EXMORE, Va. (WAVY) – Rotting fish washed up on their otherwise pristine shore not once, but twice in the past week, and residents and vacationers on the Eastern Shore are understandably upset.
The out-of-the-way Silver Beach community of long-time families and vacation cottages sits in a target-rich environment for Omega Protein and its fishing operation Ocean Harvesters that run menhaden boats out of Reedville.
Statements from Omega and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission confirmed that a menhaden boat had a torn net that resulted in “several thousand fish” eventually washing ashore.
“It has been very smelly,” said Christi Medice, whose family has lived at silver Beach for nearly 60 years.
“This was absolutely beyond a doubt the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said Daniele Richards Peterson, whose family also has roots here but now returns from her home in Houston for an annual family reunion.
They’re dealing with the odor, the ugliness and the danger of the rotting fish. They say it started over the holiday weekend.
“Many neighbors spent their holiday weekend – rather than sitting on the beach that was too stinky to sit on the beach, or swimming – with shovels and buckets loading them with dead fish,” said resident Debbie Campbell.
In the statement, Omega Protein admitted that one of their menhaden boats had a net tear on Tuesday, July 5. The Virginia Marin Resources Commission (VMRC) says it happened about 11 a.m. three-quarters of a nautical mile from shore. But Omega says it was not operating its boats from July 2 thru July 4.
Read the full statement from Ocean Harvesters regarding the incident HERE.
“The company takes no responsibility for any fish washing ashore prior to the reported July 5th
“Our boats were tied up for three days,” said company spokesman Ben Landry. He said pictures from residents of boats on the water on July 4 are not Omega boats.
Omega’s statement mentions only the July 5th spill, but residents insist that fish washed up on their beach at least two days earlier as well. Their version is supported by the chairman of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, Betsy Mapp.
Mapp told 10 On Your Side Thursday afternoon there were definitely two spills, and she had contacted the Marine Resources Commission following residents’ complaints that came in over the weekend. Landry says those earlier fish are not from an Omega operation.
Environmental cleanup crews were working in the area Thursday placing fish in large plastic bags and then collecting them.
Meanwhile, the people here wonder how this will affect their enjoyment and their pocketbooks during high season.
“This whole place means a lot to so many people. Some of us call it Utopia. This is where we can get away from the world,” Peterson said.
If you find large quantities of dead fish floating or dead on the beach contact the Virginia Marin Resources Commission dispatchers at: 757-247-2265 or 757-247-2266. Be prepared to provide your name and contact info along with details on the location and extent of the incident.