Miss. panel hears call for menhaden fishing study

Published 11:03 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

For the second straight month, residents and local environmental groups have pressed the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources for a study and possibly new regulations on the menhaden fishing industry.

The small, oily menhaden, also called a pogy, is caught commercially in the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico for processing into fish oil capsules, fertilizers and fish food.

Last month, the commission voted against any further regulation of menhaden fishing.

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Some residents and local groups returned to the commission on Tuesday to renew a call for a study to determine the impact of menhaden fishing on the health of the Mississippi Sound and coast tourism. They worry that catching too many menhaden could wreck food supplies for other fish that eat them and that menhaden nets may be pulling up too many other species as so-called by-catch.

“The menhaden fishery catches 10 million pounds of bio-mass as by-catch. We need to consider that and how it affects the health of that larger ecosystem,” said Aaron Viles, with the Gulf Restoration Network.

Rick Schillaci, a spokesman for Omega Protein, a company that fishes for and processes menhaden, said current management practices are helping ensure the long term health of the resource.

“Scientists know that because the menhaden industry harvests about 20 percent or less of the total fish from the population, there is an abundance of menhaden left to feed other species that are economically and recreationally important,” said Schillaci.

Omega Protein operates eight fishing boats from a Moss Point plant.

There are no official numbers on the amount of menhaden caught in the Mississippi Sound.

“We were told last month that only 50 million pounds were produced in Mississippi waters. We have since found out that in 2006, 200 million pounds were reported from our waters,” said Steve Shepard, chairman of the Gulf Coast Group of the Sierra Club.

Schillaci said that not all the pogies caught come from Mississippi waters. The company boats do go into Louisiana waters, he said.

The commission took no action on the study request.