REEDVILLE, Va. (WAVY) – The menhaden fishery that supplies Omega Proteins’ plant in Reedville said it would limit the areas where it fishes, largely avoiding more populated coastal areas of the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia and Hampton Roads, including Virginia Beach.

Ocean Harvesters, which has an exclusive, long-term supply agreement with Omega Protein of Reedville, has continuously operated in the area since 1878 and announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the state of Virginia Wednesday. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted in December in favor of it.

The agreement, Ocean Harvesters said, is expected to limit potential sources of conflict between the fishery and other users in the Chesapeake Bay, “and is part of the fishery’s efforts to be responsible stewards of our shared marine resources.”

Omega uses the small, oily-fleshed silver fish and turns it into fish oil and fish meal

The fishery will not be able to operate in waters within one mile of the Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach area, and the lower Eastern Shore, and it will put new limits on when and where the menhaden fishery can operate.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day (the last Monday in May to the first Monday in September), the fishery cannot harvest menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay on weekends, nor on the Memorial Day or Labor Day holidays, nor on the days surrounding July 4, which is the most popular time for summer tourism and recreational fishing.

There will also be year-round restrictions on the fishery from operating within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel year-round, which is designed to help the fishery avoid recreational boat traffic and other issues or conflicts that may arise near the bridge.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission had rejected new menhaden fishery limits back in December and proposed at that time that there be a memorandum of understanding between the menhaden harvesting industry and the commission.

The commission’s original staff proposal would have banned harvesting menhaden through the use of a large wall of netting used around an entire area or school of fish – known as purse seine – within a mile of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Virginia Beach, and within one-half mile of either side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

“The new memorandum of understanding successfully addresses concerns that have been raised about how the menhaden fishery can best coexist with other user groups in the Bay,” said Monty Deihl, CEO of Ocean Harvesters. “This MOU further illustrates that the menhaden fishery will work with the Bay community to alleviate concerns and to remain operating responsibly and sustainably here in Virginia.”

Ocean Harvesters said the memorandum of understanding “continues the fishery’s longstanding mission of being responsible stewards of the Chesapeake Bay,” and said it “is another precaution for a fishery that has been a model for sustainable management. That’s something it said was supported by respected fisheries scientists and fisheries management experts in Virginia, who spoke on the state of the menhaden stock at the VMRC’s December 2022 meeting.

During a public hearing at that meeting, more than 40 people spoke, both for and against the memorandum of understanding.

It said a respected professor and commission biologist noted that “the coastwide stock is extremely healthy, by all accounts (and) if this were the result for any other resource on the East Coast or West Coast or in the world, we’d be celebrating.”

In July 2022, Omega Protein took responsibility for several thousand fish” washing ashore in the Silver Beach community on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Ocean Harvesters owns 30 fishing vessels which harvest menhaden. They were formely owned by Omega Protein.