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Commercial fishermen concerned recreational fishing is leading to overfishing

Matlacha Fishing boats
Posted at 9:46 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 19:26:28-04

Cobia, Lane Snapper, Greater Amberjack, Gag Grouper, and Gulf of Mexico Jacks Complex — these are all fish you can catch out in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of you have probably eaten, any, or all these fish, but they're also being overfished, or close to it, according to NOAA, and its annual report on American fisheries.

This report has some commercial fisherman concerned about their own livelihood, and what they say is the lack of oversight for recreational fishing.

"There are plenty of fish out here to be caught,” said Captain Matt Sexton for the Small Shellfishing vessel. “Everyone should have equal chance to catch fish out here, but there are a lot of rules and regulations that are going on that are not fair to the commercial fishermen."

Those same concerns were repeated by boat captains readying their boats for their next trip.

Fishing captain Casey Streeter also owns Island Seafood Market in Matlacha. He says a big part of the problem isn't coming from commercial or charter fishing, but rather recreational fishing; and a lack of knowledge about how much fish is actually being removed from the ecosystem.

"In our recreational fishery, there is no mandatory reporting, at least here in the state of Florida, everything is done on estimates and guesses,” said Streeter. “We are not really even sure how many fishermen we really have in our recreational fishery here in the Gulf. We are not sure how many trips they take, how many fish they take."

Without tracking the number of fish caught recreationally, Streeter says it could be very easy to overfish a particular species across all user groups.

"You are talking about 300 or so boats that are participating every day in our commercial fishery,” said Streeter. “When in our recreational fishery it could be upwards of 3,4,5 hundred thousand anglers per year, but they don't know and it's a huge number. Because if we have a million-pound quota and we had maybe 5-hundred thousand anglers. If everyone on every given day caught 10 pounds of fish, we are going to exceed our quota."

Streeter believes with better reporting of how many fish are taken recreationally it will improve the overall fishery, which is something commercial fishing has done forever and something charter fishing started to do last year.

"We need better reporting,” said Streeter. “We need, whether it is federal fishing permits, so we can understand how many anglers we have out there and the volume of anglers we have. Mandatory reporting like some of the states like Alabama and Mississippi have in tails and scales."

Streeter also says the constant catching and releasing can harm the health of available fish.

"When we catch these fish and release them it is actually not good for them, because of a barotrauma, predation on the way back down, there are a lot of factors if you offshore fish that you know, most of these fish are not going to survive," said Streeter.

Commercial fishermen are likely looking at a reduced fishing quota in 2023. That means fewer fish at a higher cost on your dinner table and less money in our local fishermen's pockets.