By WLOX Staff
LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Thousands of dead fish are floating in the Mississippi Sound after two fish spills from pogy boats. The Department of Marine Resources says 400,000 dead fish are floating in two areas; one about 2.5 to 3 miles south of Long Beach, the other south of Waveland.
The spills occurred Monday when fishing boats from Omega Protein Company snagged nets spilling menhaden, better known as pogy fish.
Omega Protein spokesman Ben Landry told WLOX News the nets apparently snagged on debris under the water, debris Landry believes is left from Hurricane Katrina.
"We apologize for this occurrence," Landry said in statement sent to WLOX News. "Occasional spills are unfortunately a part of commercial fishing operations, and our analysis of these spills indicates they were likely caused by contact with debris still remaining in the water from storms."
Charter boat captain Scott Simpson spotted the Long Beach fish kill Tuesday and told WLOX News it's the largest he's ever seen in more than 20 years on the water.
Simpson is critical of the netting process called purse-netting used by Omega to catch pogy. Simpson says there's an effort underway to ban that kind of fishing.
"The Menhaden boats, I believe, are presently banned from setting their purse nets on the northeast coast. And I know there is a big coalition here and big push to try to ban them along the Mississippi Gulf Coast also," Simpson said.
Purse-netting is legal in Mississippi waters, as well as other Gulf states. But Simpson says he and other charter captains would like to see the practice banned to protect other sea creatures.
"The Menhaden are the bottom of the food chain, where everything out here feeds on them, the dolphin, redfish, the shark, sea turtles, cobia," Simpson said. "Once these big boats go out and set their nets on them, basically if any of these larger fish are feeding on them, they're going to get caught in the net also. Today, I witnessed several large Gaftop Catfish that were dead, floating on the surface. And it was just a huge fish kill."
The DMR was notified of the net spills and said Omega Protein dispatched skimmers to both areas to clean up the dead fish.
Houston-based Omega Protein has a processing facility in Moss Point where menhaden is processed into fish meal and oil products used in pet foods and agricultural products.
Here is the company's complete statement on the net spill:
Statement from Ben Landry, Omega Protein Director of Public Affairs
"While fishing in the Mississippi Sound yesterday [Monday 7/13/09], two of Omega Protein's fishing vessels set on schools of menhaden, which resulted in the tearing of our nets and the release of menhaden back into the water. We apologize for this occurrence. Occasional spills are unfortunately a part of commercial fishing operations, and our analysis of these spills indicates they were likely caused by contact with debris still remaining in the water from storms. Omega Protein immediately deployed our vessel, the Louisiana, to the site. The Louisiana is equipped with a skimming device, which contains, controls and recovers in the event of a spill. Omega Protein has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in this vessel in order to be able to respond quickly and effectively on the occasions where there are releases from our nets. Our primary concern is for the safety of fishermen, other ships and nearby boaters in close proximity when these types of events occur. Again, we apologize to anyone who may have been affected by this spill. We pledge to continue to notify and work closely with the officials at the Department of Marine Resources should an unfortunate event such as this occur again."