Coalition asks Crist to halt overfishing in the Gulf

07/17/07 Seán Kinane
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Overfishing is a problem throughout the world’s oceans, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

This morning at the St. Petersburg Downtown Pier, a coalition of conservation groups, recreational anglers and charter boat representatives gathered to call attention to overfishing in the Gulf.

Kristina Jackson coordinates the Gulf of Mexico Sustainable Fisheries Campaign for the Sierra Club. She described the crisis in Gulf Fisheries.

“The Gulf of Mexico has been battered by catastrophic hurricanes, extreme red tide events, and depletion of stocks of economically and ecologically important fish like our grouper and red snappers. Overfishing is a crisis affecting our economy and our ecosystems and we can do something about it. By reducing bycatch, the unintentional catch of wildlife and other fish, we can stop wasting precious resources and ensure fish for the future.”

In June, the National Marine Fisheries Service added the gag grouper and gray triggerfish to its list of species being overfished. Others species whose populations are overfished to levels where reproduction is unsustainable include red snapper, greater amberjack, Nassau grouper, red drum and Goliath grouper. The King mackerel was removed from the overfished category.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is responsible for managing fisheries in the Gulf. It is made up of representatives from the five Gulf states. Kristina Jackson of the Sierra Club is asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to pressure the Gulf Council to take measures to reduce bycatch.

“Grouper is so popular in Florida that it appears on most menus, giving the illusion of a never-ending abundance. A lot of these grouper sandwiches are not local grouper at all, but fake imports because our grouper are not so abundant. They must be better managed and not wasted as bycatch.

"Over many years, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has failed to reduce bycatch. Now Florida has the most forward-thinking conservation-minded delegates on the Council. And with the leadership of a new governor, Charlie Crist, we hope that Florida will be a leader in reducing bycatch in our Gulf fisheries.”

John Swingle is the Chair of the Sierra Club’s Marine Wildlife and Habitat Committee. He said that the Gulf Council needs to take actions such as closing certain areas to fishing and implementing changes in fishing gear in order to reduce bycatch.

“For too long, the Councils have delayed making important decision claiming lack of data and science. Well, the days of ‘see no evil’ management should end. Gov. Crist should engage the other Gulf governors to instruct the Gulf Council to count bycatch and reduce it using methods that have worked elsewhere. Gear changes and seasonal and area fishing closings are two options. Grouper congregate for spawning, red snapper congregate as juveniles and we could be protecting them. We need to do more.”

Joe Murphy is the Florida Program Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network. Murphy wants to reduce bycatch because he said ‘every fish counts’ and because fishing is a key industry in the Gulf and an important part of the lives of recreational fishers. And he said the Gulf Council could reduce that bycatch with proper action.

“The Gulf Council needs to make sure that bycatch is a part of every decision they’re making. And they are accurately counting and factoring in the amount of take that’s coming from bycatch when they’re setting fisheries' limits.”

Russ Roy, a recreational fisher and a board member of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club, said that recreational fishers favor sustainable fisheries. He says it is the responsibility of the Gulf Council to take action to decrease bycatch.

“Preventable bycatch is a complete waste of the resource. In cases where we know what steps can be taken for bycatch reduction, the Gulf Council must take action before we lose a fishery. After we lose a fishery, it’s too late. And we’re in danger of that in Florida. We’ve already stressed some of our fisheries to the limit and it’s only in the case of last-minute action that we’ve been able to do anything. We can avoid that by taking action now.”

In order to convince Gov. Crist to press the Gulf Council to take steps to reduce bycatch, Kristina Jackson said the Sierra Club will deliver 850 postcards to his office tomorrow.

“We’ve collected 850 cards and letters to the governor to ask him to commit to acting on this bycatch problem and the overfishing problems in the Gulf of Mexico. We’re going to deliver these to the governor in Tallahassee tomorrow. Ask that he set a new standard for the Gulf governors and commit our members of the Gulf Council to reduce bycatch in all management plans.”

To learn more visit these websites:

Gulf Restoration Network

Sierra Club

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

2007 Status of U.S. Fisheries

National Marine Fisheries Service

List of sustainable seafood

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