Between September 11 and 14, a staggering number of nearly one million dead fish washed ashore along Louisiana’s southwest coastline, resulting from multiple commercial fishing boats dumping approximately 850,000 fish due to overfilled nets. The incident primarily involved menhaden fish, with hundreds of redfish mixed in, amplifying calls for stricter regulations on the state’s commercial menhaden fishery, which has long been criticized for its environmental impact in the Gulf of Mexico.
Holly Beach, a cherished area for duck hunters and inshore fishermen, bore the brunt of the ecological damage. It’s worth noting that a similar event occurred in the same location last September.
The two companies responsible for the recent fish spill are Omega Protein and Westbank Fishing. Omega Protein faced net damage on September 11, leading to the release of around 200,000 fish. On September 14, another Omega boat experienced net failure, resulting in the loss of an additional 350,000 fish. Around the same time, a Westbank vessel dumped between 100,000 and 300,000 fish into the Gulf.
In all instances, most of the fish had already perished in the gill nets, including the hundreds of redfish caught as bycatch.
The Gulf’s menhaden netting industry, with key players like Omega Protein and Westbank, represents a substantial segment of the region’s commercial fishery, bringing in 1.1 billion pounds of menhaden (valued at roughly $102.4 million) during 2019. While these fish are often used for supplements, animal feed, and fertilizers, they play a vital role in the marine food web. Calls for stricter industry limits have arisen from conservationists and sportfishing advocates.
One proposed solution is implementing a 1-mile buffer zone, prohibiting commercial menhaden netting within a mile of the state’s coastline. This proposal, mirroring regulations in neighboring states, was presented in 2020 but was rejected by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Following the recent fish spill, the department has launched an investigation into the responsible companies. Penalties will be determined based on the value of the deceased fish, with the violation related to the failure to report the disposal of the fish.