Rev. Dr. Linwood T. Blizzard II of Macedonia Baptist Church in Northumberland County (at the podium) delivered the blessing at the christening of the F/V Reedville and F/V Little River. Photo: Larry Chowning

Two New Menhaden Boats Christened as Omega Reaches Compromise with VA

Ocean Harvesters, suppliers of Omega Protein of Reedville, Virginia, held a christening ceremony for its two newest vessels, F/V Reedville and F/V Little River, on Saturday, April 22 on the plant’s waterfront.

This sign of Omega’s confidence in the fishery comes just as the state and the menhaden processing company come to a compromise over their fishing activity inside the Bay.

The newly christened 180’x40’ Reedville is a new $8 million menhaden steamer conversion recently delivered from Omega Shipyard in Moss Point, Mississippi. Little River was delivered in 2020, but its christening ceremony was delayed until now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The boats were converted to menhaden steamers from offshore supply vessels (OSVs) formerly employed in the offshore oil and gas industry on the Gulf of Mexico.  

 The christening of new boats is an ancient celebration that goes back to the Greeks and Romans. At the ceremony Hannah Long, environmental manager of Omega Protein, said that traditionally christenings were held in the belief that they would bring the boat good luck. She said the first documented christening in the United States was in 1797 with the Navy’s sailing frigate USS Constitution and that first documented use of champagne to christen a boat was in 1890 on the USS Maine, the Navy’s first steel battleship.

Three sisters—Kathy Deihl, Kelly Walker, and Kristy Hall, who were born and raised in a fishing family in Reedville—broke the bottle of champagne on the bow of the Reedville with much of the contents splashing their way. Right after the christening, the Reedville’s horn sounded.

Faye Hall, who has multi-generational ties to the Reedville fishing industry, christened the Little River but smashed the bottle so that the champagne splashed away from her.

Ocean Harvesters CEO Monty Deihl said that the Reedville is a multimillion dollar investment for the company and a sign that Omega Protein plans to continue to fish and provide jobs on Virginia’s Northern Neck.

New Memorandum of Understanding

The christening comes on the heels of one of the most difficult political years for Omega Protein, the last menhaden reduction fishery on the East Coast. Historically menhaden plants were located from Maine to North Carolina but over time, plants closed down and states passed laws to eliminate large scale menhaden fishing in their waters.

Omega Protein has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration in hopes to reduce conflicts between the fishery and other Bay user groups. 

The Virginia fishery ran into issues last summer with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office when there was an Omega Protein purse net tear resulting in dead fish washing up on the Bay shoreline. This forced Kiptopeke State Park to close for recreational use during part of July, a peak month for beach tourism.

In response, 11,000 sportfishermen, waterfront landowners and representatives of the state’s tourism economy signed a petition to the governor and Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to halt menhaden fishing.

VMRC voted 5-4 in December 2022 to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Omega Protein and the Bay’s menhaden bait fishery to ban fishing in key areas and on key dates.

In January, State Delegate Tim Anderson introduced House Bill 1383 to shut down Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery in all of the state’s territorial ocean waters and inland Bay waters for two years. That bill was basically killed by the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. The committee voted 22-0 to table and “pass by indefinitely.”

Finally on April 20, Diehl announced that the company has signed a MOU with Virginia state officials in hopes to reduce conflicts between the fishery and other Chesapeake Bay user groups. The agreement was negotiated by members in Gov. Youngkin’s administration and Omega officials, said Deihl last week.

    According to Ocean Harvesters, key points in the agreement include:

  • Areas within the Bay where the fishery may only harvest in waters more than one mile from shore. These areas were identified as concentrated regions for tourists and other user groups around the Bay. Specifically, the areas are offshore from the populated areas of Virginia’s lower Eastern Shore and Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach.
  • New limits on the times and places where the menhaden fishery will operate, in response to feedback on how the fishery can best avoid conflicts with recreational fishing. The MOU states that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the fishery will not harvest menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay on weekends, nor on the Memorial or Labor Day holidays, nor on the days surrounding July 4—the most popular time for summer tourism and recreational fishing.
  • Restrictions on operating within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel year-round. This will help the fishery avoid recreational boat traffic and any other potential issues and conflicts that might arise near the bridge, the MOU states.

-Larry Chowning