Pogy-netting operation

Pogy-net operation
Pogy-net operations like this one, along with their spotter planes, each year extract a large tonnage of the menhade from the northern Gulf waters.
Benson Chiles

In response to ongoing concerns about intense industrial removal of the menhad from sensitive coastal areas, the CCA Mississippi is supporting efforts to impose a 28,900-ton harvest cap on state waters. The proposed ceiling represents the reduction industry’s average reported landings of vital feed fish from 2000 to 2012. If adopted, the ceiling will limit the reduction industry to more than £ 63 million each year.

“That harvest represents a huge, quiet drain on Mississippi’s marine resources each year,” said Tommy Elkins, chairman of the board. “Menhaden is a key link in the food chain, the link that converts the sun’s energy into feed for a wide range of predators and game fish. The reduction industry basically eliminates an important food source and at the same time inflicts unknown bycatch damage on Mississippi’s coastal areas. Sixty-three million pounds sounds like a lot, but the real numbers can be far more than that. It’s past time to curb the harvest and start taking real steps to address menhad as a key part of the marine ecosystem rather than as a single food stock for Cooke Aquaculture. “

Previous attempts to control the Mississippi fishery by common sense have always been met with fierce opposition from the reduction industry. These efforts have included rules recognizing the status of the Mississippi Strait as a breeding ground for several game species as well as a proposal to ban purse seines within one mile of the Jackson County coastline, a regulation that has applied to Hancock and Harrison counties in for years. None of these proposals were able to overcome the political influence of the industry.

“This is a perfectly reasonable proposal to limit the harvest to industry averages until managers have more resources and information to determine the impact of removing 63 million pounds of feed on our state waters,” said Kyle Johnson, co-chair of the government. Relations Committee. “We do not think we can just trust Cooke to exercise reasonable restrictions on their catch, and that gives the state another tool to control fishing.”

Cooke Aquaculture is a Canadian-owned company with extensive aquaculture activities on the east and west coasts. Cooke recently acquired Omega Protein, which announced earlier this year that it deliberately violated a harvest ceiling in Chesapeake Bay that was implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). ASMFC subsequently found that the company was not in line with its menhaden management plan and has referred the matter to the US Secretary of Commerce. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the state that includes the Omega Proteins Reedville plant, has supported the effort. Here in Mississippi, the company has previously been at odds with state fisheries regulations, including redfish retention and fish killings of menhad and other species that affected coastal areas.

“The Chesapeake Bay Harvest Cap was adopted to protect against local depletion of a key feed species in sensitive nursery areas, which is exactly the conservation concern we have here at Mississippi Sound,” said FJ Eicke, GRC co-chair. “Cooke has not shown that they tend to be particularly good business citizens in Chesapeake or here, and that should motivate our state fisheries managers to take extra precautions with our feed base, starting with a harvest cap.”

Harvest data from Omega Protein have never been disclosed on a state-by-state basis, not even to resource managers with regulatory authority over fisheries, including apparently the Mississippi Commission for Marine Resources (MCMR) and not to the public. over harvest, officials with virtually no information leave on which to base a prudent management plan, as proposed by the CCA Mississippi. Data from the period 2000-2012 are used for the harvest ceiling, as revealed in the 2015 regional plan published by the Gulf States Marine Fishery Commission (GSMFC).

“Our proposal recommends that the ceiling be maintained as a preventive, ecosystem-based management plan, noted as needed by the GSMFC, and according to federal guidelines that project stock assessments that recommend movement for ecosystem-based management,” Eicke said.

MCMR will next meet on December 17 in the Bolton building in Biloxi at 9:00, and the harvest cap will be introduced to the Commission. The CCA Mississippi encourages anglers and conservationists to attend the meeting and express support for this reasonable precautionary measure. For more information, click HERE to read the proposal submitted by the CCA Mississippi.

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