Switching Gears is a Win/Win

Last year, I was just beginning as GRN’s new Gulf Fish Forever campaign organizer when I wrote an article for the summer issue of our newsletter, Gulf Currents. The three main points: The Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning grounds for the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna and because of overfishing, their numbers are dangerously low.Because the BP oil disaster happened during their spawning season, their eggs and and larvae were oiled. It takes nine years for a bluefin larvae to reach spawning age and it could be generations before we know the damages done to the fishery by the oil and dispersants.Longline fishing threatens the very fragile population of bluefin tuna and many of the 80+ other species killed as bycatch. More selective gear, such as Greenstick, exists that have much less bycatch.This past year, I have come to know some of the Vietnamese American fishermen who run the 24 longline boats out of Dulac, Louisiana. These good, hard-working family men are doing their best to make a living. But between fewer fish to catch and increased costs of fuel and ice, these fishermen are being squeezed. They tell us that they are open to the possibility of switching gears if it is economically viable. But how do we make sure it’s economically viable?Right now, Dr. David Kerstetter of Nova Southeast University is working to test the viability of new Greenstick gear and finding the best techniques for fishing with it in the Gulf. The preliminary results are promising and improving with experience. Bobby Nguyen, who has been the liaison between the fishermen and the university will be on hand July 24 to update us on the pilot project.At the same time, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is midway through rule changes to manage the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna. We are working nationally with a coalition of fishing organizations, businesses and conservation groups to make sure these rule changes phase our surface longline fishing in the Gulf, move toward developing fishing gear that is less wasteful, and use funding from the BP disaster damage assessment to help longline fishermen transition to these more selective gears.Decisions are currently being made about how these BP restoration dollars are being spent, and it’s important that steps like this are taken to mitigate the damage to the Gulf’s marine environment. Plus, we expect NMFS to release the draft rules and hold a new round of hearings and comments soon. There will be lots of opportunities for you to get involved with this effort in the coming months, and one such opportunity is happening tomorrow night.Join us as on July 24 at the L’Entrepot as we honor Top Chef Masters competitors Chefs Sue Zemanick and Nick Lama of Gautreau’s, screen the season premiere of Top Chef Masters, and provide an update on the Switching Gears to Protect Bluefin Tuna Campaign. You can check out all the details, and RSVP for the event on GRN’s Facbook page, or call me at 504-525-1528, ext. 208.Harry Lowenburg is GRN’s Gulf Fish Forever Campaign Organizer.

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