- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Occasionally, The Enterprise’s James Drake in his Outdoors column takes on the controversial issue of menhaden fishery management. Fact is Drake has reached a new high in his reporting as substantiated by the rebuttal letter in the Dec. 19 edition “Menhaden contribute little to improving water quality.”
The intention of the letter is to marginalize Drake’s voice by insisting his facts are incorrect and misleading, therefore his message in his Dec. 12 column not credible. Resource extractive industries have followed this tradition for many decades — discredit those who disagree and threaten legal action if all else fails.
Omega Protein’s Ben Landry insists that Drake’s comments “are selective or misleading, resulting in a partial picture of the fishery.” Landry goes on to tell us his side of the story from an even narrower perspective using selective interpretation of studies and jobs, jobs, jobs. So let’s review the facts again.
Menhaden are filter feeders eating nearly their weight in plankton each year. Their most prevalent food in the bay is phytoplankton, much of which is more commonly known as algae — a scrooge that causes dead zones. Omega Protein harvests an average of 167,000 metric tons of menhaden each year. The result is a lot of algae remains in the bay that could have been removed from the water column if these fish were left to feed.
Omega Protein has streamlined factory production and now has about 275 full-time employees — down from 493 full-time workers in December 2010 — a substantial reduction in workforce in just the last two years. Yet last year it exceeded its average catch with 174,000 metric tons.
Unlike other fish that are filleted for the table, menhaden is a reduction operation. Omega Protein makes protein meal for livestock feed (mostly pig and aquaculture fish operations in China) and omega-3 oil nutritional products. About half of the total harvest goes overseas. A small percentage still goes to the Eastern Shore for chicken feed — returning the pollutant nitrogen back to the bay (from chicken manure) where it can again feed thriving blooms of algae.
In 1961 menhaden produced 117 trillion eggs in the Atlantic (including the Chesapeake Bay). Today the goal fishery management has set is 18.4 trillion — down more than 80 percent.
Captain John Smith wrote 400 years ago that he found menhaden “lying so thicke with their heads above the water.” A 1967 Dutch ship log recalls New York harbor swarmed with “whales, tunnies, and porpoises” feeding on “marsbunkers.” Even I recall the days when evening winds were calm and menhaden schools broke the water’s surface as far as one could see.
Today our striped bass are starving. Bluefish are at an all-time low along the entire Atlantic coast. Recreational fishing focuses on predator species that are now threatened because their primary food source, menhaden, is depleted. Menhaden serve a role in recreational fishing as bait and chum and the fishery needs to maintain this aspect while curtailing (or ending) the reduction fishery. This recipe will serve up thousands of new jobs in the recreational fishery and allow millions more menhaden to do what they do best, filter algae from our waters.
Thank you, James Drake. You are making a difference.
Bob Lewis, Park Hall