Ocean Currents » gulf of mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Sat, 13 Feb 2016 13:00:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Gulf States Turn Down Management of Red Snapper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/28/gulf-states-turn-down-management-of-red-snapper/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/28/gulf-states-turn-down-management-of-red-snapper/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 21:14:44 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11411

Why would you turn down a good thing?

“No, thank you.” That’s what Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi said to a tool that would have empowered them to create individual and specific regulations for private fisherman in state waters at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council today.

This plan, called “Regional Management,” would have delivered a real and meaningful chance for private recreational fishermen from throughout the five states to fish under regulatory conditions that cater directly to their local needs. Fishermen from each state need to fish at different times of year, with different techniques and different local knowledge, out of ports that range in character and culture from Naples, Florida to Venice, Louisiana to Brownsville, Texas.

The benefits are clear.

Anglers would have customized access to red snapper. There would be greater accountability from the private recreational component. And it would lower the likelihood that the recreational component exceeds the overall red snapper quota season after season. In the long run, fewer quota overages and greater stability in the fishery would mean red snapper would continue to successfully rebuild and catch limits would continue to increase as the stock rebounds.

As an avid recreational fisherman and an Ocean Conservancy representative at the meeting, I was extremely disappointed that the voting bloc led by the five Gulf states rejected the plan.

The state wildlife agency representatives remained intractable. Not only were they unable to agree on the state red snapper quota allocations, they were also unwilling to move forward with the amendment without charter fishermen. The latter prefer federal management where they already have prospects of developing new management tools to benefit their fishery and expand access for their clients.

So what does this mean? 

The unfortunate outcome of the states’ failure to proceed with Regional Management is that private anglers will likely continue to see their seasons throttled, rebuilding progress of the stock is jeopardized, and quota overages in the recreational fishery will persist.

Click here to learn more about red snapper. 

 

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Taking the Pulse of the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/01/taking-the-pulse-of-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/01/taking-the-pulse-of-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 01 Dec 2015 20:08:12 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11135

Today Ocean Conservancy released a new report, Charting the Gulf: Analyzing the Gaps in Long-term Monitoring. As one of the authors of this report, I’ve had the privilege of collecting information and meeting with scientists from around the Gulf to compile a comprehensive view of their work, and it’s my hope that this will make the jobs of those scientists and other Gulf leaders much easier by providing a map of existing information for restoring the Gulf.

When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began in 2010, Ocean Conservancy recognized it was difficult to track the damage to our wildlife and wild places, because we lacked the baseline information to understand what a healthy Gulf looked like. From the biggest sperm whale to microscopic plankton, we have had a limited understanding of the patterns of marine life driving the Gulf ecosystem. Our new report highlights that missing information and outlines possible first steps in filling those gaps in our knowledge.

After compiling an inventory of nearly 700 monitoring efforts around the Gulf, we found some significant holes in the current system for tracking the status and trends of ecosystem health and integrity. First, the Gulf’s wildlife and habitats in the offshore environment are not monitored to the same degree as those in more coastal areas. And although we have a continuous forty-year record of satellite imagery available to track our changing shorelines, we have very limited data to understand the reasons why they are changing.

The most significant realization I experienced while creating this report was how little we currently invest in examining the health and vitality of the Gulf. The maps and timelines in our report outline the extensive monitoring that scientists do all around the Gulf and over many years, but in reality, across the 600,000 square miles of U.S. waters in the Gulf, there is little activity tracking trends in marine life. For example, a dot on a map like the one above may give the impression that we have a complete understanding of plankton at that location, but it may only represent a single net towed behind a boat for 30 minutes over the course of four months. That leaves a lot of time and area not surveyed for plankton, which are an important food source for the Gulf’s marine life. It’s crucial that we sustain a systematic approach to fill these gaps in our knowledge.

For successful restoration in the Gulf, we must invest a portion of the $26 billion available through settlements with BP and Transocean in long-term monitoring of this ecosystem that we rely on for our way of life. Just like a doctor needs a patient’s history to effectively prescribe treatment for an illness, we need a complete picture of the health of the Gulf of Mexico in order to restore this special place. If we take advantage of this opportunity now, we can better prepare to respond to future events like climate change and make more informed decisions about how we live with the Gulf. This report represents the positive direction we are heading in the Gulf, to enhance the network of science and data needed to understand this ecosystem that we depend on for work, fun and our way of life.

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Nationwide, Fisheries Landings Continue to Break Records Thanks to Sound Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2015 08:00:35 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11085

A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”

That commercial fishing captain’s booming business is a story reverberating in fisheries across the country, and is borne out in the 2014 Fisheries of the United States report issued by NOAA Fisheries this fall. The report, which is released annually, shows that U.S. fishermen landed 9.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish with a dockside value of $5.4 billion, a volume that is higher than average for the past five years.

Recreational fisheries are seeing steady increases in landings as well. Here in the Gulf of Mexico the iconic red snapper fishery saw the highest allowable catch on record, at 14.3 million pounds of fish for 2015. Higher catch limits will ultimately result in more days on the water for recreational fishermen headed to the gulf to wet their lines from across the country as the stock continues to rebuild.

Out on the water, fishing is good because of good management practices put into place by federal regulators under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Simply put, the law works, and commercial and recreational fishermen are reaping benefits while stocks continue to rebuild end ecosystems continue to rebound.

NOAA administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck noted that “sustainable fisheries generate billions of dollars for our economy, help keep saltwater recreational fishing as one of our nation’s favorite past times, and help coastal communities remain economically resilient.” For my commercial fishing friend, keeping fisheries sustainable will keep his business prosperous, and thankfully there is good evidence for staying optimistic.

The 2014 Fisheries of the United States report can be found here.

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Take Action to Restore the Gulf Beyond the Shore http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/20/take-action-to-restore-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/20/take-action-to-restore-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/#comments Fri, 20 Nov 2015 20:00:58 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11092  

We did it! You asked our Gulf leaders to restore the Gulf beyond the shore, and they heard you! When the details of the $20.8 billion settlement were released last month, more than $1 billion was set aside to restore the open ocean.

But there’s a catch…the Trustees charged with restoring the Gulf have proposed to take ALL of their federal overhead expenses for the next 15 years out of the open ocean fund. That funding is critical for restoring Gulf wildlife in the deep sea, where an area 20 times the size of Manhattan remains polluted with BP oil!

Please join me in taking action to protect the Gulf. Let’s send the Trustees a message: Don’t raid the Gulf’s open ocean fund!

Administrative costs are important to getting the job done right, but paying for federal administrative costs from the money set aside to address all of the impacts to ocean habitats and wildlife will deprive marine life like corals and sea turtles the funding they need to recover from the BP oil disaster.

Tell the Trustees to only use open ocean funds to restore the Gulf beyond the shore.

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Mississippi: A Model For Restoring the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/18/mississippi-a-model-for-restoring-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/18/mississippi-a-model-for-restoring-the-gulf/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 19:29:07 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11058

Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began over five years ago, various settlements with BP and Transocean have given way to a veritable alphabet soup of restoration processes: NFWF, NRDA, RESTORE, NAS and so on. Each process has its own set of funding and restrictions, which can exhaust the many dedicated people who are engaged in restoration with multiple sets of public meetings and comment periods. But the fish and crabs and wetlands in the Gulf don’t care where the money comes from to restore their health and their habitats.

Of all five Gulf Coast states charged with restoring the Gulf, Mississippi has demonstrated an understanding of this concept of interconnectivity the best. Last week the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality released the Mississippi Gulf Coast Restoration Plan. The plan includes a new model of Mississippi’s environment and extensive input from the public on what restoration issues matter most to them. The plan will be used to guide restoration decision-making regardless of where the money comes from, creating a one-stop shop for the public to provide their input in the coming years. The plan was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), which received over $2 billion from BP and Transocean criminal settlements to restore the Gulf.

NFWF was busy last week, also announcing $80 million in new projects across the Gulf. We are particularly excited to see a continued commitment to restoring the Gulf beyond the shore, including fisheries monitoring in Florida and Alabama, and enhancing the marine mammal stranding network in Florida. Thank you to Florida and Alabama for your work in the marine environment and to the other states who funded important coastal restoration work.

We will continue to track all of the restoration work in the Gulf and share our insights with you, no matter how thick the alphabet soup gets!

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What We Know Now About the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 20:00:14 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11026

It takes 635 pages to describe exactly how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster impacted the Gulf ecosystem. This is what the Trustees released in the “Injury to Natural Resources” chapter of the Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (which totals over 1,400 pages), a plan that will guide the spending for a over $7 billion of the $20.8 billion settlement with BP.

We know that not everyone has the time to peruse hundreds of pages of information, so Ocean Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation partnered to summarize what we now know about impacts. This summary is based on five years of government research, which recently became available when the details of the BP settlement were released last month.

The numbers in the report are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds died, and many more were exposed to oil. Trillions of larval fish and invertebrates were killed by BP oil discharged into Gulf waters. An area 20 times the size of Manhattan around the now-plugged wellhead is polluted by oil. Deep-water corals, some of them hundreds of years old, were killed. In addition, due to the challenge of measuring the impact to some animals and places, the Trustees describe many of their conclusions as underestimates. What we do know is that the oil disaster affected the entire northern Gulf ecosystem, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

Long-lived or slow-growing animals that were impacted by the BP oil disaster will likely take decades to recover. For example, spinner dolphins are estimated to need 105 years to recover, and slow-growing deep-water corals may take hundreds of years. In light of this, it is essential that restoration is paired with continued long-term monitoring and research to track these animals and habitats to understand if they are on the path to recovery, and to reassess our restoration activities if they are not responding to our efforts.

More than five years have passed since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and as we look back to better understand the magnitude of this environmental disaster, we must also remember to look forward. In addition to identifying the extent of ecosystem injury, the Trustees also recommend a comprehensive suite of restoration approaches to move the Gulf toward recovery.

Learn more about how you can shape this process for the next 18 years.

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Shaping the Next 18 Years of Gulf Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/08/shaping-the-next-18-years-of-gulf-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/08/shaping-the-next-18-years-of-gulf-restoration/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:18:34 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10881

The final months of 2015 are shaping up to be very busy in the Gulf of Mexico! In July BP and the U.S. government announced that they were nearing a settlement agreement, and on October 5, that draft settlement agreement was released for public comment. This clarity around just how much funding will be available for Gulf restoration in the coming years means that decision-makers are working overtime to issue project lists, plans and regulations that will guide spending of fine money for the next 18 years. That’s a long time!

Here is a quick breakdown of what’s happening, what it means and how you can make your voice heard.

New details released for $20.8 billion Draft Settlement between BP and the U.S. Department of Justice, including a draft restoration plan

On October 5, the United States and the five Gulf states announced a $20.8 billion settlement to resolve civil and economic claims against BP arising from the 2010 BP oil disaster. This is the same settlement that was initially announced in July.

Two documents are open for public comment:

  • A consent decree that provides penalty and payment details related to the outstanding claims against BP.
  • A Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan/ Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PDARP/PEIS), which is a high-level restoration planning document that will guide the spending of $8.1 billion to restore the natural resource damages related to the oil disaster. This Plan contains extensive and previously unknown information about the extent of the impacts of the oil disaster as well as proposed restoration activities to address those impact. For instance, the plan estimates that we lost 4-8.3 billion oysters in the Gulf due to the BP oil disaster.

You can download both documents and find out how to comment on each here. The comment period closes December 4, 2015.

Over the coming weeks, Ocean Conservancy will analyze both documents and make our assessments available to the public. In the meantime, our policy analyst, Michelle Erenberg, has highlighted some of the important details of the settlement, which you can download here.

New requirements for Gulf state RESTORE Act plans

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released a new regulation to establish the formula allocating funds made available from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund among the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas pursuant to the RESTORE Act. This funding is available for states to develop and implement plans for the overall recovery of the environmental and economic recovery in the Gulf region. Each state will have a different process to develop its plan and select projects (in accordance with the RESTORE Act and these proposed regulations) and the Council will then determine whether or not to approve each State’s Expenditure Plan.

Read the draft regulation and find out how to comment here. The comment period closes on October 29, 2015.

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