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Ocean Solutions: Where's the Oil?; Southeast Dodges Bullet;Catch Shares a Lifeline for Fishermen
Environmental Defence Fund

December, 2010

EDF Oceans Solutions
December 1, 2010

With almost 200 million gallons of oil recently spilled into the Gulf ecosystem, the region is suffering in many ways. Although the well is capped, the long-term ecological and economic effects of this disaster remain unknown, and we are forced to operate with tremendous uncertainty.

What we do know is that now, more than ever, fishery management systems that are already proven to waste fish, hurt ecosystems and are inefficient for businesses should be reconsidered.

What's left of the oil?

What's left of the oil?

The well is capped and clean-up efforts have started to wind down. Many people believe that oil-eating bacteria have cleaned up the Gulf waters and life is getting back to normal.

“We hope this is true, but we need to consider the reality that oil-related pollution continues to degrade in both the water column and bottom sediments, with negative impacts on the out-of-sight, underwater ecosystems, including deep-water coral reefs,” EDF’s Chief Oceans Scientist Doug Rader says.

“Toxic oil-based substances could make their way back into the food web in many ways.”

  • When they end up on the sea floor, they are consumed by worms and other invertebrates, which are then preyed on by bottom-feeding fishes and crabs.
  • They can be consumed by the rich marine life in the mid-waters which provide key food for many familiar, surface-diving animals, including whales, dolphins, billfishes and giant tunas.
  • Through shrimp trawling, other human uses and storms, pollutants in sediments will be re-circulated through the water column and become available to shrimp and other coastal marine animals.

“We must understand the ways in which the basic fabric of the ecosystems of the Gulf has been altered in order to understand how to truly restore its weave,” said Rader.

See EDF Oceans Chief Scientist Doug Rader’s blog series on this topic.

Southeast dodges one, not all disasters


  The evolution of the Gulf Loop Current from a strong downstream delivery phase on May 7 to a cutoff eddy phase on June 11, temporarily detaining oil pollution. Credit: NWS.

Thanks to the formation of an eddy named Franklin, the Gulf Loop Current's normal path was altered just as oil from the BP disaster started to enter it. This eddy helped protect the Florida Keys’ valuable coral reefs, mangrove swamps and seagrass beds, plus the wetlands and beaches of the Atlantic Southeast.

While a lucky eddy helped the Southeast dodge one disaster, the significant trend of shortened fishing seasons is creating a more deliberate, and preventable, disaster.

  • Since 2008, the vermilion snapper commercial fishing season decreased in length by nearly 50%, allowing just 6 months of fishing this year. 
  • Since 2006, the black sea bass commercial fishing season decreased in length by more than 60%, allowing just under five months of fishing this year.
  • Since 2005, the golden tilefish commercial fishing season decreased in length by more than 70%, allowing just over 3 months of fishing this year.
  • In 2009, there were no red snapper season restrictions, but this year fishing for red snapper was banned the entire year.

Some fishermen have already gone out of business; those who are still in business often must go out in dangerous weather to fish before seasons close. Local fish can be hard to come by in the region.

There’s a better way to revitalize fish populations and get fishermen back on the water: catch shares.

A lifeline for fishermen: Catch shares develop resilient fisheries

A lifeline for fishermen: Catch shares develop resilient fisheries

Between the worst-ever oil spill this year, a decade of damaging hurricanes, and harmful regulations, Gulf and Southeast fisheries have been dealt many harsh blows.

Now more than ever, fishery management must be updated to make every fish count, for the environment and for fishermen, and to stabilize fishing businesses so they can better cope with disasters. Catch shares help make fishermen and communities more resilient to inevitable disasters.

For example, during the BP oil disaster, commercial red snapper fishermen operating under catch shares had tangible assets on which to make financial loss recovery claims; they had the flexibility to lease their fish to fishermen in other parts of the Gulf less affected by the oil; and they had the security to wait and catch their fish later in the year. Fishermen like red snapper charter fishermen, working under conventional regulations, saw none of these benefits.

We cannot prevent disasters, but we can improve fisheries management so that ecosystems are healthy and fishing businesses are more stable, and therefore more likely to survive and recover quickly.

New initiatives post-BP oil disaster

New initiatives post-BP oil disaster

EDF has partnered with industry to develop two new initiatives to help stabilize fishing businesses and improve fishery management after the BP oil disaster.

Protecting sustainable Gulf seafood markets
The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance is helping catch share fishermen maintain seafood markets and spread the benefits of IFQ management. The project has just gotten underway and will assure seafood consumers and buyers that Gulf fish remain an excellent choice for a variety of reasons. It includes an emphasis on sustainability, testing for toxins in fish and a web-based tracking mechanism so that consumers can trace where their seafood was caught, when and by whom. Learn more.

Reducing waste of valuable gulf fish
The Gulf’s red snapper individual fishing quota program has been successful at reducing discards by 70% and helping stocks recover. But the quick recovery of red snapper has created a challenge for eastern gulf fishermen who haven’t historically caught red snapper, and sometimes haven’t obtained quota to land it, or may not have fish dealers who buy them. Integrating these fishermen and fish dealers into the IFQ program is critical for ensuring long-term, effective reef fish management.

The Gulf Fisherman’s Association (GFA) is working to encourage fishermen to increase participation in IFQ management, land and account for red snapper, and help build local markets for the fish.

According to GFA president Glen Brooks, “We’re providing a temporary subsidy to help commercial grouper fishermen who operate east of Cape San Blas, Florida, (the area of highest discards) to obtain red snapper IFQ allocation. We want all fishermen to land their incidental catch of red snapper. This can help their business, and reduce snapper discards more.” The program is expected to run approximately January 2011 through June 2011. According to Brooks, “even paying the allocation lease price, it is still possible to make a small profit on red snapper incidental catch.” Learn more.

Catch Share Considered for Southeast Golden Crab Fishery

Catch Share Considered for Southeast Golden Crab Fishery

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will review a catch shares amendment for the golden crab fishery next week at its meeting in New Bern, North Carolina. The Council will vote on “scoping,” or adding details to the amendment.

The golden crab fishery is a small, deepwater fishery concentrated in Central Florida, but which spans from the Virginia/North Carolina border to the southern tip of the Florida Keys. The fishing is dangerous and requires specialized skills.

By regulation, golden crabs must be landed alive. The traditional crab storage system does not sustain them for long, forcing short fishing trips and local sales only. Fishermen like Howard Rau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida are now utilizing Recirculating Seawater Systems, so that crabs can be stored for longer, earn higher prices and can be marketed globally.

These developments have attracted attention among buyers and potential fishermen from thousands of miles away. Rau is concerned that the now healthy golden crab fishery will attract more fishermen than it can handle, resulting in fishing derbies and harm to crab populations. He wants to see a catch share program implemented in the golden crab fishery so that it can produce top-quality crabs year-round in a stable, professional way. 

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