside the Bay into an unsafe working environment in the open ocean,” the company said.
“But because the fish appeared with regularity in the safer, more protected Bay, menhaden could be harvested there without incurring unnecessary risks.
“Omega Protein has great respect for the ASMFC, its commissioners and its staff. But this was a rare situation in which the Commission made an unscientific and arbitrary recommendation, which would have resulted in either forced, unsafe fishing conditions or economic hardship for hardworking fishing families.
“Risking our employees’ safety is never a choice we will make. With our employees’ livelihoods and the economic well-being of Reedville, Virginia and the surrounding Northern Neck region on the line, shutting down operations was not a viable alternative.
“Given the untenable situation created by the unnecessarily reduced Bay cap, we were left with no choice,” the company said. They remained in compliance with the existing cap codified in Virginia law at 87,216 mt.
At the ASMFC Summer meeting in August 2018, NOAA attorney Chip Lynch told the ASMFC that finding Virginia out of compliance with its menhaden management plan would be the first time ever “that the federal government would receive a non-compliance referral for a fishery that is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. And there is record evidence from the leadership of the Commission that the [Bay cap] is not related to conservation."
The company noted that statement referred to a January 2018 letter from the ASMFC’s Chairman to then-Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner John Bull acknowledging “the Bay Cap limit was a compromise reached by managers, fishery stakeholders, and environmental NGOs," rather than based on scientific evidence necessary to protect the Bay.
“Omega Protein has operated in the Chesapeake Bay for over a century. The Company continues to support sound, science-based management of menhaden, which has made the fishery successful, including its recent sustainability certification by the Marine Stewardship Council. We look forward to working with the ASMFC as it develops and implements Ecological Reference Points for menhaden in the near future. But in the meantime, we cannot adhere to arbitrary and unscientific measures that would needlessly harm hardworking Virginia fishermen,” noted the company’s press release.
Omega Protein is a division of Cooke Inc., a family owned fishery company based in New Brunswick, Canada. The Company also has a long-term supply contract with Alpha VesselCo, LLC which owns 30 vessels which harvest menhaden.
The Nature Conservancy Desperately Wanted to Protect Groundfish. Now it Wants You to Eat Them
By Tara Duggan
Environmental groups are usually in the business of protecting marine life, not suggesting that the public eat it. Yet, the Nature Conservancy is doing just that: trying to get California groundfish on the radar of home cooks, 13 years after the group took extreme measures to protect it.
In 2006, the crash of the groundfish population — bottom-dwelling fish like petrale sole, chilipepper rockfish and sand dabs that used to be common on Bay Area tables — led the Nature Conservancy to buy up 13 fishing permits and some California fishermen's vessels. The state worked with a handful of the state's remaining groundfish trawlers to change how they fish and protect vulnerable habitat. Now that groundfish populations have rebounded, the Nature Conservancy wants the public to know they're OK to eat again.
"This is such an important story for anyone who likes seafood on their menus," said Kate Kauer, director of the California fisheries program for the Nature Conservancy, which is based in Arlington, Va. "The missing piece is ensuring that it's economically viable, and that the fishermen who are doing all these great practices are really seeing the benefits, and that people want to buy groundfish again."
In July, the Nature Conservancy finished transferring the remaining fishing rights — which are now managed under a quota system — to community trusts at four California fishing ports, including Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay, which can sell the quota back to local fishermen. The only problem is that in the intervening years, restaurants and home cooks got used to buying cheaper farmed fish imported from Asia. Most people fell out of the habit of eating buttery sablefish, meaty rockfish and tender petrale sole, which are now difficult to find outside of a few seafood markets and old-school restaurants like Duarte's Tavern and Sam's Grill.
"Here we have this amazing resource right at our front door," said Lisa Damrosch, executive director of the Half Moon Bay Commercial Fisheries Trust and part of a fourth-generation groundfish trawling family at Pillar Point Harbor. "Theoretically, everyone in the Bay Area wants to get it. But they're not able to get it or to trust they're getting it."
Damrosch gets frustrated that so little local fish is eaten in a region that otherwise prizes fresh and local food. Eighty percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from outside the country, mostly Asia, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while the majority of wild domestic seafood is exported.
In April, Damrosch, her fisherman brother Geoff Bettencourt and fellow Half Moon Bay groundfish fisherman Steve Fitz purchased the Pillar Point seafood company Morning Star Fisheries, as a place to offload their own fish and cut out the middle man.
"We had to do that to survive," said Bettencourt.
Named for its habitat near the ocean floor, the groundfish category includes more than 90 species of fish. Trawling, the main fishing method used to catch them, is criticized because it involves pulling a net along the seafloor, which can cause habitat destruction and capture unintended bycatch.
Bettencourt and other fishermen have made adjustments to their gear for lower impact, including lightening their nets and changing the mesh so that juvenile fish can escape. In 2011, Fitz, Bettencourt and fishermen in Morro Bay and Fort Bragg partnered with the Nature Conservancy to create the California Groundfish Collective. Bettencourt acknowledges it was an unusual move in a competitive industry that doesn't usually trust environmental groups.
The Nature Conservancy provided technology so the fishermen could share data to figure out how to target more of the fish they wanted to catch and less of the fish they should avoid, and to stay out of sensitive habitat like rocky areas in more than 23,000 square miles off of California, Kauer said.
"The Nature Conservancy influenced change," said Bettencourt. "They incentivized guys to fish in a better way."
In 2014, groundfish populations had rebounded and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program gave petrale sole, sand dabs, sablefish and several types of rockfish the green light for sustainability. Still, the fishery has struggled to regain footing. When it collapsed, California ports lost a lot of infrastructure that went along with it, such as companies that offload and process fish. There are currently no industrial ice machines at the Monterey harbor that fishermen can use to fill their holds.
That will be changing next year with new infrastructure investments planned for the harbor, said Sherry Flumerfelt, executive director of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, which has groundfish quota transferred from the Nature Conservancy available to local fishermen.
"It's such an important part of the history and the culture and the identity of Monterey Bay," said Flumerfelt.
Each year, the federal government sets quotas for the total poundage of different species of groundfish that can be fished on the entire West Coast. Commercial fishermen purchase what are called Individual Fishing Quotas that represent a percentage of that total amount. If they catch more than their quota, they must buy more, usually via an online marketplace. (They also must pay for a federal observer to come along on fishing trips to monitor what they catch and offload.)
Quotas are often bought up by larger, wealthier fishing ports in other states, like Newport, Ore., one reason the trusts were established — to make sure fishermen in smaller ports like Monterey regain access to the fishery, said Flumerfelt.
To promote groundfish, Flumerfelt's organization helped organize a restaurant week in Santa Cruz this summer, when chefs served local fish, with menus featuring the names of the species, vessel and fishermen.
Pillar Point harbor in Half Moon Bay scheduled a seafood festival Sunday in conjunction with Half Moon Bay Commercial Fisheries Trust. Restaurants will be there to cook up local fish, along with local fishermen like Bettencourt.
The trawler man still struggles to find a market for his groundfish. Last month, he spoke on the phone while heading back from a great fishing trip that he had to cut short because he had orders for only a limited amount of fish.
"We could produce more, but the market can't stand it because they're full of all that other (imported) fish," he said. "That's what seems broken to me."
Extreme Lengths Fisheries Go to Catch Rogue Fishermen
Copyright © 2019 Courier-Mail
By Domanii Cameron
September 16, 2019
Perched in mangroves donning camouflage gear and using night-vision equipment, fisheries officers have launched a hi-tech war on rogue fishermen.
The State Government has cracked down on black market operators who threaten the livelihoods...
Fisheries Minister Mark Furner said the highly mobile patrols were ready to outsmart illegal operators both offshore and within inshore creeks and mangroves.
“Those doing the wrong thing wouldn’t see the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) teams but our officers will certainly detect them with their night vision gear, infra-red cameras and other specialised covert equipment,” he said.
“The QBFP’s surveillance capacity has been turbocharged with an array of high-resolution digital, dashboard and infra-red cameras, night-vision monoculars, camouflage suits, image stabilised binoculars, digital and UHF radios, portable cameras and recording units, trail cameras and thermal scopes.”
The crackdown is already reaping benefits, with several prosecutions already underway. New heavy penalties have also been employed, including jail terms.
“During a targeted two-day patrol in north Queensland, the new equipment detected serious offences at night within the commercial net fishery,” Mr Furner said.
“In central Queensland, QBFP recorded a commercial fisher blocking off more than half a waterway and removing crabs from a net by smashing them against the side of their boat.”
A raft of new regulations came into effect on September 1 for commercial fishers including new total commercial catch limits of 42 tonnes for snapper and 15 tonnes for pearl perch. There is currently no catch limit on these species.
For recreational fishers, new annual seasonal closures for snapper and pearl perch have been introduced from July 15 to August 15.
New boat limits have also been introduced, which will hold the operator of a boat responsible for ensuring no more than two times the possession limit for nine priority black market species — mud crab, prawns, snapper, black jewfish, barramundi, Spanish mackerel, shark, tropical rock lobster and sea cucumber — are on board at any time.
“In the southeast, extended-range digital radios on a secure network now allow officers to safely communicate between patrol teams and the QBFP base, including an officer ‘duress’ system,” Mr Furner said.
“As well as having the ability to observe black-marketing operations, the specialised
equipment allows patrols to detect crab pot interference and identify heat signatures in
hidden compartments which hold illegally caught fish and crustaceans.”
Oscar Lundahl, 19, was fishing in Norway in 2,600ft of water when he reeled in the ratfish, whose name comes from a Greek mythological creature.