The Gulf of Mexico supplies more than 40% of our domestic seafood and provides billions of dollars a year in wages for the fishing and tourism industries across five states. Perhaps most importantly, the health and productivity of the Gulf is indelibly linked to the culture and identity of the region's coastal cities and communities.
But like so many fisheries around the world, Gulf fisheries struggled with an overfishing crisis and regulations that made the situation worse for the fish and fishermen. Some barely survived.
Red snapper: An iconic success
For 20 years, EDF has been working to help align the long-term sustainability of Gulf fisheries with the economic goals of the businesses that depend on them.
Perhaps our most iconic story of success relates to Gulf red snapper – a species that was driven to the brink of collapse by decades of overfishing. Our work sparked remarkable cooperation between fishermen and conservationists and led to a dramatic turnaround for the fishery.
Since the implementation of catch shares in the commercial fishery in 2007, the stock has tripled in size and waste has dropped 50%. With more fish in the water, catch limits have more than doubled since 2008. Revenues for fishermen have doubled and commercial fishing has become safer. Fresh Gulf red snapper is now available year-round to American seafood lovers, and it is recognized by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch as a sustainable choice.
What's next for Gulf fish?
That success is spreading, too. A similar plan has been implemented for Gulf tilefish and grouper, and early results are promising. Through pilot projects and policy changes we are working with fishermen in the recreational fishery to find solutions for charter-for-hire operators as well as individual anglers that provide them with flexibility while preserving the sustainability of the fishery. The recreational fishery deserves better than punitively short seasons that have regularly failed to stop overharvesting. Our work will not be done until all sectors can enjoy a sustainable, recovering fishery.
The results in Gulf commercial fisheries have been historic, but the approach was simple. By giving fishermen a seat at the table and a stake in the long-term sustainability of the fishery they depend on, Gulf fishery managers learned that environmental and economic balance is not only possible, it's essential.