The Gulf of Mexico's recreational fishing industry has lost millions of dollars in recent years because of overfishing, a study from a national environmental group says.
The economic losses justify annual catch limits to help rebuild depleted populations of fish such as red snapper, gray triggerfish and greater amberjack, according to the organization that paid for the study, the Pew Environment Group.
However, charter boat captains in this area insist the Gulf has plenty of fish and say drastic reductions in fishing seasons are to blame for recreational fishing's economic losses.
From 2005 to 2009, direct spending losses in the Gulf amounted to an average of $13 million annually because of fewer fishing trips targeting red snapper alone, according to the study conducted by the nonprofit consulting firm Ecotrust of Portland, Ore. Direct losses represent money not spent on boat rentals or charter fees, tackle, bait and fuel.
Broader economic losses associated with the recreational red snapper industry -- which includes money not spent at hotels, restaurants and wholesale suppliers -- amount to $33 million in that period.
"The study found that had species like Gulf of Mexico red snapper been healthy, there could have been a lot more recreational fishing trips taken to target these fish," said Holly Binns, director of Pew's fisheries program in the Southeast.
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that red snapper are at only 17.5 percent of a safe population level in the Gulf.
"It has a broad, economic ripple effect," said Binns, who is based in Tallahassee, Fla. "When these species are depleted, you lose the opportunity for recreational anglers to catch them. It makes a pretty strong case for continuing efforts to rebuild these depleted species."
Paul Redman Jr., president of the Pensacola Charter Boat Association, agrees that the private fishing industry has suffered millions of dollars in losses in recent years but scoffs at the idea that those losses are caused from overfishing.