Project to Restore Gulf of Mexico Fish Kicks Off Fourth Year

After three successful project years, NFWF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  are excited to announce the 2020 Deepwater Horizon Oceanic Fish Restoration Project, which began on January 1, 2020. Twelve fishermen from Florida and Louisiana have been selected to participate in the fourth annual season of the project.

Project overview and goals: NFWF and NOAA are working with the pelagic longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, which targets species such as yellowfin tuna and swordfish, to implement this voluntary, temporary restoration project. 

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 a portion of the injuries caused by the oil spill to pelagic fish. A restored fishery and healthier Gulf will support healthy fish stocks, benefiting vessel owners and others whose livelihoods rely on the fishery. 

The project is funded from the early restoration funds provided by BP as part of the legal settlement for the spill. There is no set timeframe for this project, which began in 2017, but NFWF and NOAA anticipate it will run for an additional three to five 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 through June 30, 2020, participants will refrain from using their conventional 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 — to continue to catch and bring fish to market. These gears specifically target BAYS tunas (bigeye, albacore, yellowfin and 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 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.

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. 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 2020 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. Seven vessel owners from Louisiana and five vessel owners from Florida were selected to participate. 

Unlike previous years, participants selected in the 2020 repose will have the option to renew based on interest and review of the participant’s performance and compliance.

The project has already seen 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 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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Contact: Rob Blumenthal, 202-857-0166