Published – Southern Boating
©2015 – All Rights Reserved – Troy Gilbert
Recreational fishermen and charter boat captains are a relaxed crowd on the Gulf Coast and in many ways are kin to duckhunters who have learned to embrace catch limits in order to allow a sustainable continuity for their sport and a boating tradition they hold dear. Very few things unite and rile up these coastal and deep water anglers, except perhaps Pogey Boats.
Pogey is another name for menhaden and is considered a trash fish to fishermen, yet they are highly prized by a few corporate interests who are allowed to, as many describe, “strip mine” coastal waters for these small oily fish which are used as pig feed in China or cat food in the United States after extracting their oils for use in anything from cosmetics to salad dressings. However, the pogey is crucial in the natural ecosystem as a food source for most recreational fish in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.
Primarily run by two corporations including one traded on the NYSE, many of these pogey boats are shambling hulks of old World War II era boats that have been converted to berth two large runabouts in their sterns and that employ spotter planes in the Mississippi Sound and the waters of Louisiana and Texas. On spotting these large near-surface schools of menhaden, the planes radio the coordinates to the pogey boats who then power to that location and deploy the runabouts. Using large and indiscriminate purse seine nets to capture the school – and anything else within it – all is reeled into the large pogey boat for storage. The bycatch, which includes anything from endangered sharks to red snapper or even dolphins who happen to be feeding on the shoal of menhaden, inevitably die and are dumped overboard.
Corporate press releases state that the bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico only amounts to 1% or less of the annual 1 billion pounds of menhaden harvested in the waters of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, but environmental organizations assert that the pogey boats kill and dump overboard enough red snapper annually to equal the official recreational and commercial catch limits for this endangered fish – alone.
The majority of the Atlantic seaboard has taken to limiting menhaden harvesting, including outright bans in some state waters after attributing it to the serious depletion of the food stocks for recreational fish. The Gulf Coast has always been slow to follow, but in recent years, catch limits have been employed in Texas with restricted fishing around the tourist beaches and waters of eastern Alabama. The state of Mississippi has yet to enact any catch limits, but have laws requiring commercial fishing interests to follow neighboring states catch limits. With a large homeport in Moss Point near Pascagoula, Mississippi for many of the pogey boats, this fishing practice openly galls many Deep South fishermen.
It’s entirely possible that the productive fisheries on the Gulf Coast can withstand this type of fishing for a specific species as asserted by the commercial interests, but many ask why would it be allowed to continue when the research conducted elsewhere shows that the practice is detrimental to the overall health of fisheries.