Overfishing cost Southeast commercial fishermen $15.2 million in just one year, according to a recent report.
An analysis commissioned by the Pew Environment Group shows commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic lost $12.3 million and $2.9 million respectively in 2009 due to population declines in important species, such as red snapper and gag grouper.
Revenues could have been between 16 and 32 percent higher if several fish populations were at healthier levels.
The one-year snapshot shows the direct impact of chronic overfishing— catching fish faster than they can reproduce.
The figures underscore the need for scientifically sound catch limits to help restore depleted species that support businesses.
The study, conducted by the non-profit research organization, Ecotrust, examined dwindling species and calculated how much more fish commercial fishermen would have been allowed to catch if populations were at healthy levels.
The Ecotrust study found Gulf of Mexico commercial fishermen in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas would have been able to catch more red snapper, gag grouper, gray triggerfish and greater amberjack if populations had been robust.
The analysis comes just weeks before fishery managers are set to consider new protections for Gulf of Mexico gag grouper and sweeping plans in both regions to prevent overfishing through new catch limits on dozens of species. The preventive plans are meant to conserve fish before species potentially plummet to dangerously low population levels.
The species analyzed by Ecotrust have been at unsustainably low population levels for years or even decades. The financial loss due to those lower populations have likely spanned many years and may continue.
The calculated losses represent just a small fraction of the total cost of overfishing.
Although not addressed in this study, full costs extend to the broader commercial fishing industry, recreational fishermen and coastal communities.