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

 

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.”

 

H.R. 200 WOULD HURT GULF FISHING AND CONSERVATION

*This letter signed by Chef Hugo Ortega and Capt. Steve Tomeny was distributed to our grassroots network and Members of Congress.

A dangerous bill that would hurt the gulf is about to get a vote on the House floor. H.R. 200 would undermine years of progress and hurt fishing and seafood businesses, the sustainability of Gulf fish, and Americans everywhere who love to eat or catch fish. We urge Members of Congress to vote NO on this harmful bill.

Tell your Member of Congress to keep our nation’s fisheries strong and healthy by voting NO on H.R. 200.

The turnaround of U.S. fisheries is a remarkable bipartisan success story. Dozens of stocks have recovered to healthy levels thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our world-class federal fisheries law. H.R. 200 would put all that at risk.

The MSA was authored by Republicans and Democrats, working together with a broad coalition of user groups. But H.R. 200 is opposed by fishermen, chefs, conservationists, and consumers around country, and it lacks meaningful bipartisan support. It would harm our nation’s fisheries by creating loopholes for science-based catch limits, making wide-ranging exceptions to rebuilding requirements, and establishing 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.

H.R. 200 would also mandate periodic time-consuming and contentious allocation reviews for almost three dozen species, which distract regional fishery management councils from solving other important problems and threaten fair access to fish for all stakeholders including the public. Currently, red snapper quota is shared roughly 50-50 between commercial and recreational fishermen, but more broadly recreational fishermen take home 70% of the Gulf’s most popular fish.

We urge Members of Congress to stand up for strong, healthy fisheries and the communities they support. Please vote NO on H.R. 200.

The future of our region depends on sustainable Gulf fisheries. We appreciate you taking our concerns into account.

 

Sincerely,

Hugo Ortega
Chef and Co-Owner of Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi
Share the Gulf Co-Chair
Houston, Texas

 

Capt. Steve Tomeny
Charter and Commercial Fisherman
Share The Gulf Co-Chair
Golden Meadow, Louisiana

THE TRUTH ABOUT WHO GETS THE FISH

You may not know it, but there is a fight happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico and in Congress that could determine whether your favorite Gulf fish, like red snapper, will remain a regular menu item and seafood case staple. Fights like this have happened before, with redfish and other species moving from shared to only recreationally caught, but this time things are different.

How we divide the amount or allocation of fish between commercial fishermen, charter/for-hire captains and private recreational anglers has long been a tough topic to tackle. We believe that the question of “who gets the fish?” is one of fairness. Recreational anglers deserve access; but so do the seafood-loving public when they visit their favorite restaurant or grocery story.

Here are the facts. Recreational fishermen currently take home 70% of the Gulf’s most popular fish, leaving 30% to be sold in restaurants and grocery stores. Recreational anglers land an overwhelming majority of species like amberjack, cobia, red drum, king mackerel, spotted seatrout, and triggerfish. For Gulf red snapper, the division of quota between the recreational and seafood sectors is more balanced: roughly 50-50.

 ****

(Sources: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council 2018 Annual Catch Limits, MRIP Recreational Landings Database, SERO Recreational and Commercial Landings Summaries, NOAA Southeast Region Headboat Survey, Louisiana Recreational Creel Survey)

*Cobia and Spanish mackerel are managed by shared annual catch limits. Allocations were calculated by landings for 2016 for those species.

**No federal fishery. States allow limited commercial harvest for grandfathered permits.

***The Red snapper recreational fishery is separated by sector. Total includes the private angler, charter, and headboat sectors.

Landings numbers are from data available as of June 2018 and do not include recalibrated MRIP data released in July.

Totals missing potentially significant recreational landings from Texas for Red drum, Spotted seatrout, King mackerel, and Spanish mackerel.

Access to Gulf Seafood is in Jeopardy

While the vast majority of recreational fishermen are responsible and want to share the resource, lobbyists claiming to represent them are working around the clock to change the allocation of fish like red snapper. These efforts take direct aim at coastal businesses and livelihoods across the Gulf – and a way of life that goes back generations. If they succeed, sustainable Gulf seafood like red snapper could disappear from menus and dinner tables across the country.

Proposals in Congress and new efforts at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council could make this threat a reality. Two bills, H.R. 200 and S. 1520, would mandate periodically reviewing allocation of almost three dozen species in the South Atlantic and Gulf, which would exacerbate tensions between sectors and consume endless time and energy.

In fact, this question often gets far more attention than other issues vital to Gulf fisheries, such as fish biology, enforcement of regulations and habitat conservation. And too often, taking fish from one group for the benefit of another is falsely offered as a solution to other problems. In this case, it is being offered as a false promise to fix the broken way we manage recreational fishing.

Reallocation will not fix the broken recreational management system

The irony is that while reallocation could do profound harm to the Gulf seafood industry, it will do little to increase fishing opportunities for recreational anglers. Meaningful change will only come through improved data collection and reformed management to bring recreational fisheries into the 21st Century.

Fortunately, there are signs of progress. For example, Louisiana has invested in much-improved data collection that will allow fishing for red snapper throughout much of the summer with the same quota. Better science and accountability can result in increased private angler access or satisfaction without harming other sectors or the resource, a promise reallocation can’t make. After all, as red snapper has rebounded, the amount of fish allocated for fishing — including for recreational fishermen — has nearly tripled over the last ten years, and the broken management system still led to shortened seasons and recreational quota overages.

Anglers deserve a better management system that gives them more flexible access to the red snapper fishery. That’s why the Share the Gulf Coalition – which includes private anglers, for-hire fishermen, commercial fishermen, chefs, restaurateurs, hospitality associations, and environmental groups – opposes efforts to forcibly reallocate fish in favor of spending our time on more promising proposals like pilot projects to test state-based management of private angler fishing of red snapper.

We Need Your Help!

The Share the Gulf Coalition is working with Members of Congress, Gulf Governors, the Gulf Council, and others to find solutions that can work for everyone. We will encourage decision-makers to keep sustainably caught Gulf seafood on the table for the millions of Americans who don’t fish or own their own boats. We will also advocate for fixing the underlying problems that have led to shortened seasons so anglers get more flexible access to the fishery.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Click here to let your Member of Congress know that you oppose legislation that mandates time-consuming, periodic allocation reviews, as they consume valuable council time and don’t produce meaningful results.
  • Sign up to receive Share the Gulf updates and action alerts at the bottom of this page.
  • Get more involved by joining the Share the Gulf Coalition.