06/19/09 — Menhaden spill causes uproar

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Menhaden spill causes uproar

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on June 19, 2009 1:46 PM

The waiting game has taken too long.

That's the message the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina is sending to members of the N.C. House of Representatives this week after a commercial fishing vessel spilled 150,000 dead fish off the coast of Cape Lookout as the result of a Menhaden fishing accident.

For the last two months, House Bill 1344 has sat in committee with no action being taken. Had it been passed in a more timely manner, several conservation groups say the Cape Lookout spill would have been much less likely.

"These disasters could have easily been prevented had the North Carolina General Assembly acted on legislation aimed at banning this destructive industrial practice." said CCA president Stephen Ammons. "The simple purpose of the legislation is to enact a ban on Menhaden reduction fishing in state waters, which would also minimize the chances of 'fish spills' such as the one last week."

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Darren Jackson (Wake) and Rep. Ty Harrell (Wake), would stop any commercial fishing of Menhaden along the North Carolina coast. H1343 passed its first reading on April 9 and has been awaiting approval by the Committee on Marine Resources ever since.

"We cannot afford to sit by another minute while the destructive practice of Menhaden reduction fishing continues in North Carolina's waters," said Ammons.

Used in a variety of products from oils to animal feed, Menhaden are a small non-game fish that swim in enormous schools and serve as an integral part of the ecosystem as food for larger fish. The primary human use for Menhaden is through the extraction of omega-3 oil.

Considered a reduction fishery, the Menhaden catch on the east coast is primarily controlled by the Omega Protein corporation out of Virginia. Currently the only two states that allow commercial fishing of Menhaden are Virginia and North Carolina.

According to a 2006 study, 376 million pounds of Menhaden were harvested in mid-Atlantic waters. The value of those fish was estimated at $22.8 million.

Because Menhaden are caught primarily through the use of purse seinne nets, the impact of the fishery extends to several game fish such as Red Drum which are often a bycatch.