Pilot Puff Pieceon the Menhaden Fishery


I’m going fishing this morning, so I’m going to insert an article written for the Pilot in 2015 explaining why this article is misleading. If there are any questions, I will answer them when I get back

The Tragedy of the Chesapeake


EVEN LIBERTARIANS recognize that government has a duty to exclude force in the marketplace. That includes regulating the over-consumption of shared resources and the shifting of a business’ costs of operation to others who do not share in the benefits.


There is no better example of these acts of market aggression, and government’s failure to do its duty to prevent them, than the licensed plunder of the Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay by the menhaden reduction industry.


The life cycle of the menhaden makes it particularly susceptible to such exploitation. Adult menhaden live and spawn in large, migratory schools in the ocean, where fertilized eggs hatch into larva. The larva move into the bays along the coast to nursery areas, where they grow rapidly before returning to the ocean as juveniles. There they join migratory schools and finish maturing, becoming fertile by the end of their second year.


Because the offshore schools can be replenished by juveniles from bays all along the migratory route, it is possible to overfish the inshore juveniles from one nursery area to the point of ecological collapse while the overall population offshore remains sustainable. Because of this unique life cycle, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission finds that menhaden are not overfished, which may be true for the offshore population, but Virginia has local interests it must protect.


Because depletion of the juvenile population in the inshore nursery areas has dire consequences for the ecology of the bays, every Atlantic state, from Florida to Maine, except Virginia, bans purse seining for menhaden in its inshore and near-shore waters. The result is that Omega Protein, the sole industrial menhaden reduction fishing operation, catches nearly its entire Atlantic quota in Virginia waters, with fully half its quota taken inside the Chesapeake Bay.


The company processes menhaden into health food oils and food for fish farms and other industrial uses. It could fill its quota in the ocean; it is simply cheaper to do it in the Chesapeake Bay and close to the Virginia shore.


This process is very costly to other users of the bay, however. In effect, Omega lowers its costs by imposing costs on others.


Those costs are many.


Menhaden are important forage fish for other species, especially in their juvenile stages.


Menhaden are filter feeders, removing excess algae and nutrients that foul the bay.


Menhaden for the reduction industry are taken using very large purse seines, nets used to encircle a school of fish. The net is closed at the bottom and hauled aboard, and the fish are suctioned into the ship’s hold.


Used in deep, offshore waters, the nets trap few other species. But in shallow waters where the net drags the bottom, far more game and commercial fish are entrapped and wasted.


Further, in shallow waters, the nets damage grass beds, oysters, soft coral. Too often, the nets snag and are torn, dumping tons of dead fish to foul the water and beaches.


Worst of all, the water used to pump the fish from the nets to the hold is then dumped overboard, carrying with it scales, slime, blood, fish feces and shreds of fish. This organic matter depletes oxygen as it decomposes and, since it smells to fish like food where there is none, it disrupts the normal feeding behavior of fish. Fish can’t find their food, or fishermen’s bait, if they smell food everywhere.


In the open seas, this cloud of organic matter disperses with relatively little harm, but in the tidal waters of the bay, it drifts back and forth for days, spoiling the bay for other users.


The reduction industry is not the only user of menhaden, but it consumes fully 85 percent of the Atlantic quota, resulting in elevated market prices for bait users.


The Chesapeake Bay is a shared resource, and the General Assembly, which regulates menhaden fishing in Virginia waters, has an obligation to ensure that all users of the bay respect the rights of others. It has failed to do so. It’s time to ban purse seining of menhaden for reduction in Virginia’s inshore and near-shore waters, just as every other state on the East Coast did long ago.


Don Tabor of Chesapeake, a retired dentist, is a Libertarian activist and (former) Director of Public Affairs for the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Defense Foundation.


This article first appeared in the Virginian Pilot.

15 thoughts on “Pilot Puff Pieceon the Menhaden Fishery

  1. “If there are any questions, I will answer them when I get back.”

    God I hope you’re not fishing for Menhaden. You do know they taste like crap, right?

    Worse than a Blue.

    No amount of milk-soak can cure those puppies. BTW, the Bluefish recipe I found that works best is:
    1) Soak fillets overnight in milk, remove and dry thoroughly.
    2) Mix cayenne, garlic powder, and lemon pepper in a mixture of olive oil with honey, and apply liberally (that means a lot of it. You can still remain in the Libertarian Party).
    3) Place fillets on a cedar baking plank in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.
    4) Switch to broiler setting, and broil for 5 to 7 minutes until glaze begins to blacken.
    5) Remove from plank and eat… the plank.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I recall eating Bluefish about 40 years ago. I think I liked it. But I haven’t had it since.

    Maybe my subconscious brain is blurring the memory but still defending my gut.


  3. I seem to recall your editorial. Your research seems to uphold the toxic nature of Omega’s business in the Bay. And in Richmond.

    A good example of corporate profit and the hostage taking of “jobs” overriding environmental stewardship of our largest estuary and its impact on Atlantic fisheries.

    Yet you have no problem with turning the Lower Bay into Galveston Bay with off shore drilling and its creation of a new petrochemical capital on our shores. Subsidence, sea level rise and ever present threats of a major hurricane could turn the Bay into toxic mess many times worse than a bad fish smell. And wipe out all kinds of species that use the Bay for spawning.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. i am confident, based on the changes to the industry in Louisiana, that the petrochemical industry can be a good neighbor and provide the quality jobs we need, but there is no way that Omega can take half the entire Atlantic Coast of menhaden from inside the Chesapeake bay and not do great harm.

      If Omega took its quota from outside the bay, it would be sustainable.


  4. Omega’s bribing of our State politicians to rape the Bay at a fundamental food chain level is criminal on both sides.

    Of course, not in a technical sense, only in the sense of basic humanity relative to the well being of future generations.

    Greed at its “best”…..

    Liked by 3 people

      1. True, and they know how to line pockets with the best of em. I blame the politicians the most, but it’s a systemic problem with the “rules” that big business has lobbied to be established.

        Unbridled Capitalism: Golden Rule, those who have it, make the rules…

        Liked by 1 person

          1. No, before the General Assembly.

            I spoke to the Senate Committee on behalf of the Menhaden Coalition, a group of sport fishing and environmental organizations, in 2015 in favor the General Assembly passing the duty of regulation of menhaden to fishery professionals. Omega Protein, the AFL-CIO and the NAACP spoke against the transfer.


  5. Point of clarification: Your piece is an op-ed, not an article.

    I will says it’s nice to see you strongly supporting an environmental cause. Let’s get over the fallacy that only those on the left care about nature and conservation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If Don cared about conservation and nature, he would not be a proponent of offshore drilling and refineries on the Ches Bay. He only cares about fish and regulations that benefit him personally. He is not a champion of the greater good.


      1. Ahhh, the “greater good” strikes again. I guess it depends on how you define the greater good.

        It is my opinion, based on my experience in Louisiana, that oil drilling and refining can co-exist with a healthy environment. No one has presented any evidence to the contrary.

        But good jobs are part of the greater good too. No one can support a family selling t-shirts to tourists. Oilfield support and petrochemical jobs pay in the high 5 figure and low 6 figure range.

        You need only look around the world to see that any place with a population density like ours that is poor will have a horrible environment. A clean environment is expensive, and only healthy economies can support one. For example, 95% of the plastic waste in the Pacific comes from 10 rivers in Asia and Africa that drain very poor areas. We are banning plastic straws while they can’t afford landfills or recycling and dump their litter into their rivers.

        So, in the real world, supporting a healthy economy makes environmental regulation practical and desirable.

        Remember that people who can’t afford to go out on the Bay or into the woods for recreation don’t care about the environment, as they have more pressing needs on their minds.


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