Red drum bycatch bills fail

Menhaden harvesters blocked in attempt to keep red drum, but industry bycatch remains secret

Posted on February 26, 2016

JACKSON, MS - Two bills that proposed to allow the industrial menhaden fishery to retain mature red drum killed as bycatch failed to make it out of committee at the Mississippi Legislature this week, much to the relief of conservationists who worked to ensure the bills’ demise.

“We have serious concerns about the extent of bycatch in the menhaden industry and this legislation would have been a step in the exact wrong direction,” said F.J. Eicke, chairman of CCA Mississippi’s Government Relations Committee. “Rather than allow industrial harvesters to start retaining red drum which are killed as bycatch in their nets, we believe it is much more important to the future of our marine resources to know exactly what is being killed, and how much. We applaud the leadership of Sen. Tommy Gollott and Rep. Casey Eure for exercising reason over expediency, and acknowledging the negative consequences of these bills.”

The public is currently not allowed to know the full extent of Omega Protein’s bycatch in its menhaden operations; since Omega is the only company in the industry, their bycatch is considered something of a trade secret. The bycatch bills were initiated by Omega Protein after one of their boat captains was ticketed by an officer with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources who observed crew members retaining red drum.

Menhaden are a critical forage species and the purse-seine boats used by Omega Protein often catch and kill gamefish and other predators when they encircle entire schools of menhaden. State law specifically prohibits commercial boats harvesting menhaden from retaining red drum that are killed in the nets as bycatch.

“These bills should be a wake-up call for the recreational angling community of the continuing threats to our marine resources from various sources,” said Eicke. “We remain in the dark with regard to the overall catch and bycatch in state waters by these boats. CCA Mississippi believes that information is critical to how we manage our public marine resources and the public should have the right to know the extent of these menhaden operations. We are exploring legislation to bring this bycatch data to light once and for all.”

Early reports were that the menhaden industry was seeking to retain up to one percent of its overall harvest as bycatch. The bills eventually filed specified that every menhaden boat be allowed to retain up to 45 mature red drum, per day. An allowance of 45 mature red drum per day, per boat for a 10-boat fleet would have had a significant impact on red drum in Mississippi waters over the course of a menhaden season.

“CCA Mississippi members and the angling community stepped up and made sure their representatives heard the full story, and we are grateful for their efforts to stop these bills,” said Eicke. “This is a good win for conservation in Mississippi.”