THE GULF FISHING INDUSTRY: A PHOTO ESSAY

 

The red snapper fishing industry is a powerful and complex economic engine for the entire Gulf region. For a red snapper to get from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to your plate, it takes an entire supply chain of fishermen, fish house employees, restaurant suppliers, transportation workers, chefs, food industry professionals and much, much more. See some of their stories as they get fresh and delicious Gulf seafood from the sea to your plate in this photo essay.

Each of these hard working community members has a unique story, like Herbert Hicks pictured above. Hicks has been a snapper fisherman since 2007. He also has 30 dogs! His job as a full-time fisherman provides for himself and his family.

Herbert Hicks and other Gulf fishermen, processors, chefs, and others like him, are the lifeblood of the Gulf fishing community.

The red snapper’s journey to your plate starts in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), red snapper are usually found 30 to 620 feet deep in the Gulf and along the eastern coasts of North America, Central America, and northern South America. [1]

In the Gulf, reef fish fishermen travel anywhere between 30-80 miles or more offshore to ensure they are catching the right size and species of fish. Captains generally have their own spots that they frequent, based on years or even decades of experience, in some cases passed on for generations.

Once they get in place, the captain lines up the boat. The caption checks tools like a bottom machine to make sure there are fish around to catch and prepare their gear to fish.

This boat, the Avenger, docked in Galveston, Texas. Although it is not currently in use, the Avenger was captained by Captain Lee Roy Gandy and has employed dozens of fishermen and provided approximately 4 million fish meals since it started with Katie’s Seafood Market in 2005.

 

In this photo, a deckhand is baiting a series of Bandit Gear hooks with squid, a popular bait choice for catching red snapper.

According to Collier Sea Grant, Bandit Gear is fairly selective and has “little to no impact on sensitive bottom habitats”. The gear is constantly tended to, which means there is not a lot of bycatch associated with this type of fishing. [2]

According to NOAA, regulations on red snapper commercial fishing require modified fishing gear to reduce bycatch. Release techniques also improve the chance of survival of unintentionally caught fish.[3]

 

A fisherman pulls in a good catch.

Red snapper spawn between June and October and reach maturity by age 2. However, red snapper adults can live more than 20 years, possibly even up to 60 according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.[4] According to NOAA, red snapper caught in deeper waters can appear redder than those caught in shallower waters closer to shore.[5]

Red snapper are known for their bold nature, which is part of the reason they are so popular to catch. They often can’t resist a baited hook, making them easier to catch than other species of this size.

 

Fishermen Frank Bianchi joins Herbert Hicks tagging fish with tags from the Gulf Wild program. Gulf Wild uses tags to provide traceability, giving customers assurance that their fish is fresh, wild, and caught under sustainable, U.S. management. Each fish is tagged with a unique number or barcode that you can use to look up your fish with an app or on the Gulf Wild website. There you can learn the location the fish was caught, and the captain and vessel that brought it in from the Gulf and more.

Like Hicks, Bianchi also fishes full time. Both have been at their current fish house since the early 2000s. Fishing is the sole source of income for both fishermen. When asked what makes them choose this work as opposed to other jobs both say it’s because they “love being on the water”.

Once the trip is complete, fish are offloaded at processing facilities called fish houses.

In this photo, a deckhand is unloading a basket of freshly caught red snapper into a larger container. Captain Lee Roy Gandy gives the first inspection as they are unloaded for quality. Gandy grew up on the docks of the Gulf of Mexico, and fishing has been a part of his and his family’s whole life.

When asked about why he does this work, and why red snapper is important to him he replied that it is all he knows.

  This Galveston, Texas fish house, is Katie’s Seafood Market, named after Captain Buddy Guindon’s wife. Katie’s provides seafood for dozens of people each year as deckhands, drivers, packers and more in both full time and seasonal capacities. In a typical year, the fish house processes over 1.7 million pounds of fish, and 1 million of this is red snapper. These fish are brought into the fish house from numerous independent vessels and their crews from all over Galveston.

Fresh seafood is packed in ice to keep the products fresh before they reach their final destination at seafood counters and restaurants around the country. Pictured here is Joe Kolk hauling iced fish at Katie’s Seafood Market. Kolk is originally from Minnesota, but has been a part of the Gulf fishing community since he started working at Katie’s almost 20 years ago. Kolk is the head driver for Katie’s seafood distribution.

After the red snapper is packed, it is boxed and put in trucks for transportation and distribution. Kolk does up to 6 trips a week to the Houston area.

Red snapper is a popular seafood dish in restaurants and supermarkets all across the United States. Katie’s shipments reach as far as San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, and more!

Although red snapper is widely distributed across the country, it is also one of the most commonly mislabeled fish in the seafood supply chain. In 2015 the Congressional Research Service found that up to 77% of fish sold as red snapper was not actually red snapper at all. Other, cheaper fish such as Pacific rockfish and tilapia is commonly switched out according to Forbes.[6]

The best way to avoid purchasing a mislabeled red snapper is by purchasing fish from programs like Gulf Wild, which tracks fish from hook to plate and guarantees their authenticity.

Chef Chris Lopez prepares a red snapper at the restaurant BLVD Seafood in Galveston, Texas. Chef Lopez has been working in the food industry since he was a teenager. He went to culinary school in Atlanta and has worked as a chef in Seattle and Portland before returning to the Gulf.

When asked why sustainable seafood is important to him, Chef Lopez replied “For us at BLVD, sustainable, local seafood is all about reputation. You can find plenty of places that get seafood shipped in from overseas by the pallet load and they get cheap prices, but when we opened this restaurant we were thinking farm-to-table concept and what products are available from the Gulf that we can use.”

Elia Angeles is a line cook and the kitchen manager at BLVD Seafood. This full-time job provides for her and her family financially. When asked why local seafood is important to her, she said “The frozen seafood that I’ve prepared from other countries like China seems fake. The local seafood is so much easier to work with. Even when it comes to nice seafood like tuna, if it is local and not-frozen it is much easier to prepare and cook.”

Chef Chris Lopez prepares and plates the cooked red snapper for customers.

“Living in Galveston I came to find out that this business is very tourist dependent. For three months in the summer, you need to get as much revenue as you can to last the rest of the year. As a tourist, when you go to Boston you get clam chowder, when you go to Maryland you want crab cakes, so when tourists come to Galveston they want product from here. Our location is also right on the beach so when our guests ask where we got this I can point out the window at the Gulf and say, “About 50 miles out there.” From the start of BLVD, we wanted our reputation to be based on products from these waters and whether you’re a tourist or a local, you can enjoy fresh, local seafood. We also like to use the Gulf Wild tags here and I like the reaction that the guests have. I get a lot of reviews online too where the guest is excited to know who the captain was, where the fish was caught. On the business side, it is also a great selling point for that experience.”

Server Chris Hayes prepares to serve the snapper dish to BLVD’s customers. Hayes has worked as a server and bartender for 5 years. He says that seafood is about 75% of all the orders he takes, and 80% of that is for local seafood specifically.

When asked why sustainable and local seafood is important to him, Hayes said “Our industry is so propped up by our seafood economy, having more renewable stocks like oysters, shrimp, and Gulf fish is important on a number of levels… From a server’s perspective, it is important to have sustainable but also high-quality product because it makes our job easier. [Providing local seafood] makes it very easy to do my job and sell our product.”

Server Chris Hayes serves food to Aubree Martorell, general manager for BLVD Seafood, and seafood enthusiast! Martorell has been the general manager of BLVD since its opening in 2015. When asked why she decided to make a restaurant focused on seafood she said she wanted to create a place where everyone could enjoy great seafood, locals and tourists alike. “We don’t require slacks and a blazer to get a great local meal.”

Martorell explained how BLVD sources its local seafood by saying “We get our seafood from Katie’s Seafood here in town and the Gulf Wild tags are a great addition. We wanted guests to enjoy fresh seafood but also have a true, coastal experience. Part of that experience isn’t just the fresh seafood but also the information that they get from the Gulf Wild tags showing where the fish was caught, who the captain was, what the bait was. It also helps the guest feel like they are part of that experience, even though they didn’t go out and catch the fish.”

Finally, when asked about seafood fraud and traceability, Martorell explained, “Seafood fraud is much more widespread than people realize. Restaurant owners, chefs, and managers should know the difference but guests should also know to ask where the seafood came from. If it is truly local it is much easier for owners and guests alike to tell the difference. And if the fish is really cheap and they say its red snapper, it probably isn’t local, it probably isn’t fresh, and it probably isn’t red snapper.”

Whether you are enjoying red snapper at a restaurant or at your own home, there are a lot of people who work hard every day to get fresh delicious seafood from the Gulf to your plate, and who rely on this industry as a source of income and livelihood.

At Share the Gulf, we are a coalition of chefs, restaurateurs, seafood businesses, fishermen, conservationists, and consumers that want to keep the local Gulf fishing industry fair and strong. Learn more about our work here.

 

[1] Red Snapper- NOAA Species Directory https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/red-snapper

[2] http://collierseagrant.blogspot.com/2011/10/commercial-fishing-gear-profile-bandit.html

[3] https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/red-snapper

[4] http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/snapper/red-snapper/

[5] https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/red-snapper

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2016/10/22/5-fish-your-taste-buds-your-wallet-and-mother-nature-will-thank-you-for-eating/#617ca3c44d42

GULF FISHERY COUNCIL APPROVES PLAN FOR STATE MANAGEMENT OF RECREATIONAL RED SNAPPER FISHING

Biloxi, MS – Today the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted on a plan that would allow state fish and wildlife agencies to manage private angler fishing for red snapper. The vote comes in the final year of a two-year federal pilot testing the approach.

Share the Gulf is happy to see progress made on improving access of Gulf anglers that avoids harming other parts of the fishery, including the commercial and charter fishing industries.

Share the Gulf member and New Orleans-based chef and angler, Ryan Prewitt shared the following:

“I am cautiously optimistic that state management of private recreational red snapper fishing has the potential to improve angler access. As a fisherman myself, I’m excited that the Gulf Council process has worked to provide a solution for anglers without disrupting the successful federal systems for commercial fishermen and charter boats. Under Governor Edwards, Louisiana has set the gold standard for data collection and accountability and I hope to see the other Gulf states follow our model. Otherwise, they could risk undermining over a decade of sacrifices to rebuild red snapper and threaten the viability of the commercial fishery that restaurants like mine rely on for sustainable, fresh seafood for our customers.”

CHEF’S DILEMMA: SERVING SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD UNDER THREAT OF REALLOCATION

“I love to serve fresh, wild-caught Gulf fish. There can be a tipping point, though, at which it’s not possible. If market price exceeds what a customer is willing to pay, it won’t work,” explains Chef Evan Gastman, Executive Chef of three restaurants on Siesta Key, a famed Florida Gulf Coast barrier island attracting tourists and locals for its sugar-sand beaches and of course, fresh seafood.

It’s a quandary. Chefs like Gastman care about serving sustainably caught, locally-sourced seafood. They care about supporting Gulf fishing communities, they want to serve the best product and they want to know they’re supporting fisheries that are responsibly managed. Many chefs do this so their kids and grandkids will get to experience the coastal life they enjoy. But when fisheries managers propose to limit commercial fishermen’s access to fish, it can drive prices past the point of marketability for the restaurants and groceries stores that buy from them.

Sometimes, limits are necessary because the fish are in trouble. But often, proposals to take fish from the commercial sector are not about sustainability at all—instead, they would transfer the right to catch those fish to the recreational fishing sector. When commercial fishermen have to make do with less, prices for chefs like Gastman, and the seafood-lovers he serves, inevitably rise.

This might seem like purely an economic issue, with no bearing on the conservation of the species. It’s not. In fact, in the Gulf, several of the popular food fish species (including red snapper) are managed very differently depending on who is catching the fish. Commercial fishermen in these fisheries are held to strict, tightly monitored limits and report every pound of fish they catch, and they’ve have adhered to those limits for over a decade.

The for-hire sector (captains who are paid to take people out on recreational trips) is beginning to follow suit. In the private recreational sector, though, basic data collection is sparse and the way in which fishery managers estimate how many fish are being caught by recreational fishermen is inexact. Enforcement of regulations is extremely difficult; the overwhelming number of recreational fishermen and landing sites makes it virtually impossible to monitor catches precisely. In effect, when fishery managers decide to transfer the right to catch fish from a highly accountable commercial fishery to a loosely controlled recreational sector, it muddies the waters about how many fish are really being taken. Reducing our understanding of how many fish are being caught directly undermines our goal of making sure we aren’t catching too many—and that threatens conservation.

Nevertheless, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is considering shifting red snapper, a popular food fish, from the seafood supply chain to the recreational sector right now. In fisheries management speak, the fight over “allocation” has been fought before. In fact, it mobilized members of the seafood supply chain to form Share the Gulf, to make sure the voices of people like Chef Gastman are heard by fishery managers making difficult choices.

With the ever-expanding number of recreational fishermen on the water, using more sophisticated technology to catch fish, it is understandable that fishery managers want to be able to accommodate recreational fishermen in pursuing their pastime. But it can’t come at the expense of the coastal communities and all of their parts—from commercial fishermen to seafood-loving customers—and it can’t come without the proven ability of fishery managers to hold recreational fishermen accountable to staying within scientifically based limits on the fish they catch. Otherwise, Chef Gastman’s customers lose, our coastal communities lose and if we undermine conservation, no one gains.

Most of us only get to taste a little bit of what the Gulf has to offer on our dinner plates, and a long line of people have worked hard to make that possible. Those people depend on the availability of Gulf-caught seafood, especially in places like Siesta Key. They depend on fishery managers to make decisions that are fair, responsible and aimed at truly fixing problems. Stay tuned for a deeper dive on some of those complex problems, and what’s happening at the Council to address them (or not).

“MODERN FISH ACT” CLEARS CONGRESS, HEADS TO PRESIDENT TRUMP

Statement from Share the Gulf Co-Chair, Chef Nick Wallace

(Dec. 19, 2018 – Jackson, Mississippi) After months of deliberation, including advocacy by Share the Gulf coalition members, Congress has passed S. 1520, also known as the “Modern Fish Act.” The final version of the bill represents a compromise that answers the calls for action from recreational fishermen without hurting commercial fishermen, tourists, chefs, and countless others who rely on our Gulf fisheries, and without thwarting conservation. The bill will now move to the President for his signature.

“While many groups, including Share the Gulf, had serious concerns with the “Modern Fish Act”, the final version of the bill does not include the harmful provisions that spurred opposition. What the fishermen, chefs, and the thousands of Share the Gulf coalition members who advocated on this bill want, are policies that help recreational anglers without undermining conservation or hindering access for anyone who depends on Gulf fisheries.

“Fishing and seafood are important to our economy, heritage, and our way of life in the Gulf. As a chef, I know that access to local fish for seafood-lovers is critical, but maintaining smart policies that keep anglers coming to the Gulf is also important. We have seen an incredible comeback here in the Gulf with fish like red snapper, and I hope our leaders in Washington and down here in the Gulf can continue to work together to keep our fisheries strong and accessible to all Gulf residents.”

–       Chef Nick Wallace, Share the Gulf Co-Chair, Jackson, Mississippi

SHARE THE GULF SUPPORTERS HELP HURRICANE MICHAEL VICTIMS

Share the Gulf supporters, Captain Buddy Guindon and Captain Scott Hickman of Galveston, Texas, along with the Lighthouse Charity Team, flew to Destin, Florida this past week to tour damage from Hurricane Michael and coordinate the distribution of relief supplies, food and mobile cooking trailers to areas of Panama City impacted by the devastating storm. Joined by fishing Captain and Mayor of Destin, Gary Jarvis, and Captain Billy Archer of Panama City, the multi-state team hosted a charity cookout to collect supplies and resources to help storm victims through the difficult recovery process.

Many of the storm victims continue to have no access to appliances or electricity and have lost all their possessions, but restaurant owners and Share the Gulf supporters, Tyler Jarvis, Bryce Jarvis, and Chris Ruyan, are helping to make sure that doesn’t mean folks go hungry. Cuvee Kitchen & Wine Bar, Brotula’s, Jackacudas, Sunset Bay Café, and Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House cooked for and fed hundreds of people over the week following the storm. In the face of this catastrophic destruction, the Share the Gulf Coalition is proud of its supporters for banding together to relieve suffering in the community. Please send us your hurricane relief effort stories!

The Destin Charter Boat Association and Destin fishing community at large collected donations, which were distributed to Port St. Joe on Captain Kelly Wines’ barge.

 

Captain Mayor Gary Jarvis co-hosts the Lighthouse Charity Cookout

 

Lighthouse Charity Director Scott Gordon and Buddy Guindon of Katie’s Seafood Market

 

WELCOME CHEF NICK WALLACE, MISSISSIPPI CO-CHAIR

Share the Gulf is thrilled to announce that Chef Nick Wallace of Jackson, Mississippi has joined the Coalition as its newest co-chair! Chef Wallace grew up farming in Edwards, Mississippi, a personal history that clearly shapes his ongoing commitment to promoting “slow food” and farmto- table cuisine with decidedly Southern roots. Chef Wallace combines his family farm origins with a sophisticated French technique to create his modern Mississippi cuisine that is exceptionally pleasing to the palate. He credits his grandmothers, Queen Morris and Lennel Donald for his beginning in culinary arts.

Chef Wallace is Mississippi’s first Food Network Chopped Champion, Alton’s Challenge and featured on Food Network’s Cut Throat Kitchen. He has been afforded the opportunities to present five James Beard Foundation “Mississippi Themed” dinners in New York and featured in Southern Living magazine. He’s the Founder and Executive Chef of Creativity Kitchen, a childhood nutrition-focused non-profit organization, which teaches students and school chefs how to grow their own food and use it in the kitchen.

“Everyone should have access to fresh, real food. Share the Gulf’s mission of protecting access to fresh, wild seafood for people who might not be able to go fishing for it themselves really resonates for me,” explained Wallace. “Especially when dealing with natural resources that actually feed people, we need to make sure we are managing in a way that ensures access for the future; that’s why I support responsible, sustainable management of fisheries.”

Learn more about Chef Wallace at his website, and please join us in welcoming him to the team!

UNLIKELY BEDFELLOWS FIND COMMON CAUSE IN FAIRNESS AND SCIENCE

Some people might assume that the mission behind an institution like the Texas State Aquarium would be at odds with the goals of professional fishermen in a group like the Galveston Professional Boatmen’s Association (GPBA). However, not unlike other stakeholders in the Gulf of Mexico that have found a common cause in working for fair access and sustainable management. Both of those groups have joined forces under the umbrella of Share the Gulf. Please welcome the two newest organizational supporters and first-ever Aquarium!

Share the Gulf celebrated the occasion with a reception in the Aquarium’s new Caribbean Sea Exhibit, co-sponsored by the Charter Fisherman’s Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, Water Street Catering, Morgan Street Seafood, and of course, the Texas State Aquarium and GPBA. Surrounded by the fish we love to watch, catch and in some cases, eat, the venue could not have been more fitting.

Texas State Aquarium’s sustainability and conservation efforts span from on-site resource conservation to angler education programs for the community, but the most direct connection to Share the Gulf is its Seafood Wars program. By bringing top local chefs to provide hands-on experiences with sustainably caught and raised seafood, the Aquarium improves consumer choices and heightens demand for local, responsibly managed fish. “As a fixture in a coastal community, we feel a duty to bring awareness to the important role that responsibly managed fisheries, including sport fisheries play in conserving resources today, and for future generations. We support Share the Gulf’s commitment to promoting fair access to a sustainably managed seafood supply chain here in the Gulf,” Tom Schmid, President and CEO at the Aquarium noted.

Galveston Professional Boatmen’s Association is unique in its representation of different user groups—its members include commercial fishermen, charter fishing  captains and seafood dealers, mainly based in Texas’ biggest fishing port. “Fresh caught, sustainable seafood and world class fishing are what make Galveston the crown jewel of the Gulf,” said Captain Greg Ball, GPBA President. “To keep that heritage alive, we have to make sure that access to the fish is fair among users, and that all users are held accountable to sustainable practices so that we can hand this shared American resource down to future generations.”

Greg Ball, President of the Galveston Professional Boatmen’s Association, at the Share the Gulf Booth
Jesse Gilbert, Vice President and COO of the Texas State Aquarium addresses the crowd
Attendees at the Caribbean Sea Exhibit

 

TELL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE THANK YOU FOR OPPOSING H.R. 200

Earlier this month the House of Representatives passed a dangerous bill, H.R. 200, which puts the future of Gulf fishing in jeopardy. Although it passed, many Gulf lawmakers stood up and voted against the bill. Their votes helped ensure broad, bipartisan opposition that will let the U.S. Senate know that H.R. 200 is not worth voting on.

Via the form below, please take a moment today to see if your Representative was one of those lawmakers and send them an email thanking them for opposing H.R. 200 and listening to the concerns of fishermen, chefs, conservationists, and consumers across the Gulf of Mexico.

BAD FISHERIES BILL CLEARS HOUSE BUT ATTRACTS BIPARTISAN OPPOSITION

July 11, 2018

Bad Fisheries Bill Clears House But Attracted Bipartisan Opposition
Leading Gulf Republicans Among Those Opposed

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives ignored the concerns of fishermen, chefs, conservationists, and consumers across the country today when they passed H.R. 200. This dangerous bill has the potential to do irreversible damage to our nation’s fisheries and undermine years of hard work and sacrifice from fishing communities in the Gulf of Mexico.

If this bill were to become law, it would create loopholes for science-based catch limits, make wide-ranging exceptions to rebuilding requirements, and establish new unnecessary hurdles to use tools proven to improve fisheries management. This bill also aims to ban catch share programs, which have been essential for rebuilding important Gulf fish stocks like red snapper.
The following are statements from Share the Gulf Coalition Members:

From Capt. Chad Haggert, a headboat operator from Clearwater, Florida and Share the Gulf Co-Chair:

“H.R. 200 is bad for conservation and it’s bad for my business. It doesn’t solve any problems recreational fishermen are facing, it just creates new ones by threatening fisheries with the risk of overfishing, stifling innovation and creating bans and hurdles for proven tools.”

From Chef Haley Bittermann of New Orleans, Louisiana and Share the Gulf Co-Chair:

“Fishing and seafood are not just important to the Gulf economy; they are a part of our heritage. I love to go fishing with my family. I know folks in the Gulf are frustrated by the shortened federal seasons for red snapper. But this bill threatens the conservation standards and throws away the hard work that helped bring snapper populations back after years and years of decline.”

From Capt. David Walker, a commercial fisherman from Andalusia, Alabama and Share the Gulf Co-Chair:

“H.R. 200 places new bans and restrictions on tools like catch shares that have helped rebuild the red snapper population in the Gulf of Mexico. It takes authority away from local decision-makers on the regional fishery councils and politicizes those councils with time-consuming, contentious reviews of fish allocations. Recreational fishermen already take home 70% of the most popular species in the Gulf of Mexico, and commercial fishermen are not asking for more.”

From Ryan Bradley, a commercial fisherman from Pass Christian, Mississippi and Executive Director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United:

“H.R. 200 weakens science-based decision-making and bans important tools that have helped rebuild troubled Gulf species like red snapper while placing new bureaucratic hurdles in front of fishermen. Some proponents of H.R. 200 claim the bill is needed to help recreational fishermen, but the fact is, it would cause more harm than good, especially for conservation efforts and the commercial fishermen that provide the entire country with fresh and sustainable Gulf seafood.”