Omega Protein is Reduction Fishing off New Jersey Again

by Capt. Paul Eidman, Board member, Habitat & Forage Fish Committee Chairman
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association September 2019 Newsletter)

Last year right around this time, September 6th to be exact, Omega Protein Inc. out of Reedville, Virginia, (parent company Cooke Seafood) sent FOUR 200-foot-long reduction ships up to the New York Bight for 2 days. Each one has the holding capacity of 1.5 and 2 million fish each, equally to a total removal of EIGHT MILLION bunker from key waters in the fall, right before our striped bass migration arrives.

After a failed attempt to get some other guys to take the day off on short notice and go out and protest with me, I quickly trailered up to Atlantic highlands, launched and ran my 20-foot center console out 7 miles, (roughly to the end of the Ambrose channel) to take pictures and video to document exactly what was happening.

Know that as long as they remain in federal waters, (outside the 3-mile line) it’s all legal, stamped and approved by the ASMFC which continues the archaic practice of managing these fish just like all the others, for “maximum sustainable yield.”

Legality aside, the key issue here is that two major factors are “overlooked” and actions terminally delayed by wealthy Omega corporate interests. These factors are localized depletion and the menhadens role in the ecosystem to provide nutrition up the marine food web.

It would be a different story if the boats were smaller, family owned like they used to be. Private commercial fishing boat owners would head out for the day, take 50,000 or so bunkers and head back to the dock, offload and have a beer. Things have changed, not just for this, but for fish all over the world. The little guys are out and massive industrial scale vessels now rule the sea. When these big blue ships pull into an area and set up shop, there is nothing left when they leave except for the mile-long nasty scum slick and the stench of death that drifts out of the vessels. The seagulls pick at the scraps and as can be expected, the predators, whether they are humpback whales, striped bass or cobia, all leave the area and seek food elsewhere. Fishermen come to fish and find it barren of all signs of life and gamefish are nowhere to be found.

Go ahead and look on Youtube for Menhaden Defenders and you can watch what I witnessed. Complete with purse boats running down the schools, plane overhead directing them over the schools and watching the crews vacuum the fish on board the massive factory ship. I filmed and watched as they filled the ships to the gunwales and then steamed back home 275 miles to Virginia to grind them up into fish meal and fish oil. The big question is, if the bunker stocks are as healthy as the ASMFC and Omega say they are, then why do they have to travel all the way to Jersey to catch bunker? Something is very wrong. The system has been clearly rigged by the good olé boys network for years and our fishing and waters are suffering because of it.

Yes, the east coast’s favorite little forage fish is ground up, pelletized and shipped overseas to feed fish farms for foreign profit as America’s coastal ecology and economies struggle to survive. Let that sink in.

Fishermen in New Jersey should be aware that the carnage has already begun right off our shores in August of 2019. Omega has been harvesting massive bunker schools off of Atlantic City and Cape May, New Jersey over the past couple of weeks. Each Sunday, my team of volunteers at Menhaden Defenders track these planes and can see the flight paths. A spotter plane leaves Virginia and flies north along the Jersey shore. By late Sunday evening, they pack up the crew and head out to sea. By Monday morning, they have been directed to the best schools and we can see where the fleet is headed, and it can number 6-8 ships at times. You can track the vessels just like we do, online using maritime ship traffic websites and following the Automated Identification System (AIS) movements of all commercial vessels.

The table is set for disaster, right where we live and fish. At a time when our striped bass and other gamefish need food the most, millions of bunker will be ground up and reduced into salmon food. I have been fishing out in the Bight all summer, watching 40-foot-long Humpback whales breaching out of the sea, mouths wide open and hundreds of bunker spilling out. The bunker schools grow by the day, it’s just fantastic to see miles and miles of adult bunker in our area after decades of working to restore the populations to a healthy level.

Tomorrow, Sunday, I will get a report from my plane spotters that will tell me if this week we will see the big blue ships steam north to Jersey again, vacuum all the bunker up and ship the pellets off to Canadian salmon farms that Cooke seafood owns.

This is madness on multiple levels and so few anglers get involved and stand up and fight.

The struggle is real, guys, join the fight today, the future of our sport and waters depends on it.

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