Thursday, April 28, 2022

Menhaden legislative update - 4/28

The saga to protect one of the ocean’s most valuable forage species continues this Spring in the Louisiana Legislature. CCA Louisiana, The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the FFI Gulf Coast Council and many other conservation groups are working in support of House Bill 1033 by Rep. Joe Orgeron. This bill would require weekly reporting of menhaden catches as well as establish limits on menhaden harvesting on a tiered distance from shore.

To understand where we are, a quick overview on this issue:

  • Menhaden (pogies) are the most important food source for redfish, speckled trout, spanish mackerel and many other predatory fish. This nutrient-rich species is also harvested commercially for a variety of uses, from dietary supplements to pet food.
  • Overharvesting of menhaden has been linked to poor condition of fish and decreased biomass of species, as well as displacement of sea birds and mammals.
  • Of equal concern is the bycatch. The methods used to harvest pogies has been documented to result in the demise of thousands of bull reds (spawning stock) as well as large numbers of spotted seatrout.
  • For these reasons, most coastal states have long banned commercial harvest within their waters, while the few states that allow it have established buffer zones (distance from shore) of at least one mile. Louisiana is the lone exception in allowing unlimited nearshore harvest.

… and a history of how we got here…

  • In 2019, video and photos surfaced in social media of menhaden vessels working just yards off the Louisiana shoreline, with dead redfish (and other sport fish) floating by the hundreds. These sparked magazine articles and outrage among anglers and other conservationists.
  • In June 2020, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission heard from biologists and conservationists on a proposal for a one-mile buffer zone. LWFC rejected the proposal.
  • In March 2021, conservationists took their case to the Louisiana Legislature. HB535 would have established a 1/2 mile buffer zone. While it had overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, the Senate Natural Resources Committee Chair, Bob Hengens of Abbeville – an ally of Omega Protein – did a masterful job of stalling the bill, leading to its failure to pass before the session ended.
  • In January 2021, the LWFC voted on a Notice of Intent to establish a 1/4 mile buffer zone. Apparently the LWFC came to realize that if it did not act, the legislature would again take up the issue. However, the NOI was amended to not include Breton Sound, infuriating legislative members.

So now the legislature takes up HB1033. It’s different than HB535 in that it still allows harvesting within a half-mile, but places a very restrictive quota.  HB1033 sets the following limits:

– statewide a total limit of 573 million pounds
– 150 million pounds within one mile of shore
– 229 million pounds within two miles of shore
– daily set locations for each vessel, and weekly reporting of harvests
– harvest zones will be closed once limit is reached

Meanwhile, Senator Hengens has filed a bill favoring his harvester allies. SB447 would only require weekly reporting of harvest with no other restrictions.

As of this writing, HB1033 by Rep. Orgeron has passed the House Natural Resources Committee by a 9-3 vote and has passed the House Floor by a 75-22. It now goes to the Senate Natural Resources Committee where it faces a tough fight, thanks to Sen. Hengens.

We ask all fly anglers and conservationists to contact their state representatives and senators and ask them to SUPPORT HOUSE BILL 1033.