Project to Restore Gulf of Mexico Fish Kicks Off Third Year

The third annual Deepwater Horizon Oceanic Fish Restoration Project began on January 1, 2019. Ten fishers from Florida and Louisiana have volunteered for and been selected to participate in the 2019 project, which aims to restore a portion of the fish injured as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Many species of oceanic fish in the Gulf of Mexico were injured during the oil spill, including tuna, billfish, sharks and mackerel, as well as deepwater fish such as lancetfish. In addition to killing fish outright, the oil spill also had detrimental effects to those fish that survived the initial spill and cleanup.

To help restore these species, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) are working with the pelagic longline (PLL) fishery in the Gulf to launch a temporary restoration project. This project includes a voluntary repose — a period during which participating vessel owners will receive financial compensation to refrain from pelagic longline fishing. 

From January 1 through June 30, 2019, participants will refrain from using their conventional pelagic longline (PLL) fishing gear in the Gulf of Mexico. Most participants will fish using alternative gear — buoy, deep drop rod and reel, and greenstick gear — instead to continue to catch and bring fish to market. These gears specifically target yellowfin tuna and swordfish and result in lower bycatch of other non-target fish species.

Participation in the repose is limited and voluntary — only a portion of the overall Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline fishing fleet (estimated around 35 active vessels) will be selected to participate in any given year. 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. 

For the 2019 project year, more than half of the eligible vessel owners applied for the project. The number of applicants far exceeded the capacity of the project. Eight vessel owners from Louisiana and two vessel owners from Florida were selected to participate. 

A success story

“After two successful project years, NFWF and NOAA look forward to another productive year,” said Erika Feller, director of marine and coastal conservation at NFWF. “Building on the knowledge we gained from 2017 and 2018, we continue to expand and strengthen the project. We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from project participants.”

Data collected also shows clear bycatch benefits from past project years: the amount of bycatch species caught using alternative gear was minimal, and many of those that were caught were released alive.

A look ahead

The alternative gear portion of the project provides an opportunity for participants to study and improve their proficiency with new gear types. They can assess the alternative gear, at no cost, and be at the forefront of developing strategies to fish using these gear types in the Gulf of Mexico over the long-term.

“Yellowfin tuna and swordfish are critical components of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, and area fishing business and communities depend on them,” said Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “By participating in the repose and testing alternative gear, participants are continuing to bring fish to market while also reducing fish mortality to allow fish to grow and reproduce. They are helping support healthier populations of fish throughout the Gulf.”

NOAA is authorized under the Oil Pollution Act to conduct the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process as a federal trustee and to carryout restoration efforts. This project is funded through the $1 billion in early restoration funds provided by BP in 2011. This project was included in the fourth phase of early restoration, released in September 2015, and helps to compensate for injuries incurred by pelagic species. The project is tailored to restore resources impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon ​​​oil spill and does not affect existing management practices or regulations. 

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