The opinion piece by Dick Russell (Conservation is Essential to Save the Striper, Vineyard Gazette Oct. 31) misinforms readers concerning the actions of Omega Protein. His anecdotes and claims regarding the menhaden fishery were clearly not fact-checked, resulting in an error-laden piece on an otherwise important issue — sustainable fisheries management.
Mr. Russell inexplicably reorders past events to suggest that Omega Protein increased its fishing efforts in response to menhaden harvest reductions first mandated in 2012. The new vessels he references were purchased in August of 2011, well before the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) took any actions to decrease commercial menhaden quotas. The vessels were commissioned not to increase fishing efforts, but were instead part of a larger undertaking to modernize our Atlantic fleet, making it safer and more environmentally friendly. Since 2011, Omega Protein has decommissioned three older vessels and transferred one to our Gulf operations, resulting in a net decrease of fishing capacity in the Atlantic.
In addition, his statements that menhaden are “the time-honored food of choice” for striped bass, and at populations “less than 10 per cent of historic levels,” have both been tested and disproved. In 2007, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) studied striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay and found that menhaden composed only a portion of the stripers’ diet. The study concluded that menhaden represent only about eight per cent of the species eaten by striped bass. In 2012, the Pulitzer Prize-winning group PolitiFact fact-checked statements from the Pew Charitable Trusts claiming menhaden numbers have “plummeted by 90 per cent” and found this statistic to be “mostly false.” Menhaden populations have naturally fluctuated over the 50-plus years for which population data is available. In order to claim a 90 per cent reduction in the stock, Pew and Mr. Russell cherry-picked data from 1982 when the menhaden stock was at its second highest reported level of abundance, and compared it to recent years when populations were at levels comparable to those recorded in the 1960s.
By providing inaccurate information, Mr. Russell does a disservice to both the Vineyard Gazette and its readers.
The writer is director of public affairs for Omega Protein.