Menhaden Ocean Documentary
The biggest little fish you've never seen
Safeguard the Seas has produced an ocean documentary, The Biggest Little Fish You’ve Never Seen, to show the damage caused by the menhaden industrial fishing. This ocean documentary is available to be shown to groups that are interested in learning more about this issue and what can be done.
STS supports the Menhaden Bait Industry. Many fishing groups rely on menhaden for bait. For example, lobstermen bait their traps with menhaden to catch lobsters. This bait industry does not remove a significant amount of menhaden. In addition, it helps to provide jobs. The Menhaden Bait Fishing should continue.
Safeguard The Seas will make the film available to any group(s) for free that are interested in learning about menhaden and the need for their protection in the Chesapeake Bay.
Please contact us and tell us about your group. Click below. We can then schedule a private screening of the film
In the beginning of the ocean documentary, experts explain what menhaden are and their purpose in the ocean. The public hardly knows anything about these fish since they are never seen on menus; however, they are crucial to the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. In these areas, they are a keystone species because a staggering number of predators, such as striped bass, ospreys, eagles, marine mammals etc. rely on menhaden for their sustenance. In addition, the fish has played a major role in the history of America. More menhaden have been caught than any other fish in this country.
The main conflict in the film is between Omega Protein (owned by Cooke Seafood), and the local community of recreational fishermen and conservationists. The former want to maximize their catch while the latter seeks to protect the Bay from over-exploitation. Omega is one of the last companies to catch and process menhaden on an industrial scale. They reduce these fish into a host of products such as fertilizer and feed used in their farmed salmon operations around the world. Cooke Seafood takes out 51,000 metric tons of menhaden from the Chesapeake Bay which is the equivalent of loading tractor trailers end to end for forty miles, the distance from Washington DC to Baltimore, MD.
Against this juggernaut are the local fishermen, tourist operators, charter boat captains and many others that live and work along the Bay and the Gulf. These local commercial and recreational fishermen struggle as the loss of menhaden hurts the number of game fish available to sustain the local population and the marine environment. In addition, conservation groups such as Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and the Virginia Saltwater Sport Fishing Association (VSSA) have been fighting to remove Omega from the Bay.
However, Cooke is fighting back by making political donations to government officials to prevent any changes. In the middle of this conflict is the state regulatory body, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). They establish the rules for all menhaden fishing.
The inciting incident in the film is when one of Omega’s boats has a net spill and tons of dead fish wash on shore. Here we meet two main characters. First, Christy Medice, aged 60, operates a B&B along the eastern shore of Virginia. Her B&B suffers when people cancel due to the dead fish on her beach. Second, Bill Pappas is a charter-boat captain and he is struggling to make a living in the Bay. The reduction in the menhaden population due to Omega depletes the game fish which rely on menhaden. Pappas finds it difficult to find the fish that his customers want. These citizens and conservation groups in the Bay sign a petition to get Omega out of the Bay.
The film’s climax occurs when the Virginia Governor proposes to restrict Omega from fishing within one mile of the beach. At the hearing, local citizens come out in support of the proposal. However, after five hours of testimony, the VMRC ignores the testimony of locals, the governor’s petition and instead, without public comment, passes a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This document has no force of law and just says that Cooke will work with the VMRC to address net spills. Four months later, an MOU is released which sets up a one-mile buffer for a small sliver along the eastern shore.
The MOU is seen as only a small step since Omega’s industrial scale fishing continues. The ocean documentary ends with the list of Omega’s political contributions that ensure, as Omega calls it, “control over their supply chain.” However, the local citizens and scientists who wish to protect the Bay are still going to fight and believe they will win in the long run and drive Cooke Seafood out of the Bay.