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A fish processing company worked Wednesday to clean up an estimated 20,000 menhaden that washed ashore on Buckroe Beach after a spill from the nets of one of its commercial trawlers.
About 75,000 of the oily fish were spilled from harvesting nets on Monday more than 4 miles off Grandview Island, said Ben Landry, a spokesman for Texas-based Omega Protein, which owns a large menhaden processing plant in nearby Reedville.
By Wednesday morning, about 20,000 had made their way to a five-mile stretch of beach near Hampton.
Landry said officials from its Reedville plant are investigating the cause of the spill. A skimmer was gathering fish from the water, and crews were contracted to pick up fish from the shore, he said. Crews will return Thursday in case additional fish float ashore overnight.
"It's our responsibility to clean it up and that's exactly what we plan on doing," Landry said.
A Virginia Marine Resources Commission spokesman called the spill an accident and said the dead fish may stink, but they pose no health hazard.
"Dead fish stink, there's no way around that," agency spokesman John Bull said. "But dead fish washing up on shore is a natural thing, just not in these numbers."
Omega uses the fish to create fertilizer, fish oil and high-protein animal feed.