Reported Seine Net Break Causes Dead Menhaden to Wash Up in Northampton

Dead menhaden wash up at Silver Beach. Photo by Debbie Campbell.

By Connie Morrison

Residents of Silver Beach are reeling from the stench of thousands of rotting fish carcasses that are washing onto shore and they say Omega Protein’s menhaden fishing is to blame.
“Boats were so close to shore which is troublesome as our waters and existing marine life are being adversely affected,” wrote Gail Kleintop in a message to the Post. She was visiting Silver Beach over the holiday weekend.

According to Ocean Harvesters, which harvests mendaden on behalf of Omega Protein, the fishing vessel was about a mile offshore from Silver Beach.

Residents say fish began washing up July 2. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has heard those reports and is looking into them, said Deputy Chief of Fisheries Management Adam Kenyon.

“… No vessels were in operation between July 2 – July 4,” said Ben Landry, director of public affairs for Ocean Harvesters, in a written statement. “The company takes no responsibility for any fish washing ashore prior to the reported July 5th spill.”

Omega Protein is required to report net breaks to the DEQ and to law enforcement, said Kenyon. The size of the spill was not available, but Kenyon called it “pretty small.”

“We estimate that the cleanup will take several days,” said Landry. “We take full responsibility for the spill, and we will continue to be as responsive as possible in cleaning up the remaining fish as best we can.”

“It happens 2-3 times per year,” said Kenyon. Of the 14 net breaks reported from 2018 to 2022, two were in the Chesapeake Bay.

VMRC spokesperson Michele Guilford said law enforcement officers have been on site, and “Omega is now doing the cleanup.”

As of the end of the day Wednesday, that clean up had not started, said Debbie Mitchell, who lives in Peaceful Beach Estates. “Omega Protein was going to be sending a crew to clean up the beaches, but none of us has seen them,” she said.

Commercial menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay has been hotly debated for years. Steve Atkinson, of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, wrote in an email to the Post that the fishery is adversely affecting recreational fishing, especially striped bass.

“They (Omega) currently catch 2/3 of their total in the ocean and we are asking that they also get the other third from the ocean,” Atkinson wrote. His organization is asking anglers to sign a petition to stop menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.

Under ­VMRC regulations, captains are required to report the landed weights of menhaden daily and weekly. When the cap is reached, the VMRC closes the fishery for the year.

Violation of the regulations constitutes a Class 3 misdemeanor. Class 3 misdemeanors are generally for regulatory and licensing enforcement matters. Under Virginia law, authorized punishment for conviction of a Class 3 misdemeanor is a fine of not more than $500.

“We sincerely apologize to anyone impacted by this incident and we hope to remedy this unfortunate situation as soon as possible,” said Landry.

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