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Fisheries are vital to coastal economy
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The nutrient-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico support an abundance of commercial and recreational fisheries. The health of these fisheries is critical to coastal economies, as these resources support almost 200,000 jobs across the Gulf Coast.
Before we discuss some Gulf of Mexico fisheries in detail, it’s important that we first answer the question, “What is a fishery?”
Simply put, a fishery is “the catch, harvest or raising of aquatic organisms and the people or groups who perform these actions.” The word “fishery” can describe a single species, like the spotted seatrout fishery, or it can be used to describe several similar species that are all caught with the same type of fishing gear, such as the shrimp fishery (commonly referring to the catch of white, brown and pink shrimp, among others).
The term “fishery” also generally encompasses both the commercial and recreational sectors unless otherwise stated. Lastly, the word can be used in phrases to describe multiple different regional subsets within a fishery. Examples include the United States red snapper fishery, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery and the Mississippi red snapper fishery.
The fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico support robust commercial and recreational fishing economies. To give some examples from NOAA’s most recent issue of “Fisheries Economics of the United States,” commercial landing revenue for the Gulf of Mexico in 2016 totaled more than $900 million, which accounted for 17% of all commercial landing revenue in the United States that year.
Similarly, recreational fishing expenditures in the Gulf of Mexico totaled more than $11 billion (36% of the nation’s expenditures), with recreational fishermen completing more than 19 million fishing trips (33% of the nation’s fishing trips).
The Gulf of Mexico’s most important commercial fisheries by weight and value are the Gulf menhaden and shrimp fisheries, respectively. More than 1.3 billion pounds of menhaden were landed in 2016, and the shrimp fishery brought in more than $400 million dockside.
Recreationally, spotted seatrout are the most targeted fish species in the Gulf, with more than 23 million fish caught in 2016. Red snapper were the most popular offshore species, with anglers catching more than 4 million that same year.
Although Mississippi’s coastline is small, its contributions to Gulf of Mexico marine fisheries are far from insignificant. Respectively, these fisheries generated total amounts over $218 million and $638 million during 2016. Perhaps because Mississippi is essentially at the center of the northern Gulf of Mexico, trends in Gulf-wide fisheries are largely reflected in Mississippi’s fisheries as well.
Among Mississippi’s commercial fisheries, Gulf menhaden comprised 95% of all landings by weight, with a total catch of almost 300 million pounds. However, Mississippi’s shrimp fishery was the most valuable commercial fishery, with revenue of just over $15 million. Other important Mississippi commercial fisheries include the oyster and blue crab fisheries, which together brought in just shy of $2 million at the docks.
In 2016, Mississippi saltwater anglers made 1.5 million fishing trips, 52% of which were on private boats. Another 46% were shore-based, and only 2% were charter-for-hire.
Like in the Gulf of Mexico as a whole, more fish were caught in the spotted seatrout fishery than in any other single-species fishery. Nearly 3 million spotted seatrout were caught, of which 46% were harvested and 54% were released. Red snapper was the most popular offshore fishery, with 210,000 fish caught.
Fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, including those in Mississippi, are vital to coastal economies. Thousands of people directly depend on these fisheries for their livelihoods, and millions fish them for enjoyment. Fortunately, fisheries managers in Mississippi and across the Gulf Coast are working hard to ensure that our fisheries are harvested to their fullest capacity while also remaining sustainable.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.