Fish Processing Company, "Omega Protein, Inc." Sentenced For Environmental Crimes
NORFOLK, Va. – Omega Protein, Incorporated (“Omega”) headquartered in Houston, Texas, with operations in Reedsville, Virginia, was sentenced today in United States District Court in Norfolk, Va. for two violations of the Clean Water Act stemming from its activities in the menhaden fishing industry. Omega was sentenced to 3 years of probation and financial penalties totaling $7.5 million.
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Otis E. Harris, Jr., Special Agent in Charge, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Chesapeake Region and David G. McLeod, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division, Philadelphia Area Office made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson.
“Omega Protein’s conduct both harmed our environment and violated federal law,” said United States Attorney Neil H. MacBride. “Today’s sentence, with its significant financial penalty, reflects the seriousness of these charges and our commitment to protecting the waterways of the Eastern District of Virginia.”
“The defendant put wildlife and aquatic life at risk in our nation's largest estuary by illegally discharging non-permitted fish processing waste and oily wastewater directly into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean,” said Special Agent McLeod, who is in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program for the Middle Atlantic States. “Today's sentence should serve as a strong deterrent and further demonstrates our resolve to vigorously prosecute those who despoil our natural resources by cutting corners and handling waste illegally. We will continue to collaborate with the Coast Guard and other federal, state and local partners to investigate and prosecute those who violate our nation's environmental laws.”
“As guardians of the maritime environment, the Coast Guard is charged with preserving our nation’s natural resources for future generations,” said Rear Admiral Steven Ratti, District Commander for the Fifth Coast Guard District. “Our waterways are one of our nation’s greatest resources, and this case illustrates our commitment to work with our federal, state and local partners to ensure those who commit these types of crimes are held accountable.”
Omega Protein, Inc., is a public company with stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange. According to its website, Omega is one of the world’s leading producers of fish oil and the United States’ leading manufacturer of fish meal. Omega’s products derive from menhaden, a small, oily, Omega-3 rich fish that live off the east coast of the United States.
According to court documents, from May 2008 through September 2010, Omega Protein violated the Clean Water Act through the operation of its fish processing facility in Reedsville, Va. and through the operation of its fishing fleet, also based in Reedsville. Specifically, Omega’s processing facility generated a fish waste known as “Bail” water, the court records indicate. This Bail water consisted of water mixed with fish waste and was permitted to be discharged at a point beyond three nautical miles from the shore, provided it was not mixed with any other chemicals or wastes. According to the statement of facts filed with the Court, Omega combined the Bail water with pollutants generated by the processing operations and a caustic substance. This material was then discharged into the Chesapeake Bay at a point less than three nautical miles from the shore.
The court records further reveal that from April 2009 through September 2010, Omega’s fishing fleet was operated in violation of the Clean Water Act. Omega’s fishing fleet was configured in such a way that permitted the overboard discharge of oily wastewater directly into the sea. The vessels contained pumps in the bilge that were connected directly to the skin of the ship so that the oily waste from the bilge could be pumped overboard. The court records indicate it was the common practice for the Omega vessels to discharge oily wastewater in this manner while on their voyages.
This case was investigated by agents from the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph L. Kosky and Olivia Norman, and Special Assistant United States Attorney David Lastra prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.uspci.uscourts.gov.