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Omega-3 producer to pay multi-million fine over Clean Water Act breaches

June 11, 2013
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Photo credit: Les Cunliffe/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Omega Protein, Inc., a subsidiary of Texas-based nutritional ingredients producer Omega Protein Corp., is to pay a total of $7.5 million to settle violations of the Clean Water Act.

The settlement resolves an investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA), relating to the company's facility near Reedville, Va. Omega Protein, Inc. pleaded guilty to illegally disposing of oily bilge water and fishy wastewater into the Chesapeake Bay over a period of at least two years and will have to pay $5.5 million in fines and a further $2 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects in the state linked to the protection of the environmental health of the bay, the Associated Press reported.

The investigation was launched in 2010, following a request for information sent by the EPA to Omega Protein Corporation regarding Omega Protein, Inc. and its bail wastewater practices. This was followed by an inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard in February the following year, which exposed problems with the bilge water discharge practices of the company's fishing vessels. Omega Protein, Inc. admitted it had breached the Clean Water Act and agreed to the payments.

Apart from the financial penalties, the company will also be placed under probation for three years and will have to implement an environmental compliance scheme, the Associated Press said. The agreement has already been approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

According to David G. McLeod, special agent in charge of the EPA's Philadelphia office, the sentence would serve as a warning to all those who have been negligent towards environmental regulation and proves the agency's commitment to "vigorously prosecute" those who damage the water resources by illegally handling waste.

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Bret Scholtes, chief executive officer of Omega Protein, Inc., explained that the company was determined to make sure that its operations were compliant with state and federal environment laws. In fact, Scholtes said that the company has devoted significant resources to enhance all environmental compliance systems across its operations. Omega Protein, Inc. would do whatever it could to carry out its duties as stated by the law and to protect water resources, he said.

This is not the first time that regulators have scrutinized the company. In September 2012 Omega Protein Corporation was fined $79,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Authority over the death of a worker who was mangled in a screw conveyor at a processing facility in Mississippi.

Omega Protein is the biggest U.S. producer of omega-3 oils but has recently been gaining ground in the human nutrition sphere, after it took over Cyvex Nutrition in 2010 and acquired whey protein supplier Wisconsin Specialty Protein in March this year.

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