Fish Kill in Breton Sound

My name is Captain Markham Dickson, and I run Salty Dog Charters out of Shell Beach Louisiana. We are a coastal fishing charter targeting speckled trout, redfish, flounder and other coastal species from Lake Borgne to Breton Sound and the surrounding areas. I am a full time fisherman and see a lot of what goes on out there on the water.A few weeks ago I was motoring across Breton Sound and came across a horrible sight…thousands of big mature redfish lying dead on the surface. They went on for miles and miles. I took pictures and video, which I will include here. The fish were stacked up in a current or rip line. They lay surrounded by ‘pogie foam’ which is an oily brown foam that is a byproduct of pogy ships harvesting. The miles of dead redfish were also a byproduct of the pogy harvest.Every summer there is something alarming that takes place in the waters near the end of the MRGO canal where it enters Breton Sound. The menhaden or pogy ships come into the area to harvest these small oily fish with a method called purse seining. It involves deployment of two small boats from one mega ship to drop a giant net around a school of fish, followed by drawing tight the bottom of the circle to form a giant bowl in the water. Everything inside it trapped and then hauled alongside the mother ship to be sucked out with a large hose. This method is very effective at capturing these small fish, but unfortunately many times also captures everything that was feeding on this school of pogies. This includes mature redfish, jack crevalle, dolphin (mammal), mackerel, and many other species.There is no form of exclusion for these fish and the ships are allowed to kill tons of weight in bycatch without penalty. Spotter planes are used to locate the schools and are a common sight above the water all summer long. Another common sight all summer long is huge lines of floating dead redfish and Jack Crevalle that stack up in current lines in Breton Sound. This seems very wasteful to me and I want to spread the word about what is happening out there.Recreational limits permit only one redfish above 27 inches to be kept per day. This is for two reasons: the younger redfish have a better table quality, and the older fish are the brood stock. For the most part, recreational anglers do not target these larger fish, and they are allowed to survive and spawn. This keeps populations healthy offshore while fishermen target the younger redfish in the marsh. So with the multi-million dollar pogie industry killing so many of these fish without any form of regulation, will the population be about to sustain itself? Not to mention the destruction of the lower levels of the food chain from the tons of menhaden being taken from the system. If we take the spawning adults and their food, we may disrupt the populations to an extent that we cause a serious decline.I do not know what must be done. I am just a fishermen that works in the area and have seen what I believe is a problem. I know that when purse seines began to be used to catch tuna off the Pacific coast hundreds of thousands of dolphins were killed. It caused such a stir in the public eye that a dolphin exclusion method was devised and thousands are now saved. That method used the dolphin’s intelligent to see a way out and allow them to escape. This will not work with redfish because they lack the cunning of the dolphin, but there must be some way. A redfish may not be as loveable as a dolphin, but we still need to look out for the species in our waters. Otherwise we will allow the greed of huge industrial ships to overfish yet another bountiful gift of the sea. The menhaden harvest on the east coast has had horrific effects on their local ecosystems, and we need to ensure the same thing does not happen in the Gulf. We need to spread the word of what’s happening out there because very few eyes travel offshore to see firsthand what is being done out there. I see it every year and hope that maybe someone who reads this can take action to change the process. We need to be sure we are harvesting this pogy in a sustainable manner, which does not have a negative impact all the way up the food chain.Click here to watch video from the incident. Captain Markham Dickson runs Salty Dog Charters, a coastal fishing charter targeting speckled trout, redfish, flounder and other coastal species from Lake Borgne to Breton Sound and the surrounding areas.

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