The U.S. government has charged Omega Protein Inc., the company that controls the big menhaden industry in Virginia, with discharging pollutants into state waters from its fishing fleet numerous times between 2008 and 2010.
The criminal charges, released Friday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, are vague and do not say what pollutant the fishing boats allegedly dumped or where the environmental violations supposedly occurred.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Norfolk declined to elaborate on the case Monday, saying only that if found guilty, Omega faces fines and years of probation.
That sounds like something out of Kafka's "The Trial"
. You've been accused of a crime, we just can't tell you what it is, yet.
Ben Landry, an Omega spokesman at the company's headquarters in Texas, said the case stems from investigations by federal authorities two years ago.
Back then, Landry said, the Coast Guard found problems in how Omega's fishing fleet handled its oily bilge water and stormwater at home docks in Reedville, a historic town on the Chesapeake Bay on Virginia's Northern Neck peninsula.
In Reedville, Omega runs the only fish-processing plant of its kind on the East Coast. There, millions of the thin, silvery menhaden are converted into fish oil, meal, pet food and health supplements. The plant, which is the largest employer in Northumberland County, has been an economic engine for the past 150 years on the rural Northern Neck.
I'm not a supporter of Omega Protein, and it wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit if fishing regulations were tightened to the point that Omega moved away from the Bay or gave up all together. However, this move reeks of an attempt to criminalize past behavior, a so called ex post facto law
which violates thus U.S. Constitution, clause 3 of Article I
, Section 9
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