Plans to Address Overfishing in the Gulf Fall Behind Schedule, Harming the Environment and Economy, Says EDF

October 14, 1998

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today criticized the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council for failing to adopt measures to protect the fishing industry and marine resources in federal waters off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Federal law required all US Fishery Management Councils to amend their management plans this month with strong conservation plans to prevent overfishing, reduce bycatch, and protect fish habitat.

“The Gulf Council’s work on overfishing and bycatch reduction is running far behind schedule,” said Pamela Baker, an EDF fisheries biologist. “Public review of proposed plans will not even begin until after the Council’s next meeting in November. Our new fisheries law provides a critical opportunity to solve serious problems. However, the Council will have to set harvest quotas that allow overfished populations to recover, and bycatch must be reduced in all Gulf fisheries. And, for the first time, the Council must set targets for early implementation of conservation measures.”

“Although we met the deadline for our habitat work, the amendment has some inconsistencies,” said Dr. Felicia Coleman, a Council member and Florida State University biologist. “For instance, in the sections dealing with fishing impacts on habitat, the amendment states that the Council already ‘prevents, mitigates for, and/or minimizes most adverse effects …’ of fishing on habitat. Yet elsewhere, the amendment notes more accurately that ‘information regarding the effects of fishing [on habitat] is lacking in most cases,’” said Coleman.

“One of the more promising points in this section was suggested by EDF during the public comment period,” Coleman said. “Based on that suggestion, the Council will evaluate closing specific areas to all fishing activities in order to detect the effects of fishing on habitat. Clearly, we have no other option for understanding what fishing can do to habitat. And I hope that we on the Council can put our money where our mouths are on this one and not miss an important opportunity to do the right thing.”

The eight US regional fishery management councils have failed to fully implement the tough new conservation requirements of the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act. Some councils missed the Act’s October 13 deadline and some councils have submitted or are poised to submit new fishery management plans or plan amendments that fall short of the conservation requirements. The Federal law set a 24 month deadline for the councils to submit new management plans or plan amendments to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, identify and protect essential fish habitat, and minimize bycatch.