On April 2, the Sun Herald published an op-ed from the spokesman of the Coastal Conservation Association -- Mississippi, F.J. Eicke ("A most important fish raises need for public scrutiny"), that was filled with more holes than a fisherman's net. Sadly, time and time again, Mr. Eicke has demonstrated dismissiveness toward sustainable fisheries and the hardworking men and women of Mississippi's commercial fishing industry.
A major contention offered by Mr. Eicke is that Mississippi's resident menhaden stock is troubled. This statement is 100 percent incorrect and is little more than a scare tactic. There is no such thing as "Mississippi menhaden." Due to their very nature -- their biology and habitat -- menhaden are a Coastwide migratory species, which is why menhaden stock assessments are conducted on a Coastwide basis.
As such, Mr. Eicke's claim that the public "has no basis for assessing the catch in Mississippi waters" is nonsensical. Menhaden cross state borders routinely as they move around the Gulf. To assess the amount of menhaden in Mississippi waters at any given time is pointless, since, due to migratory patterns, the stock size would be completely different in subsequent days, weeks or months.
Contrary to Mr. Eicke's claim that menhaden regulations are "minimal," existing management has been successful in maintaining a sustainable fishery. According to the most recent, peer-reviewed Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission stock assessment, the menhaden stock is healthy: It is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The same results have been consistent going back 20 years.
Menhaden is one of the Gulf's most monitored species, with catch data from every set going back to the 1970s, all of which has been voluntarily made public and available to the NMFS and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
His claim that menhaden stock assessments are inadequate because they are single-species assessments and fail to account for menhaden's ecological role is equally erroneous. The assessment did in fact account for predation mortality in its model. Ecosystem-based modeling is a buzzword in fisheries science today, and a goal toward which many in the field aspire. But the data to achieve such a goal and the protocols to conduct such assessments are still under development. There currently is no usable ecosystem assessment model for menhaden -- one does not exist. As a result, single species assessments remain the tried-and-true, best method to manage the species -- and the one that is currently utilized.
To refuse to acknowledge the value of a well-executed single species assessment, in lieu of a survey that does not exist, is the equivalent of refusing to drive a gasoline-powered car because you believe solar-powered vehicles would be better. They may well be -- but they do not exist.
Mr. Eicke implied the menhaden fishery has significant "bycatch" -- the catch of nontargeted species during the harvesting of menhaden. To the contrary, the GSMFC, the multistate management authority that regulates menhaden, and the National Marine Fisheries Service have found bycatch to be minimal. The GSMFC notes in their Gulf Menhaden Fact Sheet that the purse seine fishery for Gulf menhaden has a "negligible incidental catch of other species."
In an effort to further reduce bycatch, Omega Protein has worked extensively to improve its fishing practices. The company has spent millions of dollars on equipment such as fish excluder devices and installed metal "shark" guards that allow only smaller fish to be brought aboard, which has significantly reduced bycatch. Furthermore, Omega Protein has earned a sustainable seafood certification from Friend of the Sea. This third-party, international organization sets rigorous sustainability guidelines for fisheries, and Omega Protein has consistently exceeded these requirements in earning its certification.
Omega Protein already takes steps to ensure the health of the menhaden stock -- and as the evidence shows, these efforts have been extremely successful. Adding further regulation would simply be another needless regulation weighing down our fishermen.
Mr. Eicke appears to be just another angler telling fish tales.
Contact Kenny Hebert Jr., general manager of Omega Protein in Moss Point, at publicaffairs @omegaprotein.com