Editorial: Menhaden massacre

EastBayRI.com ·

A most encouraging summer spectacle has been the occasional pogy explosion —  little fish by the thousand churning the waters to froth in Bristol Harbor, the Sakonnet and Westport rivers and other places.

Far less welcome is what followed — pogy boats, spotter plane overhead, that follow these fish wherever they swim. They were in Bristol Harbor last week, scooping up the small fish by the countless thousands.

Menhaden (aka pogy, bunker …) have been called “the most important fish,” “the fish that built America.”

Like herring, they are a bellwether species — as they fare so do countless others.
It is the lot of these fish to be food for all sorts of creatures — bluefish, striped bass, osprey … It is particularly sad that, just as osprey numbers are on the rebound, the state continues to allow mass slaughter of the very food on which those fish hawks rely.

Like herring, menhaden haven’t been doing so well. Researchers say they are victims of lots of things — nitrogen overload, oxygen depletion, warmer waters perhaps, and overfishing.
Not so long ago, whole fleets of pogy boats and their spotter planes flocked here, many from down the eastern seaboard. They scooped the small fish up by the million — most of the catch ground up into slurry for oil, fish meal, additives and bait.

When pogy numbers plummeted, regulators clamped down — to a degree — reducing catch limits in 2012. That seems to have helped a bit — there’s disagreement on how much — but there’s no disputing that the pogy population is a tiny fraction of what it once was and the fish’s future is far from secure.

Common sense and caution suggest that mass nettings of a species in peril is reckless policy — for the pogy and everything that feeds on it.

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