Category Archives: Gulf of Mexico

Recreational red snapper management system "stinks and punishes everyone"

Charter boats allow recreational fishermen who do not have their own boats to fish for iconic species such as this Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper. Photo Credit Gulf Wild™

As the Gulf of Mexico red snapper allocation becomes a hot topic for both recreational and commercial fishermen, I wrote to Saving Seafood to set the record straight about Environmental Defense Fund’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and views on the issues facing fishermen.  An excerpt can be found below:

“Gulf of Mexico states and their anglers are increasingly frustrated with short seasons for prized red snapper in federal waters.  They have every right to be angry. The management of the recreational share of the fishery is utterly failing. This year’s projected federal season of a few weeks at best, together with large over-harvests each year, are obvious signs.  The system stinks and punishes everyone including those who enjoy fishing on their own and fishermen and families who use for-hire guides to access the Gulf. Read More »

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Catch Shares Save Fishermen and Fish

Bubba Cochrane with his Boat the Chelsea Ann

Bubba Cochrane. Photo by Mark Thein of GulfWild.

This is a re-post of a National Geographic Blog posted by Miguel Jorge of National Geographic's Ocean Initiative on November 20, 2012

Bubba Cochrane always knew he wanted to be a fisherman. So, despite concerns from his family, he began his career as a deck-hand and eventually saved enough to buy a permit and boat of his own. He’s 43 years old now and owns a commercial fishing business out of Galveston, Texas. Business is good – but he can easily remember what fishing used to be like.

“When I got started, fishing was a race: when the season opened we fished every day until we were notified that the quota was caught. That meant lots of fishing all at once, a glut of fish in the market, and bad prices when we got back to the docks,” said Bubba, reminiscing about his early days in the fishery.

Through the mid-2000s, the red snapper fishery was on the brink of collapse. Even with so few fish in the population and a short season, the fishing derbies meant that the price at the dock stayed low, hurting the profits of commercial fishermen. Fishery managers tried to address the price problem by breaking up the season into the first 15, then 10 days of each month. Fishermen would fish for 10 days, and then wait until the next month to go out again.

These sporadic openings were not the solution fishermen like Bubba wanted. “It’s hard to run your business in just the first 15 days of a month; a lot can get in the way. I tell people to imagine a gas station only being able to sell gas for the first ten days of each month or a contractor only being able to build houses in that short window.” Read More »

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How Catch Shares are Working in the Gulf of Mexico

For over 20 years I’ve worked in the field of fisheries and ocean conservation, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico.  During that time I’ve been privileged to catch and enjoy the region’s red snapper, kingfish and flounder.  In my view, we can and should balance conservation of the region’s resources with people’s need for jobs, food, and enjoyment.  In fact, finding the balance is at the heart of the Gulf’s future.

Fisheries management – especially when commercial and recreational goals seem at odds – has been controversial since federal regulations came into play in the 1980s.  A newly used tool in the Gulf called “catch shares” is currently getting a lot of attention, some of it from anglers concerned that it is responsible for increasing recreational regulations and shrinking access.   This is a misconception.

Recently, an author on the Florida Sportsman’s Conservation Blog questioned whether Environmental Defense Fund is contradicting itself in supporting catch shares to solve overfishing problems in federal commercial fisheries.  The answer is:  “not at all.”  As an organization, EDF works in partnership with industry and communities to find solutions to environmental problems that are also good for the economy.  This is exactly what the Gulf’s catch share programs achieve.  They were implemented with industry leadership and support and are achieving the fishery’s conservation and economic goals. Read More »

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Moratorium on Rig Removal Necessary While More Research is Done

The United States Senate is likely to pass what has been called by some the most significant sportsmen legislation in a generation.  The Sportsmen’s Act (S. 3525) includes a directive to Departments of Interior and Commerce along with other federal and state agencies to report to Congress on the removing of oil rigs no longer in use but where coral and fish populations have taken over the structure.  The version that is set to pass the Senate does not stop the removal process, which is already destroying coral and fish, while Congress examines this issue.

It’s true we need some better information on how rigs become artificial reefs and which are chosen and how many we need for important fish habitat, but we already know that rigs provide important habitat for fish and sensitive coral populations. That fact will not change with more studies. Government agencies have recently offered some basic information on where the rigs are and which ones become reefs so it’s clear the agencies are starting to get organized, but in the meantime, let’s stop destroying these good fishing spots and coral ecosystems.  These decommissioned rigs are important to anglers in the Gulf of Mexico and it is possible that their existence is not only beneficial to fish populations, but that their removal may cause real harm.

The federal government needs to stop removing rigs while we develop the process.  We will continue to work with the administration, other fishermen and the oil industry to find a way that works.

 

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Another Good Summer for Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

Kemp's Ridley tracks on a beach in Mexico

Tracks from Kemp's ridley sea turtles can be seen on a stretch of beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico earlier this year. Photo courtesy of LightHawk.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nesting season is winding down for the summer, and I'm happy to report that nest numbers are still on the rise!  While the Kemp's ridleys still are the world's most critically endangered sea turtle, they are making a huge come back in recent years.

Until half a century ago, tens of thousands of Kemp’s ridleys would surge onto Mexico’s Gulf of Mexico beaches in a few large nesting events each year to lay their eggs. At the turn of the 20th century, turtle meat and eggs became popular delicacies, causing the turtle’s population to crash.  Later, accidental catches in fishing gear kept their population from recovering.

Today, Kemp's ridleys are rebounding due to protections that government, fishing industry, EDF and other conservation groups helped win.  These unprecedented actions included protecting Mexico beaches where the turtles nest, monitoring hatchlings at an incubation site, and establishing the headstart program and a second nesting site in Texas.  The initial recovery program spanned from 1978-1988.  During this time, over 22,000 eggs were transported from Playa de Rancho Nuevo in Mexico to Padre Island National Seashore in Texas.  Once hatched, the turtles were exposed to the Padre Island sand and surf, and then captured and transported to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Galveston, Texas, where they were reared in captivity for 9-11 months. This “head-start” program allowed the turtles to grow large enough to be tagged for future recognition and to avoid most natural predators.    It was hoped that this exposure would imprint the turtles to the National Seashore so they would return year after year to nest at adulthood. Read More »

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Update: Policy-Makers Taking Notice on Rigs to Reefs

A large group of chub (Kyphosus sp.) school under the platform. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS (From NOAA)

Despite a lot of bad weather and the end of red snapper season, fishing is heating up in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing isn’t the only thing that’s hot, though, as the debate over removing non-producing oil rigs in the Gulf is also going at a fever pitch.

I wrote back in late April about the current controversy regarding plans by the Department of Interior (DOI) for the expedited removal of these retired rigs.  Lots of recreational fishermen oppose this policy, because the underwater structure creates a reef habitat for fish – nice for the fish – but also a great target for fishermen.

Several actions are underway to ensure that removal is just an option and that artificial reefing is also an option.  As I mentioned in that previous post, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana have introduced bills in Congress.  Since then, there was a proposal to amend the Farm Bill with a provision on rigs and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is continuing the process to designate the retired rigs as “essential fish habitat.”  Also, other members of Congress, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, state fisheries managers and sportfishing groups have all written letters to Secretary Ken Salazar seeking at least a delay in implementing outright removals and, ideally, a new policy altogether.

EDF is helping call attention to these proposals and requests. In our meetings and conversations with staff at the White House and Department of Interior it has been clear that confusion is a big stumbling block.  We all need better numbers and information about what is going on.  What seems to many to be a deadline for removal is, to the government, only a requirement to file a plan for either reefing or removal.  Boat captains have tallied removals that they have seen, and the agency has different numbers.  Read More »

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