Vessel Owners Begin Voluntary Repose to Help Restore Gulf of Mexico Oceanic Fish

​​Ten fishers from Florida and Louisiana have volunteered for and been selected to participate in the first full repose of the Deepwater Horizon Oceanic Fish Restoration Project, which aims to restore a portion of the fish injured as a result of the 2010 oil spill. From January 1 through June 30, 2018, participants will refrain from using their conventional pelagic longline (PLL) fishing gear in the Gulf of Mexico, and are offered options to continue fishing in ways that help restore fish populations. 

Of the 37 eligible vessel owners in the Gulf, more than half applied for the project. The number of applicants far exceeded the capacity of the project. Seven vessel owners from Louisiana and three vessel owners from Florida were selected to participate. 

“Working with local fishers and other representatives of the Gulf seafood industry, we launched this project as a pilot in March 2017,” said Eric Schwaab, vice president of conservation programs at NFWF. “Building on the success of the pilot year, we continue to expand and strengthen the project and are thrilled that so many qualified vessel owners across the Gulf applied this year. Participants will continue to help support restoration of pelagic fish in the Gulf of Mexico while also sustaining important commercial fisheries.”

 During the voluntary repose, project participants have the option to harvest yellowfin tuna and swordfish using alternative fishing gear that results in low bycatch and fish mortality, but remains relatively underutilized in the Gulf. Participants can use greenstick, buoy and deep drop gear to continue to catch and bring fish to market. 

All participating vessel owners will receive financial compensation to help offset potential lost revenue during the repose. Those PLL vessel owners who are not participating (the majority of the fleet) will continue to land tuna and swordfish throughout the Gulf as usual.

Throughout the project, NOAA and NFWF will work with participants, scientists and other stakeholders to improve the fishers’ proficiency using the alternative gear and increase landings of marketable fish caught with these gear types.

"We understand that fishing businesses and communities depend on these pelagic ocean resources, which are also critical components of the Gulf ecosystem,” said Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “Exciting innovations in gear reduce bycatch and restore fish populations— keeping local economies and the environment healthy.”

Project background and goals

Many species of oceanic fish in the Gulf of Mexico were injured during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including tuna, billfish, sharks, mackerel and deep water fish. In addition to killing fish outright, the oil spill also had detrimental effects to those fish that survived the initial spill and cleanup. At various depths of Gulf waters, scientists found toxic impacts to fish, including cardiac (heart) toxicity and other developmental deformities such as a curved spine, reduced growth rates, impaired immune function, reduced swimming performance and inhibited reproduction. 

The project will reduce fish mortality, allowing fish to grow and reproduce, helping to support healthier populations of many different species of fish throughout the Gulf.

The repose will be six months long. NOAA and NFWF anticipate the project will run for five to 10 years, but there is no set timeframe. The project does not affect existing regulations or introduce new management practices or regulations. 

Results of the 2017 pilot and enhancements made to the 2018 project

During the four-month pilot repose in 2017, all participants elected to fish using alternative gear. They fished for a collective total of 280 sea-days. Observer records of those sea-days show that the amount of non-target species caught using alternative gear was minimal, and those that were caught were released alive.

At the completion of the 2017 pilot year, all seven participants had positive feedback about their participation. According to one of the participants: “I found it very rewarding to be a part of the research and experiment with the new gear as well as to be a part of something that could help restore fish in the Gulf.”

Based on past participant feedback as well as input from participants in the Gulf of Mexico PLL supply chain, changes were made​ to increase the number of sea days to fish using alternative gear, provide additional training resources to improve participants’ expertise in using the gear before and during the repose and expand the alternative gear choices.

“We had the opportunity to learn from the pilot, and through partnerships and engagement, made key enhancements to improve the project both for volunteer participants and members of the local supply chain,” added Mr. Oliver from NOAA.

To encourage innovation that benefits the Gulf industry and to ensure continued landings of marketable fish, in 2018, participants have the option to use greenstick to target yellowfin tuna and buoy gear and deep drop gear to target swordfish.  In addition, participants will have the opportunity under an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) to experiment with using buoy gear to target tuna.

All applications were reviewed by NFWF and NOAA and went through a rigorous selection process that included consideration of vessel owners’ past enforcement history and their quote for compensation. 

“We will continue to have an ongoing dialogue with the broader community of fishery stakeholders to make this project as strong as possible,” added Mr. Schwaab from NFWF.

The project is funded with money made available by BP. It was developed by federal and Gulf state natural resource trustees, including NOAA, according to the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and with opportunities for public review and comment. NOAA is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to work with the pelagic longline fishery in the Gulf.

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Rob Blumenthal, 202-857-0166


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