Worries are that thousands of dead fish will keep tourists away

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Thousands of dead fish are washing up on West Ship Island, and it's unclear  how long it will take to start picking them up. The Sandy Point was carrying the menhaden also known as pogy fish when it collided with another ship in the Mississippi Sound. Now that cargo is starting to emerge from the wreckage

Before boarding the Ship Island Excursions ferry on Sunday, passengers were told to expect sand, sun and possibly a fishy smell.

Before sailing off, Captain Louis Skrmetta made the announcement again on the intercom that "a fishing vessel sank near Ship Island with a lot fish on board and the fish are starting to wash up on our beach."

Thousands of dead menhaden dotted the southern shoreline of West Ship Island and even could be seen floating in the water. Captain Skrmetta said early in the day National Park Service rangers raked an area of beach where most tourists hang out and moved some umbrellas and chairs to the North side of the island where there are no dead fish.

"We gave them the option of staying on the South beach going across to the North shore,"said Captain Skrmetta. "About half of them have opted to go back across. As you can see with the fish situation out here it's kind of nasty."

Not all tourists minded stepping over the menhaden and didn't let the fishy odor ruin their good time.

Mary McDavid of Lafayette said, "it was a fish smell like you might smell if you went into a bait store probably. It wasn't real strong but you could smell it."

With Memorial Day weekend only days away, Captain Skrmetta said having thousands of rotting fish on the beach would be another blow to a tourism industry that's been through a lot in recent years.

"I just hope we can get this cleaned up as quickly as possible with Memorial weekend approaching. It's one of our biggest weeks of the tourist season. This is just the beginning of fish washing ashore here. I understand there's half a million pounds of fish on this vessel. I'm sure there's going to be a lot more fish," Captain Skrmetta said.

A spokesperson from Omega Protein told WLOX the company is sending boats and skimmers right now to Ship Island, but is not sure when are going to get there.