By Fred Garth
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - The BP oil spill saga, a fledgling US aquaculture industry and contentious red snapper management issues were some of the hot topics on tap recently at the Guy Harvey Fisheries Symposium at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus.
The two-day gathering on November 13-14 examined a broad range of issues facing the oceans, including the invasive lionfish explosion as well as the millions of dollars in RESTORE Act funding set to be allocated to the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
Headlined by famed artist and conservationist, Dr. Guy Harvey, the speakers included an all-star cast of marine scientists, non-governmental organizations, commercial and recreational fishing representatives as well as officials from state and federal regulatory agencies and local school groups. The Guy Harvey Fisheries Symposium is billed as one of the only conferences that brings together a diverse collection of interest groups - some with opposing views - to work through complex fishery issues.
"Ultimately, we all have to share the same resource," Dr. Harvey said. "One of our goals is to bring everyone together so we can better understand each other’s point of view and find solutions we can all live with."
One of the organizers, Dr. Bill Hogarth, who is the director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and a former NOAA administrator, knows the importance of working in concert, especially on controversial issues like red snapper management.
"The commercial fishing industry and recreational fishermen have been at odds for years and the shortened red snapper season has exacerbated that,” Hogarth said. “But we all have the common goal of a sustainable fishery so we have to work hard to achieve that while being sensitive to the needs of all the stakeholder groups."
The panel covering red snapper management included the president of Florida’s Coastal Conservation Association, Jeff Miller, who represents recreational fishermen and longtime commercial fisherman Jason De La Cruz. It was rounded out by Dr. Roy Crabtree of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Dr. Greg Stunz of Texas A&M University, Dr. Will Patterson of the University of South Alabama and Dr. Bob Shipp, who was director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Mobile, Alabama for more than 30 years.
"In addition to buying boats and fishing gear, recreational fishermen contribute generously to conservation organizations like the CCA," Miller said. “They also create the majority of the funding for state conservation efforts through fishing license purchases."
Much of the discussion on the second day of the symposium focused on the Restore Act, which is being funded by penalties paid by BP and TransOcean for their roles in the DeepWater Horizon disaster.
A panel with representatives from each state as well as NOAA, outlined the complex funding mechanism and the process of how monies will be awarded. RESTORE is an acronym for Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012.
A panel with representatives from each state as well as NOAA, outlined the complex funding mechanism and the process of how monies will be awarded.
Don Kent, President of the Hubbs SeaWorld Institute led the panel on aquaculture highlighting the need to promote better seafood growing conditions in the US.
"The regulations have forced aquaculture to other countries," Kent said. "There’s a company in Mexico growing red drum [redfish] and selling them to the US market. Why aren’t we growing those fish here?"
The US imports some 80% of the seafood it consumes yet only contributes about 1% to the planet’s overall aquaculture production.
One of the most publicized and pressing issues facing the coastal areas in the Southeastern US and Caribbean is the rapid expansion of invasive lionfish. Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish were accidentally introduced to Florida waters in the 1980s. Now they populate reefs from New England to South America. A panel discussion centered on how we still need to learn how to effectively eradicate them from the reefs. A remote Skype broadcast during the symposium from the
Research Vessel Weatherbird showed how traps might be used to control lionfish.
Among the hundreds of attendees to the symposium were dozens of high school and college students as well as teachers who were treated to the latest marine science research and a special showing of Dr. Harvey’s award-winning film, Sharks of the World.
The symposium was sponsored by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Guy Harvey Magazine, Fresh From Florida, the
Florida Institute of Oceanography, the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Association, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Florida Attractions Association.
The third Guy Harvey Fisheries Symposium is tentatively slated for September 2015. For more information go to: www.guyharveyfisheriessymposium.com