Scapegoating ecosystem overfishing by the largest reduction fishing operation in the United States, Omega Protein (parent Canadian company, Cooke Inc.) attempts to justify its unsustainable fishing practices by attacking the conservation messenger. Responding to an editorial by Doug Olander in Sport Fishing Magazine, Omega Protein once again attempts to distract the public from their reckless fishing operations. 

Omega Protein Claim: Sport Fishing Magazine defames the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Fact: MSC deserves to be defamed. Numerous fisheries certified by the MSC fail to meet basic sustainability standards and numerous organizations and scientists have complained about the lax certification system. An NPR investigation of the MSC labeling scheme makes it clear how dubious this sustainability label is.

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One of the worst aspects of the MSC certification process is that MSC allows certification even when the sustainability standards are not met by the fishery. They do this by certifying the fishery with “conditions.”  Conditional approval is like giving a student a diploma before the student enrolls in school. This is exactly how Omega Protein is getting certified and it is a sham. 

Omega Protein Claim: Sport Fishing Magazine relies on unsubstantiated claims. 

Fact: The only claims that are unsubstantiated are Omega Protein’s. Sport Fishing Magazine simply points out the obvious:  The MSC process is a “pay to play” system. If you do not pay substantial sums of money to seek your certification, then it will not be granted. Third-party “auditors” have no incentive to not certify a fishery. In fact, quite the opposite. MSC is set up to certify fisheries and companies pay for that service. 

Omega Protein Claim: Omega Protein does not impact striped bass populations.

Fact: The best available science shows that Omega Protein’s industrial fishery removes so much menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay region that the striped bass populations are depleted by nearly 30 percent because there is not enough forage for them to eat. This impact could be even greater if menhaden catch limits were increased. This is a travesty for the recreational fishing community and for the striped bass population on the East Coast. Omega Protein should be held accountable for the impact they have on other species like striped bass. 

Omega Protein Claim: The MSC process is based on objective criteria.

Fact: The MSC process requires substantial interpretation and qualitative judgment. Each of the performance indicators are scored on a 100-point scale, and the reviewers make their own determinations as to what score to give the fishery for each performance indicator. Given the misaligned incentives, when there is a judgment call, which way will the reviewers will lean?   Toward the industry paying their bills, not toward the ecosystem.  As they say, never bite the hand that feeds you.

Omega Protein Claim:  Reduction fishing is a sustainable practice .

Fact: Every East Coast state, except Virginia, has banned reduction fishing because of the adverse impacts this kind of fishing has on local ecosystems. Virginia should ban the practice, too. Reduction depletes the base of the food chain, and it is a relic of the 19th century. Products produced by reduction fishing are unnecessary. The one industry that may still require fish oil from menhaden is salmon farming and that is a dirty, unsustainable business,too. It’s time to end this barbaric cycle of sucking up forage fish to feed to farmed animals. Let’s leave menhaden in the water to feed the whales, birds and striped bass. 

Protest MSC.  End reduction fishing.  Sign the petition.

About the Author:

Capt. Paul Eidman is a lifelong recreational angler and Marine fish conservation advocate. Eidman owns and operates Reel Therapy Fly & Light Tackle fishing charters, based in Monmouth County. Email him at paulyfish@reeltherapy.com.

Find and follow him on social media at Menhaden Defenders, Reel Therapy and Paulyfish on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.