If menhaden are the most important fish in the sea, then why were over 400,000 of them spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last Tuesday? Nearly half a million menhaden, or pogies, as they are commonly known, were spilled into the Gulf near Long Beach and Pass Christian. The spill site resulted in an oil slick that was 2-3 miles long. The accident allegedly occurred when two menhaden fishing boats caught their nets on debris in the water.
The boats were owned by Omega Protein, the world’s largest producer of fish oils. Omega Protein has a processing plant in Moss Point, MS where they reduce the menhaden they catch into fish meal and fish oil. These byproducts are components of animal feed, make up and fertilizers.
This spill highlights a lot of what is wrong with the menhaden industry. Despite the fact that menhaden are the base of the Gulf food chain, they are heavily fished. The menhaden are caught using giant nets called purse seines. These nets can catch thousands of menhaden at once, but they may also be unintentionally catching other types of sea life, such as the threatened dusky shark. And as the Mississippi gulf coast saw last week, big catches can leave a big mess.
Click here for more information about the spill and visit our website for more information on menhaden and overfishing.
Stephanie Short is a legal intern at the Gulf Restoration Network working on fishery conservation.
Thank you to the Biloxi Sun Herald for the photograph.