Observed and Potential Impacts on the Fishing Industry

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An Economic Dimension

As the hypoxic zone of the Gulf of Mexico grows larger, the economic concern for Gulf fisheries has increased. The $680 billion Gulf fishing industry has great reason to be alarmed. The Dead Zone, measuring to 7,000 square miles, has decreased the potential space to commercial industries considerably. Almost 40% of the country's commercial fishing yield comes from the fisheries based on the Gulf waters (Fox 1998). It is the one of the largest bases for the nation's supply of fish, oysters, crab, and shrimp. The Gulf's fishing industry has been known to supply an amazing variety of fish. In Louisiana alone, the commerical fishing industry is valued at over one-half billion dollars annually, and yields over $1.2 billion in Louisiana's economic activity (Hanifen 1997). An intense hypoxic impact in the Gulf waters will not only affect the economy of the commercial fishery industry on the Gulf, but also throughout the nation. On a smaller scale, the income and success of every individual dependent on these industries will also experience a grand effect upon their livelihood. On a regional scale, it has been said that there are approximately 200,000 workers within the Gulf fishing industry that have an economic impact calculated to about $5 billion (McQuaid 1996). Fishermen can no longer maintain their supply from the Gulf waters.

In order to understand the relationships between environmental factors and coastal fisheries, it is crucial to consider both the environmental impact on the Gulf waters and the related economic impact on the lives and industries dependent on these waters. The economic impacts caused by the Gulf hypoxic zone are the easiest to see, and are essential to consider in order to gain a complete understanding of the hypoxic zone's threat on Gulf fisheries. The construction of fishery industries are complex, and are defined by economics as much as they are by ecology. This threat has caused differentiation in the fishery species distribution, altered migration patterens, stress and direct mortality, and loss of adequate habitat for spawning. These ecological changes have a direct impact on the economy of Gulf fisheries, and other related industries.

Communities of mobile species will essentially flee the hypoxic conditions to an area with adequate oxygen supply, and fail to re-enter the zone until certain conditions are met (Hanifen 1997). They will most likely surround the borders of the hypoxic zone, which limits the target area in which the fisheries depend. This limitation of space may potentially lead to local overharvest (Hanifen 1997). The increase in human activity is forced into a smaller, more defined area, therefore the potential of an overharvest is much higher. Even though this has not yet been a prominent threat upon the fishing industry, it holds great potential in future years. We are able to see the devastating impacts over fishing has had on other areas, such as in New England. Lower and lower catches within more and more restricted areas causes for there to be great concern for the productivity and overall success of commercial fisheries.

Communities of non-mobile species will most definitely lead to mortality, decreasing the overall potential harvest gained by Gulf fisheries. Decreased catch in the commercial fishery may affect a numerous amount of interrelated industries, including seafood producers, restuarants and their consumers, and other industries dependent upon tourism (Hanifen 1997). The decrease in fish populations and the associated worldwide markets, has forced Gulf fisheries to compete with cheaper priced imports. In 1986, the value of fish within the Gulf was $744 million, which was determined under the conditions of inflation and increased competition (McQuaid 1996). The year of 1994 marked the "best catch in years" at $544 million, a 27% decline (McQuaid 1996).

The most economically important fish in the Gulf is shrimp. Within the entire Gulf fishery industry, the shrimp industry is valued at $400 million. It is shrimp, and the associated industries that have been affected the most. In the early 80's the value of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico fell 35%, adjusted for inflation (McQuiad 1996). The participants within the shrimp fishing industry are expending more time then ever before, and are still catching below their minimal supply. Competition with cheaper imports adds to the problems faced by these fisheries.

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