TIME TO STOP OVERFISHING SAYS ENVIRONMENTAL COALITION by Roxanne Escobales05/16/06
A coalition of marine and environmental groups today called for a formal policy on protecting the masses of unwanted fish and wildlife caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking at a press conference in downtown St. Petersburg and taking part in a National Marine Fisheries Service workshop that addresses these issues, the coalition warned of the economic and ecological effects on the Gulf if this problem were allowed to continue.
Mary - anne Cufone is a fisheries consultant with the Gulf Restoration Network:
Bycatch is the term used for the fish and wildlife that gets caught or accidentally entangled when fishing for other species. Currently no policies are in place to manage and minimize the bycatch caught by fisherman.
The coalition is attending a workshop hosted by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which, they say, has not done enough to address the issue until now. Various interest groups from the fishing, science and conservation industries are represented at the workshop, which is dedicated to fostering collaborative solutions to the bycatch problem.
An estimated one-quarter of all worldwide catch is bycatch, accounting for 44 billion pounds of fish. This figure does not include the dolphins, seabirds and other marine life that gets unwittingly caught in fishing nets and equipment.
In the Gulf of Mexico in particular the stock of red snapper and red grouper is being depleted because of unchecked bycatch. Marianne Cufone says these two species are ecologically important to the Gulf.
Captain William Ward is a local commercial fisherman and board member of the Gulf Fishermenâ€™s Association. He says that grouper is extremely important to the Gulf economy.
ACT: Captain Ward would like to work with the government to set some standards for bycatch management. Yet despite two major commissions studying ocean policy by the government and the Pew Charitable Trust, the issue of depleting fish stock has been ignored. So says the Gulf Restoration Networkâ€™s Marianne Cufone:
ACT: The coalition hosting todayâ€™s press conference is made up of the Gulf Restoration Network, Oceana, The Ocean Conservancy and the Sierra Club.
To read the Gulf Restoration Networkâ€™s report on bycatch, called Every Fish Count, visit healthygulf.org.
The National Marine Fisheries Service workshop is being held at the Hilton hotel in downtown St. Petersburg through Thursday, May 18.