Unless you’re a frequent reader of this blog, or read about pogies in this recent coverage or editorial on the issue in the Galveston Daily News, you’ve probably never heard of menhaden, but this small, oily fish is one of the most critical components of the Gulf’s marine foodweb. Some call them shad, or pogies, and if you’re a fisherman you’ve probably called them bait.Whatever the name, menhaden school in huge numbers in Gulf coastal waters, filter feeding on algae and providing food for brown pelicans, dolphins, sharks, red drum and lots of other marine wildlife.Gulf menhaden is also big business for two companies. Omega Protein and Daybrook Inc. spot the schools of menhaden with planes, and send their boats to encircle entire, massive schools with purse seines – catching the menhaden and whatever is feeding on the school.Despite the huge volume of menhaden coming out of the water, that billion pounds doesn’t really turn into much economic activity. Omega had gross revenues of only $157 million in 2007 from their roughly 750 million pounds of our common resource.Meanwhile, the industry hides behind a relatively low estimate of bycatch PERCENTAGE of one percent. Of course one percent of one billion is still ten million pounds of gulf marine life that’s being wasted. Basically everything that eats menhaden could be getting caught up with the pogies: red drum, specks, tarpon, tuna, swordfish, and all the non-game species, brown pelican, dolphin, sea turtles, etc.One marine scientist estimates the menhaden fleet catches close to one million sharks a year! Check out this article on shark bycatch which hints at the trouble this industry could be causing. In addition, every shark population in the Gulf is currently overfished, such as black tips and spinners, and one species, dusky, is a candidate species of the endangered species act.Gulf menhaden is the second largest fishery by weight in the country, and unbelievably, operates without any catch limits – whatever the planes can spot, and the boats can catch within their 6 month season, will be turned into chicken feed and a host of other industrial products.As a comparison, the largest fishery by weight in the country, Alaskan pollock, has its own federal law that lays out all sorts of controls, the North Pacific Council sets an annual catch limit based on an annual stock assessment, pretty much the entire fleet caries observers on board to watch the industry’s bycatch, and they can’t use airplanes.TOMORROW, Texas is considering a catch limit for this fleet. Please take a moment and tell the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission ‘good job,’ and ask them to take a few more steps to save the bait. http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=23018Aaron Viles is GRN’s Campaign Director

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