Preserving the natural diversity of ocean ecosystems will help ensure abundant fish, bountiful seafood, and recreational opportunities for generations to come.
The Gulf of Mexico is an environmental and economic treasure. Within its 600,000 square miles lie natural wonders and habitats ranging from an underwater Grand Canyon 12,000 feet deep to coral reefs and one of the largest contiguous seagrass beds in the Northern Hemisphere. As the world’s ninth-largest body of water, the Gulf is also an economic engine that supports millions of people and jobs.
The extent of damage caused by the 2010 oil spill remains unknown. But the disaster lends urgency to protecting the Gulf’s resources, including its diverse bounty of fish. Major progress has been achieved toward ending and preventing overfishing through federally required science-based annual catch limits. We must build on that success by ensuring depleted species recover to healthy levels, protecting habitat where fish live and spawn, safeguarding marine food webs, implementing policies to address the impacts of climate change on fish populations, and reducing unintentional catch of fish and other marine species by fishermen pursuing other targets. Too often, these animals are thrown back and do not survive.
Taken together, these efforts - known as ecosystem-based fisheries management - can help build a more resilient ecosystem that has already endured decades of overfishing and stressors ranging from pollution to habitat loss. It is time to stop managing marine resources piecemeal but rather embrace a holistic approach that considers the interactions among prey and predator and the important roles played by marine life in the greater ecosystem.