This summer bunker schools have been the prey of many species off Long Island's coast, including sharks, and while this feast has been going on, fisheries managers and corporate entities along the Atlantic Coast are busy preparing for a week of heavy bunker discussion.
The reduction of menhaden, widely dubbed by Dr. Bruce H. Franklin as "The Most Important Fish in the Sea," is such a concern that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) is meeting to consider whether its harvest should be significantly lowered for the first time in years.
This meeting is of particular importance to the Omega Protein Corp., which fished about 160,000 metric tons of menhaden in Atlantic coastal waters, which represent 80 percent of the total catch (the other 20 percent is allotted to the bait industry).
Coincidentally, Omega Protein, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange announced that it expects to release financial results for the recent fiscal quarter today after the market closes.
"This time last year, Omega was only trading at about $4 a share, but 12 months later after having had a banner year of decimating bunker stocks in the Chesapeake, this Houston-based fish meal corporation is now trading between $12 and $14 a share," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). "Perhaps things really turned around for Omega since they mounted their public relations campaign carrying the endorsement of ASMFC's executive director, Vince O'Shea."
Donofrio cited a video created by Omega which shows the head of the ASMFC extolling the virtues of the corporate behemoth and its bunker reduction operation. "Our Commission [ASMFC] and I believe Omega Protein share the common long-term goal of managing menhaden resource that is healthy, abundant and sustainable," O'Shea said on camera, while also claiming that the menhaden resource is healthy.
According to the RFA however, O'Shea's own stock assessment team recently found that overfishing was occurring in 2008 leaving anglers wondering why the executive of an interstate fishery commission would ignore the stock assessment experts while siding instead with a publicly traded corporate entity like Omega.
"ASMFC needs to do the right thing here and reduce menhaden harvest for the reduction folks, then we can start to address the highly mechanized vacuum gear used by Omega and start pushing for a complete ban on this type of destructive fishing," Donofrio said.
Analysis: The article is incorrect in its claim that Omega's operations in the Chesapeake Bay are leading to the menhaden population being overfished. While the ASMFC recently did conclude that overfishing had occured in 2008, while the level of fishing only slightly above the mortality threshold, it was the only year in the past ten years that overfishing was judged to have occured. The ASMFC concluded that while overfishing did occur in 2008, the menhaden population was not overfished.