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.
Like so many fisheries around the world, Gulf fisheries struggled with an overfishing crisis but significant gains have been made to limit overfishing, turn the fishery around and provide increased access to local and national communities.
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 the seafood supply chain and American seafood lovers, and it is recognized by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch as a sustainable choice.
What's next for Gulf fish?
As the fishery rebuilds, that success is spreading. Through pilot projects, partnerships and policy changes we are working with fishermen in the recreational fishery to find solutions for charter-for-hire operators and private anglers that provide them with flexibility while preserving the sustainability of the fishery. With increased data collection and accountability in the charter-for-hire sector, captains and charter anglers alike have seen their federal fishing seasons grow significantly and we believe there are solutions that can provide year-round access. Private anglers are following suit calling for improved data collection from the states and NMFS, recognizing that with increased accountability comes additional flexibility. Our work in the Gulf will continue to focus on conservation that benefits the resource and the livelihoods linked to the fishery.
The results in the rebounding Gulf commercial fisheries have been historic. These results are now translating into gains made possible by stakeholders in the recreational fishery. In both cases, 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, fishery managers in the Gulf learned that environmental and economic balance is not only possible, it's essential.