Aug. 12, 2005 – Taking matters into its own hands ahead of an expected vote on capping the number of menhaden culled from the Chesapeake Bay, an international environmental activist group cruised into the bay Wednesday morning in inflatable boats rigged with outboard motors, scattering schools of the fish before they could be sucked up by factory fishing boats.
Wednesdayâ€™s action by Greenpeace was the latest in the organizationâ€™s efforts to halt the harvesting of Chesapeake menhaden. In July, Greenpeace activists staged a protest on a creek outside the Omega Protein Corporationâ€™s Reedville, Virginia facility, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Omega Protein hauls in millions of pounds of the small bony and oily fish each year, the Times-Dispatch said. Menhaden are not generally eaten by humans, but are used as food supplements, fertilizer and in animal feed.
In response to the July action, Omega Protein released a statement, pointing out that the fish is an "economic mainstay for generations of coastal families" and accusing Greenpeace of "opportunism."
Greenpeace and other conservation groups say the fish is vital to the Atlantic ecosystem. According to a report conducted for MenhadenMatter.org, a coalition of environmental and conservation organizations, over 100,000 metric tons of the fish are pulled from the Chesapeake each year, pushing their numbers to an all-time low and threatening the future of the species.
Furthermore, the report found, decreasing menhaden levels are affecting larger area fish, most notably bass, which are suffering from malnutrition and stress.
It remains unclear how effective Wednesdayâ€™s action was. In a statement, Greenpeace claimed it foiled the dayâ€™s fishing for Omega. But, the Times-Dispatch reported that company boats managed to put nets in the water after the incident, which was closely observed by the Coast Guard. The article quoted a Greenpeace member saying "I think we were able to limit the catch."
Currently, there are no restrictions on Menhaden harvesting. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission held hearings on the matter in July and is expected to vote on possible regulations later this month.