A Pew Environment Group study says that the Gulf of Mexico's recreational fishing industry has lost millions of dollars in recent years because of overfishing.
The organization that funded the study said the economic losses justify annual catch limits to help rebuild depleted populations of fish such as red snapper, gray triggerfish and greater amberjack, USA Today reports.
However, charter boat captains in the area insist that the Gulf has plenty of fish and say drastic reductions in fishing seasons are to blame for recreational fishing's economic losses.
From 2005-2009, 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 during 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," Holly Binns, director of Pew's fisheries program in the Southeast, told the paper.
The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated that red snapper are at only 17.5 percent of a safe population level in the Gulf.
"It has a broad, economic ripple effect," Binns, who is based in Tallahassee, Fla., told the paper. "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 told USA Today that was because of catch limits.