The small town of Reedville, Virginia, on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay, is a 1950s, Norman Rockwell sort of place. Bunting hangs from a white picket fence ahead of a holiday weekend, and there’s a tire swing in a front yard. The big, handsome houses on Main Street have wraparound porches and a smattering of gingerbread on the gable peaks.
Reedville is also still a working town. Summer days start around 5 a.m. with the thrum and rumble of heavy diesels as the big fishing boats head out, followed at 5:50 by the whine of the spotter planes taking off. If a fishy smell, or even the occasional stink, wafts across Cockrell Creek from the Omega Protein Corporation’s fish-processing plant—Reedville’s major employer—locals just breathe deeper. They recently raised $350,000 to restore a beloved landmark, the 130-foot-tall smokestack of another fishmeal factory, now defunct.
For almost 140 years, Reedville’s prosperity has depended on one species: the Atlantic menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus. It’s a modest-looking little fish, generally under a foot in length, with a deeply forked tail and such rich reserves of oil that it’s sometimes called “the soybean of the sea.” A school of them leaves a slick in its wake. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, is the nation’s largest fishing port by tonnage and gets celebrated in “The Deadliest Catch” television series. But Reedville, home of the oiliest catch, comes in second—and gets widely vilified for it.
The ASMFC’s critics, on the other hand, tend toward cynicism. “There’s a lot of politics surrounding this, probably more than in any fishery I’ve ever been involved with,” said Jud Crawford, a biologist with the Pew Environment Group. He worries that Omega Protein will thwart the process “or find a way to influence the stock assessment, which should not be possible in an ideal world.”
To read the full article The Oiliest Catch, visit the Conservation Magazine website.