A conservation group won a battle with a commercial fishing company when two bills dealing with red fish died in the Mississippi Legislature.
The bills would have allowed Omega Protein, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said catches hundreds of thousands of tons of menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico each year, to keep some of the red fish that also wind up in Omega purse-seine nets.
A House bill would have increased the number of red fish allowed from zero to 1 percent of the catch. A Senate bill would have allowed 45 red fish on a menhaden fishing boat. Neither made it out of committee by Tuesday's deadline.
The one percent bill, which Rep. Jeramey Anderson said he planned to change to 45 fish in the committee, was particularly worrisome to the Mississippi chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association.
"We have landing data in Moss Point but that doesn't tell us what they're catching in Mississippi waters," said F.J. Eicke, chairman of CCA Mississippi's Government Relations Committee. "I have charts where their sets are made and in Mississippi waters, 99 percent of them are in the Sound. We haven't had any research about what they overall effects of this are."
Eicke credited Sen. Tommy Gollot and Rep. Casey Eure, both of Biloxi, with stopping the bills.
Now, he said the CCA hopes the Legislature takes away some of the secrecy surrounding menhaden fishing. Omega Protein, which takes 90 percent of the menhaden caught in the United States and uses them to make pet food and fish oil, didn't respond to message nor phone calls.
But the fish, which rarely get larger than 15 inches, also are filter feeders that, along with oysters, help cleanse the water. They also are an important link in the food chain, particularly in estuaries and bays.
"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."