Project to Restore Gulf of Mexico Fish Kicks Off Fifth Year

After four successful years, NFWF and NOAA are pleased to announce the start of the 2021 Deepwater Horizon Oceanic Fish Restoration Project. This year, eleven fishermen from Florida and Louisiana are expected to participate in the fifth year of the project.

Project Overview and Goals: Fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico catch targeted pelagic fish, including yellowfin tuna and swordfish, using pelagic longline gear. The average U.S. longline set is 28 miles long and sometimes results in incidental catch (or bycatch) of non-targeted species, such as juvenile fish and sea turtles. Some of this bycatch can perish before the fishing line is hauled back. 

Many species of oceanic (or pelagic) fish in the Gulf of Mexico were injured during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including tuna, billfish, and mackerel, as well as deepwater fish such as lancetfish. The goal of this project is to help restore fish species that were injured as a result of the oil spill. Reducing fish mortality will allow fish to grow and reproduce, helping support healthier fish populations throughout the Gulf.

Since 2017, about half of the pelagic longline fleet in the Gulf of Mexico has chosen to participate in the Deepwater Horizon Oceanic Fish Restoration Project. 

The project has two parts: 

  1. Project participants agree to refrain from fishing with longline gear during a repose period for the first six months of the year, which allows fish to grow and reproduce.
  2. During the repose, participants have the option to continue to fish using alternative gear, which results in lower bycatch of non-targeted species. 

Today, pelagic fish are in better shape because of the participation of this fleet. Participating vessel owners have reduced fishing pressure on pelagic fish and are helping to support a healthier Gulf of Mexico for many years to come. 

Funding and Timeline: This project is funded from the early restoration funds provided by BP as part of the legal settlement for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There is no set timeframe for this project, which began in 2017, but NFWF and NOAA anticipate it will run for an additional two to four years. The full length of the project will depend on the level of participation necessary to meet the fish restoration goals.

Project Details: From January 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021, participants will refrain from using their pelagic longline (PLL) fishing gear in the Gulf of Mexico and will instead fish using alternative gear — buoy, deep drop rod and reel, and greenstick gear. These alternative gear specifically target BAYS tunas (bigeye, albacore, yellowfin, skipjack) and swordfish and result in lower bycatch of other non-target fish species.

The alternative gear portion of the project provides an opportunity for participants to learn and improve their proficiency with new gear types. Participants can assess the alternative gear, at no cost, and be at the forefront of developing strategies to successfully fish utilizing these gear types in the Gulf of Mexico.

Participation in the repose is limited and voluntary — only a portion of the overall Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline fishing fleet (estimated at approximately 35 active vessels) will be selected to participate in any given year. Limiting participation will help to minimize potential impacts to the shoreside economy, and it will ensure that the Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline fishery continues to produce high quality products for both domestic and international markets.

For the 2021 project year, the number of applicants exceeded the capacity of the project. Seven vessel owners from Louisiana and four vessel owners from Florida were selected to participate. Participants selected in the 2021 repose will have the option to renew based on interest, continued project eligibility, and review of the participant’s performance and compliance.

Results to Date: This effort has already seen meaningful success. Data collected shows clear bycatch benefits from past project years. This research shows that the amount of bycatch species caught using alternative gear was minimal during the project, and many of those that were caught were released alive.

Review of past project years:

NOAA is authorized under the Oil Pollution Act to conduct the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process as a federal trustee and to carry out 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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