AUSTIN – The Save the Bait Coalition today called on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPW) to protect what has been called “the most important fish in the sea” in Texas’ coastal waters. A diverse coalition of businesses and advocacy groups is seeking a science-based catch limit, observers to document wasteful fishing practices, and accountability measures to make sure catch limits are not exceeded for menhaden, a primary prey fish for finfish, seabirds, and dolphins.
In a letter delivered to TPW (below), the Save the Bait Coalition asked the commission to strengthen proposed protections for menhaden. The coalition’s letter was signed by a diverse alliance of twenty-three businesses and advocacy groups, including Greenpeace and the Recreational Fishing Alliance. In addition, more than 1,500 Texans have contacted the TPW on behalf of the coalition.
“There is broad support from both the fishing industry and the environmental community to protect menhaden,” said John Hocevar, Senior Oceans Specialist of Greenpeace. “We all recognize the crucial role that menhaden play in the ecosystem and that the days of limitless catches are over.” Currently, there is no catch limit for the menhaden industry and Gulf-wide catch regularly exceeds one billion pounds per year. These fish are turned into fishmeal, fish oil, and industrial products such as fertilizer at one of four plants in Louisiana and Mississippi.
TPW is proposing a catch limit based on a five-year average. “Texas is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done,” stated Jim Smarr Texas Chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “We need to know how many sport fish including big breeder red drum, tunas, and spotted sea trout are being caught and killed in the menhaden nets,” he added. The coalition is asking the commission to require the menhaden industry to carry and pay for observers to help monitor the type and amount of sea life caught in their nets.
The coalition is also asking the Texas state government to push for a Gulf-wide scientific assessment of menhaden that includes the important role the fish plays as prey for predators and as a “dead zone” fighting filter feeder. “With this assessment Texas can set a science-based catch limit that ensures enough menhaden are left in the water to feed predators and Texas’ bays and estuaries have clean water,” said Luke Metzger the Director of Environment Texas.
Lastly, the coalition is pushing for measures that will ensure the menhaden fishery is stopped when the catch limit is reached and that quotas are not carried over to subsequent years to prevent quota hording. “This proposal is completely reasonable. It is outrageous that the second largest fishery in the United States does not already have these measures in place, and that Omega Protein, the only company catching menhaden in Texas, is fighting these protections for our coast tooth and nail,” added Aaron Viles with the Gulf Restoration Network.