The Gulf of Mexico's marine fish resources are under the regulatory control of the federal government via the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and individual state governments through their lead marine resource agencies. The federal government manages marine species pursuant to the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (FCMA), originally drafted by Congress in 1976.
Before 1976, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico and across the nation were fished by both domestic and foreign vessels. The FCMA "Americanized" our seas by creating an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending from the shoreline out 200 miles, in which only domestic or approved foreign vessels could fish. Under this new jurisdictional scheme, the states control from their shoreline to three miles into the Gulf of Mexico, with the exceptions of the west coast of Florida and Texas, which control nine miles into the Gulf. The federal government controls the remaining waters in the EEZ.
The five Gulf state agencies that govern marine resource management include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The FCMA also established the general framework for managing the Gulf's fisheries for the benefit of the nation. One of the most important provisions of the original FCMA was the establishment of eight regional fishery management councils to co-manage our nation's fisheries with the NMFS. The members of these councils must be residents of a coastal state and knowledgeable in fisheries issues. In the Gulf, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) represents the five Gulf states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The role of the Gulf Council is to draft fishery management plans that will manage commercially and recreationally important species in the federal waters of the Gulf. These plans are then submitted to NMFS for review, and they will be implemented if they are consistent with the best available scientific information and appropriate legal requirements.
In 1996, the FCMA was amended through the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA), drastically altering the focus of fisheries management. After major fishery management disasters, including the collapse of important fisheries in New England, Congress prescribed strict provisions for ending excessive fishing pressure on fish species, rebuilding depleted fish stocks, identifying and reducing "bycatch," and the identification and protection of habitats essential to our nation's managed fish species.
The Gulf Council meets in various locations across the Gulf of Mexico six times per year to formulate fishery management regulations for Gulf species. There are currently 57 species managed jointly by the Gulf Council and NMFS under seven fishery management plans: reef fish, red drum, shrimp, spiny lobster, corals, coastal migratory pelagics, and stone crab. The NMFS has direct management authority over highly migratory species, including sharks, sailfish, and tuna. The states have direct management authority over species that reside almost exclusively in state waters, such as oysters, crabs, and speckled trout. States work in cooperation with each other on management plans through the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, which also manages the menhaden or poagie fishery.
The majority of marine and estuarine fish species not directly managed by the Gulf Council or the states fall under the control of NMFS, or the Fish and Wildlife Service for anadromous species such as sturgeon. Management authority is generally only exercised if these species are endangered or threatened. Visit the species at risk section of our website to learn more about managing vulnerable species in the Gulf region.