The Gulf of Mexico supports vibrant fish and shellfish populations, such as red snapper, red drum, king mackerel, shrimp and oysters. These, in turn, support an estimated $22.6 billion in seafood, commercial fishing and recreational fishing activity. One of the greatest threats to the Gulf fish species is overfishing.
“Overfishing” is the process of taking too many fish from the sea and leaving too few behind to reproduce and rebuild the population. If allowed to continue, overfishing of a species can lead to what scientists refer to as an "overfished" or depleted condition. Currently Gulf species designated as “overfished” include red snapper, greater amberjack, Nassau grouper, goliath grouper, and grey triggerfish. Depleting fish populations can disrupt predator/prey relationships, alter marine habitats, and impact the growth and mortality rates of both predator and prey species.
GRN works to ensure that fisheries managers take the necessary steps to rebuild overfished species of fish. For example, as a member for the Marine Fish Conservation Network, we are working at a national level to ensure that the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management Act (MSA) mandates stronger protections that enhance the health and productivity of marine ecosystems, which in turn are vital to supporting and sustaining important and valuable commercial and recreational fisheries
GRN also works to reduce bycatch, the unintended take of marine life when catching target species. For example, our recent campaign “Switching Gears to Save Bluefin Tuna,” encouraged state and federal agencies to phase out surface longline fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish in favor of more selective gear like green stick gear. The change to less harmful methods will halt the wasteful killing of non-target marine life such as bluefin and sailfish, and maintain fishermen’s access to yellowfin tuna and swordfish.
Forage fish are small pelagic fish, such as Gulf anchovies and Gulf menhaden, that contribute significantly to the diets of other larger fish, marine mammals and seabirds. These ecologically important prey species provide food for commercially- and recreationally-valuable fish such as tuna, red drum, red snapper, king mackerel, and spanish mackerel, as well as coastal bottlenose and spotted dolphins, several species of shark, and brown pelicans. Additionally, Gulf menhaden function as filter feeders, cleaning Gulf waters.
Menhaden are targeted by a large industrial reduction fishery, the 2nd largest fishery, by weight, in the United States. They are harvested primarily for fish meal and fish oil based products. A much smaller number of menhaden are also caught for use as bait.
There are currently no Gulf-wide limits on the catch of Gulf menhaden and Texas is the only state that has established a total allowable catch for landings in its waters.
Gulf menhaden are not considered as undergoing overfishing or overfished. However, in 2014, there was a 25% reduction in landings from the industry’s previous 5-year average. The has raised the concern that heavy fishing effort in the last five years, combined with continual loss of coastal wetlands - important habitat for juvenile menhaden - in Louisiana and the ongoing effects of the BP oil spill, could be adversely impacting the gulf menhaden.
GRN has been working with partners across the Gulf to get federal and state agencies to set caps or total allowable catch limits on the amount of Gulf menhaden that can be taken in a given year. Limiting the total allowable catch of menhaden could balance the need for the menhaden reduction industry to continue fishing with the need to ensure that sufficient fish remain in the Gulf to support the fish, marine mammals and sea birds that are dependent on them for food.