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

Seven Louisiana fishers have volunteered to stop using their pelagic longline (PLL) fishing gear in the Gulf of Mexico starting March 1, 2017 through June 30, 2017. The vessel owners were selected to participate in the pilot year 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.  

Pilot participants will be able to harvest yellowfin tuna during the repose using greenstick gear, an alternative fishing gear that results in low bycatch but that remains relatively underutilized in the Gulf. This will allow participants to continue to support the local economy, purchasing fuel and supplies from shoreside businesses and bringing fish to market. Working with participants, fish dealers, and researchers will also provide an opportunity to study and improve the efficiency of greenstick gear over time. 

The repose for the pilot year will be four months long. The project will continue over the next five to 10 years, with an expected six-month repose period beginning each January and ending on June 30. 

The project is funded through the Deepwater Horizon $1 billion early restoration process, as part of a suite of projects for which BP agreed to provide funding before the full settlement was reached. The settlement with BP allocated an additional $380 million for future restoration projects for fish and marine invertebrates. The Trustees will incorporate public input and review as they develop these restoration plans.

The Deepwater Horizon Oceanic Fish Restoration Project was developed by federal and Gulf state natural resource trustees, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to work with the pelagic longline fishery in the Gulf.

“This restoration project is a win-win for Gulf fishing communities and the marine ecosystem. By supporting voluntary reductions in fishery mortality in the short term, these commercially-valuable species will be able to grow, spawn and become more abundant for fishermen in future years,” said Samuel D. Rauch III, acting assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

Many species of oceanic fish in the Gulf of Mexico were injured during the oil spill, including tuna, billfish, sharks, mackerels and deep water fish. In addition to killing fish outright, scientists say fish that survived the initial spill and cleanup continue to suffer detrimental effects. Scientists have found toxic impacts to fish, including cardiac toxicity and other developmental deformities such as curved spines, reduced growth rates, impaired immunity, reduced swimming performance and inhibited reproduction.

Restoring pelagic fish that were injured will address some of the impacts from the oil spill. The project will reduce fish mortality, which allows fish to grow and reproduce, helping support healthier populations of fish throughout the Gulf.

The project does not affect existing or introduce new management practices or regulations. Participating vessel owners will receive financial compensation to refrain from pelagic longline fishing to help offset their loss in revenue during the repose. 

“We are very excited to be a part of this important and innovative project,” says Eric Schwaab, vice president of conservation programs at NFWF. “We are pleased to be working with voluntary participants from the Gulf fishing community on this fish-focused restoration effort. NFWF is proud to support NOAA in implementing one of many projects to remedy harm to the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico using funds from the legal settlement with BP.” 

Of the 45 eligible vessel owners in the Gulf, about half applied for the pilot. The number of qualified applicants far exceeded the capacity of the project. Of those interested in participating, the vast majority were from Louisiana. The remainder were from Florida.

All applications were considered and went through a rigorous selection process. NFWF and NOAA evaluated vessel owners’ past enforcement history and applied pre-determined prioritization criteria, including agreement to use alternative gear during the repose, catch history, location and their quote for compensation.

All participants will be testing the greenstick gear during the 2017 repose. Having all participants from a single state will allow for effective dissemination of best practices and in-depth analysis from a concentrated segment of the Gulf market. 

Those PLL vessel owners that are not participating (the majority of the fleet) will continue to land tuna and swordfish throughout the Gulf. 

NOAA and NFWF are launching the project as a pilot in 2017 to evaluate implementation, conduct adaptive management, and allow further engagement with vessel owners, fish dealers and other stakeholders. NFWF and NOAA may make adjustments and enhancements for the full rollout of the project in 2018.

For more information, please visit www.nfwf.org/pll