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Pogie Boats Strip Mining the Mississippi Sound

Pogie Boats Strip Mining the Mississippi Sound

This is a guest blog by Raleigh Hoke, the Mississippi Organizer of the Gulf Restoration Network.

First, the “spotter” plane appears soaring above the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Inside the pilot is scanning the water, searching for a characteristic dark, writhing mass: a school of menhaden. Spotting the school, the pilot radios a nearby mothership to relay the news. This large vessel races to the scene and rapidly lowers two smaller boats into the water. They quickly go to work surrounding the menhaden school in a large purse seine net and, after the school is secured, the factory boat vacuums the net clean – transporting thousands of pounds of fish into its hold. This process continues until the entire bay or sound is stripped of the once-teaming schools of menhaden, and the dolphins, pelicans, and other marine wildlife must look elsewhere for their food.

Menhaden, which are also known as pogies, are a small, oily bait fish which schools in huge numbers in the Gulf of Mexico.  Few people, with the exception of fishermen, have ever even heard of menhaden, but they are an essential part of the eco-systems of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf. In fact, Princeton professor H. Bruce Franklin went so far as to title his book on menhaden The Most Important Fish in the Sea. These small fish, which are filter-feeders, provide 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 host of other sea life.

Unfortunately, pogies are also big business with just two companies – Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries – harvesting an average of one billion pounds of menhaden from the Gulf of Mexico each year. They don’t put menhaden on ice and sell them at the fish market, instead, they grind them up, and turn them into industrial products that are then turned into things such as dog, cat and fish food. In the process, they accidently capture and kill at least ten million pounds of other sea life, like sharks, red drum and tarpon. In fact, one Louisiana fisheries biologist has suggested that the industry could be killing as many as 850,000 sharks every year.

The menhaden industry was originally based along the Atlantic coast of the United States. However, as the menhaden populations range shrunk and fishermen began pointing to problems with the health of other marine wildlife which rely on menhaden, many of the Atlantic states stepped in to better regulate the industry. Now, the Gulf of Mexico is ground zero for the menhaden boats and without improved management of the fishery, the entire Gulf coast economy and ecosystem could be affected.

In fact, the menhaden reduction industry operates in Mississippi and Louisiana without any catch limits and few controls on the amount and kind of other species they capture. To help combat this threat, a group of conservationist, recreational fishermen and concerned business leaders have joined together to form the Save the Bait Coalition of Mississippi. They’ve been working aggressively to convince the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources, the regulatory body that oversees the fishery, to support commonsense regulations for the menhaden industry. You can take action now by visiting this page, or read a little more about the issue and check out a great video about the pogie industry here.

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6 comments

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10:17PM PST on Jan 20, 2010

Thank you Deborah! Nice to see someone knows what thay are talking about.

5:19PM PDT on Mar 30, 2009

Please do your research and do not take the word of those that want the waters all to themselves. www.gsmfc.com will show you without a doubt that the allegations of the species being overfished with the large numbers of bycatch is not accurate. NOAA did an in depth study that was dated Sept 2006 released in 2007 that reported that all is well. This industry is very well monitored. It is only 28 weeks long, mon-fri. They know what they are doing for the good of their harvest as well as recycling the harvest back into the earth as fish meal for farm raised fish, fertilizers and the most important Omega 3 fish oils. There is even a study out now that says that fish oil helps in decreasing cow gas emitions into the air...so now we can even say that this industry can help with global warming. You cannot just take the sportsman's thoughts on this. They want the waters all to theirselves and want to do away with the commercial fisherman at any cost...even to the extent of exageration...which sportsman are known for, right? Research shows a different story than what these men say. LSU has even had men on the boats doing extensive bycatch studies and found that the allegations are way off base. The next one is due in 2012. Don't be decevied...get the facts. Thank you for listening.

2:26PM PDT on Mar 20, 2009

Once again it seems that we are so greedy as a race, we are never realize the consequences until it is too late or beyond the fixing it line! Thanks for the info, will pass it on!

2:53PM PDT on Mar 19, 2009

I'm glad this issue is being brought up - the marine foodweb is being jeopardized by our inattention to the forage species.

1:56PM PDT on Mar 19, 2009

Yes, it's amazing how much short-term thinking goes on in the industry.

12:58PM PDT on Mar 19, 2009

We need to stop overfishing these fish. They are the foundation of the ocean food system. Keep up the great work GRN.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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