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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Lil' Lisa Slurry

On Thursday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission will consider a proposal that would limit the threat the Gulf of Mexico faces from factory fishing. The new rule effects a fish you've probably never heard of, but one that is incredibly important.

Menhaden, also known as "pogie" or "bait", are small fish that play a critical role in protecting the health of the Gulf of Mexico. From filtering pollutants out of the water to serving as food source to dolphins, pelicans and other sea life, menhaden have rightly been called "the most important fish in the sea."

Houston-based Omega Protein is the largest by far of what is now a menhaden industry made up of only two companies. In a process reminiscent of the old Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns sucks up ocean life ("100 per cent recycled animals") to create a multi-purpose industrial chemical called "Lil' Lisa Slurry", Omega catches and "reduces" menhaden into linoleum, soap, paint, and dog food.

And when Omega goes fishing for menhaden, they don't bring just a rod and bait. Their highly industrialized operation involves planes to spot schools of menhaden and giant vacuum ships to suck them out of the Gulf. And too often wildlife like turtles, dolphins and sharks get sucked up right with them. In fact, an estimated one million pounds of ocean wildlife "bycatch" get crushed and killed in this process.

In the Atlantic, the menhaden population has been devastated and a number of states have kicked Omega and its ilk out of their waters. Now Omega is turning its attention to Gulf waters. As a result, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has proposed limiting the amount of menhaden that can be pulled from Texas waters. Predictably, Omega is fighting back and has hired high powered lobbyists that are bending Governor Perry's ear.

The Commission's proposed rule is a good start and really it should go further. In order to get a better handle on all the bycatch that gets sucked up with the menhaden, the Commission should require the industry to pay for government employees to be on board its ships to monitor the impacts. The Commission also needs to have tough enforcement measures to ensure the rules are being followed.

It's not often that Texas agencies in this era stand up to big corporations with strong environmental protections. So it's refreshing to see Parks and Wildlife do so. They should ignore the lobbyists and stick to their guns.

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