Fish oils are an essential component of everyday supplements. Plus, they’re used in way more items than you might realize. Fertilizers, pet food, cosmetics, and lots of human foods as well. The number one fishing source of these oils in our products? That would be the humble menhaden. Also known as “pogy,” “mossbunker,” or “fat-back.”
Menhaden are abundant throughout the Atlantic. Their population is estimated in the hundreds of billions and females produce hundreds of thousands of eggs each year. Many consider them the most important fish in the same because of the support they provide the entire food chain. Both in and out of the water. They also feed most of our favorite sportfish such as striped bass, redfish, and tarpon. They also serve as meal used to feed commercial fish farms. Plus, they filter thousands of gallons of water a day.
Why Were the Fish Dumped?
Omega Protein Corporation is one of the country’s largest harvesters of menhaden. One vessel owned by the company was forced to release a net of 900,000 dead menhaden and other fishing byproducts estimated to be more than 500,000 pounds after wrangling in too many.
A fisheries manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries indicated that this many fish only represents 2% of the total population and called the dump “insignificant” compared to the overall population in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Regardless of whether statistically it’s true or not, to characterize this incident or this amount of waste as insignificant is an unfortunate choice of words,” said David Cresson, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association. “There are lots of concerns here. We’ve been working for a few years to get these boats to operate further away from our shorelines. Up until six months ago, there were no limitations on how far from our shoreline they could operate. Then our state adopted a quarter-mile buffer, which is only about 1,300 feet.”
Impacting Marine Life
According to Cresson, when this many baitfish are harvested so close to shore, it depletes the coastal food sources that bird, mammals, and other fish need. Louisiana is also the only state in the Gulf that hosts significant menhaden commercial activity.
“This species is managed as a Gulf stock. There are 100 billion or 200 billion of these fish in the entire Gulf of Mexico, and they’re catching a few billion of these fish a year off Louisiana’s coast” Cresson says. “So it’s not a big percentage of the overall stock. But when you’re taking a couple billion of these fish from the much smaller stock that lives in Louisiana waters, then I think you have a concern.”
All the states along the Gulf have different limitations in place for bait fishing. The nets used to harvest these fish are banned in Florida. Alabama and Mississippi both have mile-wide coastal buffers in place. Texas limits the catch to 30 million pounds a year, which pales in comparison to the roughly billion pounds that Louisiana harvests annually.
“Any meaningful change to the regulation on this industry is going to be hard to come by,” Cresson says. “But we’re in it for the long haul. We, and lots of other people, are going to continue working on this issue until Louisiana is getting the protection it deserves.”