FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Losses flowing from the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico may never be fully established; some impacts are immeasurable, including the 11 brave men who died in the initial explosion.
Potential natural resources and habitat losses will diminish the productivity of the Gulf ecosystems and will affect individuals, communities and industries in and far beyond the Gulf. While much attention has been focused on losses to the Gulf's commercial fishing industries, the recreational fishing and boating community should not be forgotten. They are a huge part of the culture of the Gulf Coast supporting thousands of jobs and providing revenues that bolster communities and businesses that are already losing money.
Monitoring this disaster, especially its socio-economic impact, is The Billfish Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and enhancing billfish populations worldwide.
Huge losses expected to region's sport fishing and boating sector
"Rarely making the news are the losses being felt by the multi-billion dollar recreational fishing and boating industry in the Gulf, comprised primarily of small businesses supporting responsible and sustainable angling," said TBF President Ellen Peel.
"Once the U.S. government announced closure of all fishing activities in the Gulf for 10 days, some sport fishing vessels dependent upon access to the waters, began leaving anticipating more closures," she said.
Billfish tournaments, some with decades of tradition and history, have canceled their events after months of planning and investment of significant dollars. Many billfishing events raised funds for many charities and donated to TBF to support needed research in the Gulf. Gone also is one of the Gulf region's strongest economic engines - the eco-tourism business.
Peel said, "Eco-tourism is dependent upon traveling and local anglers, which employs tens of thousands of individuals working as captains, guides, mates, product and vessel manufacturers, tackle wholesalers and retailers, marina operators and service providers in businesses supporting recreational fishing and boating from near shore to offshore."
Prior to the oil spill, said Peel, many of these businesses were already suffering from government limits and restrictions in place due to commercial overfishing impacting stocks of Atlantic blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, sharks, red snapper, grouper and sea turtles.
"While marlin, tuna and some sharks are highly migratory and can move from the oil affected area, their larvae cannot. The Gulf habitat is the only documented spawning ground of the severely overfished western Atlantic bluefin tuna and is the location of the highest marlin bycatch caught by U.S. longline boats in U.S. waters. Many other species in the Gulf are overfished, leaving them extremely vulnerable to the current devastation."
The Billfish Foundation calls for sea change; stop overfishing of resources
Peel said TBF is calling for a sea change, one recognizing and supporting responsible and sustainable use and conservation of resources generating strong and recurring economic positives throughout the region.
"While the regular, bureaucratic and mundane fishery management news generated in the Gulf seldom garners worldwide news, the tragedy of Deepwater Horizon provides the U.S. government with the opportunity to stop the tragedy of overfishing that has become too common in the Gulf," voiced Peel.
"Fishery management of public resources should not be driven by excessive extraction of 'tons of fish' for private financial gain. Strict government requirements and enforcement are necessary to maintain healthy levels of resource abundance. Were the resource abundance higher for each of the overfished species in the Gulf, they could better withstand resource attacks, including non-traditional ones like those from the Deepwater Horizon.
"The government should have already taken the tough steps with fishery management to protect the resources and the jobs dependent upon responsible and compatible uses before this catastrophe," she emphasized. "Obviously greater safety measures to protect human life and improved flow shut off mechanisms to prevent similar tragedies should be required on all drilling rigs in the Gulf. Full environmental risk analyses needs to be completed before use permits are approved."
Time for public to take action; letters ready to send to lawmakers on TBF website
Peel said TBF is asking anglers to contact their state governor, as well as their state and national senators and representatives demanding that the voice of the recreational fishing and boating industries and citizens wanting to use those services be heard.
"These industries must be included in any plans to 'make whole' from losses initiating from the Deepwater Horizon. Additionally those voices must focus on state and federal fishery management entities demanding responsible use by all with emphasis on generating the highest recurring financial value and resource abundance.
"Offshore anglers have long enjoyed the benefits of fishing within proximity of the Gulf oil rigs and will hope to continue to do so," she acknowledged. "Many anglers accept that recreational fishing is compatible with energy extraction, but safety on and near the rigs and resource protection mechanisms must be the standards enforced within that industry. Moreover fishery management should now take action to reduce overfishing of targeted and bycatch species so they are not as vulnerable as they are at the present time."
In light of the ongoing clean up, TBF invites you to join it in reminding decision makers to include the recreational fishing and boating community in their "Fisheries Disaster Declarations" that allow for compensation of losses.
(See TBF's website - www.billfish.org - for a draft letter to forward to state and federal policy makers, their contact information and for more information such as the latest fishery closures)
Your assistance in our effort with the government to recognize the importance of our recreational fishing and boating community will be greatly appreciated.
In addition, TBF will be calling on fishing clubs, tournaments and related businesses to participate in a socio-economic survey of the Gulf's billfishing industry for which we need help.
With world headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., TBF's comprehensive network of members and supporters includes anglers, captains, mates, tournament directors, clubs, sport fishing and tourism businesses. By coordinating efforts and speaking with one voice, the organization works for solutions that are good for billfish, not punitive to recreational anglers and good for the local economy.