Maryland Watermen Fish for Ideas in the Gulf of Mexico

By Kate Yanchulis

Maryland watermen escaped freezing temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay area this week for balmy Florida weather. But they weren’t on a vacation– more like a business trip.

Members of the Maryland Watermen Association participated in a “Fishermen Exchange” hosted by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and Environmental Defense Fund Feb. 15-17, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported. The Shareholders’ Alliance, a commercial fishing trade organization dedicated to making the industry environmentally sustainable in the Gulf of Mexico, ferried the Chesapeake watermen to ports around Tampa, Florida, including Clearwater, Cortez, St. Petersburg and Madeira Beach, teaching them about the resource management plan put in place in the Gulf of Mexico that has helped red snapper population recover and boosted a fishing industry on the decline.

The organizations hope the exchange of ideas will foster alliances and awareness of problems shared by the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and waters around the globe. These include eutrophication, an excess of nutrients in the water from farm runoff, air pollution, and other sources; habitat degradation and overdevelopment; and dead zones, areas of water with no oxygen. They also placed particular focus on the plight of the bay’s blue crabs in comparison to the Gulf’s red snapper.

The Chesapeake watermen observed the Gulf fishermen at work and participated in discussions about resource management plans to see how one might be implemented in the bay. The plan would include providing state governments with more comprehensive input on regulations and mandates, participating in on-boat monitoring and data gathering programs, and other measures designed to increase cooperation and sustainability.

A particularly hot topic was limiting catches with individual harvest quotas. With Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) in place, according to the GMFSA, “Federal officials say a new red snapper assessment suggests overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico ended ahead of a 2010 deadline and recently recommended an increase in the Gulf’s total allowable red snapper catch.”

“We’re seeing true sustainability in our revenues, our relationships and our resources,” said TJ Tate, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “We’re happy to show the Maryland Watermen and others that this can be done.”

The plan would need to be tweaked for Maryland watermen. Though the conference focused on blue crab, the watermen often do not just harvest one species, but many. Still, it provides a good starting point.

More efforts such as this one are needed. At least two exchanges more are being planned in Gulf area for later this year, and from Jan. 30-31, more than fishermen from all over the country, from Gulf to Alaska, came to Ocean City for East Coast Commercial Fishermen’s & Aquaculture Trade Exposition, organized by the Watermen’s Association, to discuss issues facing their industry.

But the Chesapeake needs even more. These issues must be recognized not just as a local problems but as global concerns. If people come together and share successes, failures, and new ideas, everyone can benefit.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
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