Thursday, July 06, 2006
/drop/3/tPROTECTING THE Gulf of Mexico's fish population will require much more vigilance than federal and state agencies have shown so far.
The importance of the resource can hardly be overstated. It forms the foundation of the Gulf's commercial fishing industry as well as a substantial part of its tourism.
"It's time to follow the science and put Gulf fisheries on the road to ecological and economic recovery," Chris Dorsett of Austin, Texas, who works for The Ocean Conservancy, told The Associated Press. "We can and must be better stewards of our coastal ecosystem." He's right.
Ironically, Congress passed legislation in 1996 directing federal agencies to rebuild diminishing fish populations, but it has been poorly implemented.
Four species -- red snapper, red grouper, greater amberjack and vermillion snapper -- are being overfished in the Gulf of Mexico, meaning they are being harvested faster than the fish species can reproduce. Other species of grouper are at risk, too.
Unless aggressive steps are taken to limit fishing of these species and others, restore wetlands, and protect estuaries from pollution and encroachment, the Gulf will lose them.
Granted, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and its related regional councils contend plans are in place to protect these at-risk species. But a recent study concludes most fish resources remain in poor shape a decade after the 1996 law went into effect.
Andrew A. Rosenberg of the University of New Hampshire's Ocean Process and Analysis Laboratory told the AP that recovery plans instituted by NOAA have been delayed, managers have failed to revise plans that aren't working, and monitoring remains inconsistent or absent.
Those are damning conclusions.
Overfishing isn't a speculation; it's a fact. Worldwide, fish once popular on dinner plates are virtually gone from the oceans. The populations of many are less than 10 percent of what they were five decades ago.
Nationwide, NOAA says 54 fish stocks of specific species and complexes are overfished. (A complex is a grouping of different species that are similar.)
As the population along the coasts continues to grow, pressures on fish populations will intensify. There are an estimated 153 million residents living along the U.S. coastlines, and more are moving to the nation's edge on the sea every day.
Federal and state agencies need to step up their efforts to protect fish populations of the Gulf. Otherwise, red snapper, grouper and other popular fish will disappear from dinner plates, Alabama's fishing industry will dry up, and deep-sea fishing will cease to be a favorite tourist attraction for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.