Whether you call 'em pogies, bunker or by the proper name, menhaden, the oily little critters are among the most important fish off our Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They're important economically, but also -- and some would say more critically -- ecologically, as prime forage for predators including striped bass, redfish and other game fish, and as efficient water-cleaning filter feeders.
Huge industrial mother ships with spotter planes have for decades harvested an astounding tonnage of menhaden in huge purse seines every year. I've seen this fishing live, in situ, and from the standpoint of an angler and conservationist, it ain't pretty. It's all quite legal. But from now on, off North Carolina, it will be legal no more.
On May 11, the state's Marine Fisheries Commission in an historic five-to-four vote, ended the practics of purse-seining from a mother ship. That vote, according to a Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina spokesman, means "effectively limiting the practice by the reduction fishery in harvesting menhaden for fish meal and oil in North Carolina waters."
It will also mean no more schools of striped bass, red drum and other valuable species killed in the huge nets as bycatch.
North Carolina actually has no menhaden reduction plants; the big purse seiners scooping up menhaden by the millions are from the Omega Protein Corporation, operating out of Reedville, Virginia.
Notably, the vote was close. I'm thrilled that five members of the commission had the backbone to tell the politically powerful Omega that enough is enough.
CCA has long worked to end menhaden reduction fishing in state waters. "We are glad to see the NC MFC take action to help North Carolina fish and fishermen," says CCA NC fisheries chairman Bill Madulak. "Menhaden are currently at the lowest level of abundance ever recorded."
The war to conserve menhaden may not be over, but this is one battle we can call for the fish.