Pogie bill would place first-ever limits on Louisiana’s biggest catch | Environment
A bill that would impose the first substantial limits on Louisiana’s largest but least-known commercial fishery could improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico but cripple the economies of some coastal communities.
Bill 1033 would cap the catch of menhaden in Louisiana waters at 573 million pounds a year — an amount that far exceeds the combined annual catch of shrimp, oysters, crabs and crayfish in the United States. state, but which is well below the unrestricted catches that the menhaden industry has enjoyed for decades. .
The bill would also require Menhaden fishing vessels to file daily reports of catch quantities and locations, creating a level of accountability that supporters of the bill say is sorely lacking.
“We owe it to our coast, our state, and ourselves to understand and properly manage this fishery,” said David Cresson, CEO of the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana. “At the moment we don’t and that’s not the case.”
Still, industry officials say the bill could force the closure of the state’s two Menhaden processing plants, putting hundreds of people out of work in areas with few other job prospects.
“This bill is going to shut us down in a few years, and it’s going to have a direct impact on Plaquemines Parish,” said Shane Treadaway, fleet manager for Daybrook Fisheries at Empire.
The bill passed the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee by a 9-3 vote last week and will be debated in the House on Tuesday.
Take fish food from ‘Sportsman Paradise’
Menhaden, also called pogies and bunkers, are tiny oily fish used primarily in fertilizer and feed for cats, pigs and chickens. Their oil is also added to cosmetics, soap, omega-3 fatty acid pills, and other health supplements.
Two foreign companies – Omega Protein from Canada and Daybrook from South Africa – dominate Louisiana’s menhaden fishery, which has produced annual catches worth an average of $80 million since 2010. During that time, annual catches have oscillated between 612 million and 1.1 billion pounds.
With no catch limits, Louisiana has the most lax menhaden regulations in the Gulf. Texas sets a catch limit and bans fishing for menhaden within half a mile of its coast, and Mississippi recently joined Alabama in enacting one-mile buffer zones nationwide. State. Meanwhile, Florida has a blanket ban on large-scale net fishing in its waters.
Proponents say the bill is a long-overdue check on industrial-scale harvests of a fish that sustains much of the Atlantic food chain. Whales, seabirds, and dolphins eat menhaden, as do fish popular with anglers, such as rockfish, trout, and bass.
While Gulf menhaden populations appear stable, fishermen blame the menhaden industry for declining prized catches in areas regularly swept by 1,500-foot-long menhaden nets.
“If you basically take out the menhaden, it takes food out of the Sportsman Paradise species,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose.
In addition, menhaden nets catch more than menhaden. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has received a growing number of complaints about menhaden bycatch and trails of dead rockfish and trout left in the wake of menhaden vessels, which sometimes come within a few hundred meters from the shore.
“With this type of blind take, everything is affected,” Orgeron said.
‘What jobs do I have, do I need’
However, the menhaden industry has warned that restrictions in Louisiana’s bill could force the closure of the two major menhaden processing plants in Louisiana. Omega has a factory in Abbeville and Daybrook operates a factory in the small southern community of Empire’s Plaquemines parish. According to Daybrook, the Empire plant processes about 40% of the menhaden catch from the Gulf.
Mack Cormier Rep, D-Belle Chasse, said Plaquemines “cannot take this loss.”
The parish has lost three major oil industry employers in recent years – most recently the Phillips 66 Alliance refinery, which had 470 employees and almost as many contractors. With about 300 workers, the Daybrook plant is now perhaps the largest private employer in the parish, Cormier said.
“What jobs do I need,” he said.
But these jobs come at a price. The plant has pollution problems that parish health officials and environmental groups have been sounding the alarm about for decades. In a lawsuit last month, Daybrook’s own safety and environment manager accused the plant of deliberately dumping large amounts of fish waste into nearby waterways and resisted taking precautions base to prevent leaks and spills.
Omega’s Abbeville factory has been the source of odor complaints from as far away as New Iberia, about 20 miles to the east. Among his environmental violations was a $1 million fine in 2017 for twice dumping large volumes of polluted water into the Vermilion River.
Other recent efforts to restrict the menhaden industry have been unsuccessful. In 2020, the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission rejected a proposed menhaden fishing “exclusion zone” extending one mile from the Louisiana coast.
Last year, Orgeron crafted a bill that would have established half-mile exclusion zones, with wider buffers around some barrier islands. The zones were reduced to a quarter-mile by Senate leaders, but the measure died amid negotiations in a House-Senate conference committee.
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