CHESAPEAKE BAY (WAVY) – The menhaden fishing operation of Omega Protein continues to face opposition. Omega hauls in tons of the oil-rich fish each day for processing into fish oil, additives and animal feeds.

“Over the years we have watched just a steady decline of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Mike Avery of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association (VSSA). He says fewer menhaden means fewer striped bass, a fishery that was once worth $380 million each year in Virginia, according to the VSSA.

“(The striped bass population) used to be phenomenal. Virginia was the striped bass capital of the world, and now we’re just a fraction of that,” Avery said.

Red drum and cobia are two other species that feed on menhaden. Avery sees other links on the food chain that get broken when Omega Protein hauls in the oily menhaden by the hundreds of thousands.

Avery’s organization and several others have an online petition calling on Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to ban menhaden fishing in the Bay and move it out into the Atlantic coastal waters. Del. Tim Anderson (R-Va. 83rd District) said last week he would sponsor legislation for the same purpose.

Omega Protein denies that it has depleted the menhaden population. The company says it’s a well-established fact that menhaden are not overfished.

Omega sent this statement Friday afternoon to 10 On Your Side:

“According to the latest research at the (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission), the biggest challenge to maintaining a healthy striped bass population continues to be the overharvesting of striped bass, not a lack of available food. Also, the Atlantic menhaden biomass is currently very high according to recent stock assessments, not to mention that menhaden’s ecosystem role is now being accounted for in quota setting. In fact, more menhaden are being left in the water to serve its ecosystem role now and in decades. The recreational angling community wants to have the Bay as their playground, but it would result in us losing our workplace.”

Omega Protein

Omega supports hundreds of jobs at its operations in Reedville.

“We are not trying to get anybody to lose their jobs at Omega Protein and the city of Reedville,” Avery said. Omega has roots in that area dating back to the 1800s.

Avery says Omega should keep fishing for menhaden – just not in the bay – where a broken Omega net sent thousands of dead menhaden on to the shore at Silver Beach earlier this month.

“Go fish out in the ocean,” Avery said during a Friday interview on the fishing pier at Buckroe Beach in Hampton. His association says they already have about 4,000 names on their petition and the next step will be to get it to Governor Youngkin.