Video: Save The Bait - Protect Menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico.
About Menhaden (Pogies)
Menhaden are a small, oily fish that play an extremely important role in the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Menhaden spend their short lives swimming in large schools filtering algae out of the water and converting it into their highly nutritious flesh. This provides a crucial link between the primary producers of energy --plants -- and the upper levels of the food chain, including red drum, sharks, dolphins, pelicans, and a host of other sea life that rely on menhaden.
Many anglers know menhaden by the name pogie, or more simply, bait. Few things work as well as menhaden to catch fish. What many people do not know is that the menhaden fishery is a big business; the second largest fishery in the United States. Two companies, Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries catch on average more than 1 billion pounds of menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico each year. The highly industrialized fishery uses planes to spot the fish and large factory boats with vacuums to suck up the fish from large encircling nets deployed by smaller boats. The industry never sells any of this fish at a local market as no one eats menhaden directly. All of these fish are "reduced" into products such as fishmeal and fish oil for animal feed and other industrial uses.
Wasted Sea life
In addition to the 1 billion pounds of menhaden caught by the industry, the industry also catches and kills an estimated 10 million pounds of sea life. Because the industry does not have observers on board their boats, the species composition of the inadvertent killing (bycatch) is unknown. It is extremely important to find out if the industry is killing sport fish such as red drum, or highly depleted species such as dusky sharks.
Government and anglers have done too much work to protect marine wildlife for one industry made up of two companies to deplete important species.
Texas Takes the Lead
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recognizes the importance of menhaden and capped the amount caught in Texas state waters in 2008. The cap is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to ensure that menhaden stay abundant and fulfill their role in the ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the menhaden industry is allowed to operate in other Gulf states - like Louisiana and Mississippi - without any catch limits and few commonsense controls on how they operate. Current management measures are outdated and do not take into account the needs of predators and the important role that menhaden play as filter feeders. Science-based catch limits should be established that leave enough menhaden in the water to help keep the water clean and feed Gulf menhaden predators.
Fishery managers also need to mandate that menhaden boats carry observers. These industry funded, government-trained and employed observers can quantify the amount of wasted sea life and its species composition. With this new data, fishery managers can make sure the proper gear is being used to reduce bycatch and close areas to fishing to keep protected and important species from being caught.