The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most productive fishing areas in the world. Its waters offer excellent opportunities to fish for a variety of species and sizes. The average size and quality of gulf-caught fish are extremely good, especially when compared with catches from recreational fisheries elsewhere in the United States. In addition to its outstanding potential for anglers, this area provides great opportunities for marine research and development because it affords easy access to environmental conditions in a temperate environment that is relatively unaltered by human activities.
For many years, marine scientists have found life cycles, reproductive patterns, feeding habits, production rates and other details of special interest in gulf waters that are different from those of the Atlantic coast. In addition, a great deal is yet to be learned about gulf marine life before effective conservation programs can be established for commercial and recreational fisheries.
Of special interest are fish of different sizes and age groups found in salt-water lakes bordered by barrier islands like those along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The young-of-the-year fishes that are produced in these waters offer a source for restocking once they are captured or raised in hatcheries.
A comparison of catches from each side illustrates some interesting facts about fishing in this area compared with fishing attempts on the east coast. Gulf states normally receive larger catches than any other region of the United States–and often more than all other states combined. The largest catch reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1971, for example, was 1,612 sailfish caught by one angler off Louisiana.
The fishing environment of the Gulf is ideal for deep-sea fishing sports enthusiasts and commercial fishermen alike. It is a saltwater area of rich productivity supporting all manner of marine life from tiny organisms to large fishes and sharks (including such species as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and mako shark). Gulf waters have long been important natural resources known for their abundant supply of shrimp, crab, oysters, clams, scallops and finfish that provide food in coastal areas through direct or indirect dependence on these resources. The same gulf waters also offer excellent opportunities for deep-sea fishing sports enthusiasts and commercial fishermen alike.
The greatest fishing potential of the gulf, however, lies in its waters’ yield of food-fish species. In terms of overall size, pompano is probably the most important recreational fishery resource taken from Gulf waters; they have been considered the standard for comparison in many fisheries studies in recent years. Although flounder catches historically were considerable, a drastic reduction in catch size has occurred during recent years as a result of overfishing and other factors.
Many fish brought to land or boated are often released alive by anglers who use catch records for contests or “keepers” to provide meals at home. Since 1950 Texas has had a special commission that has supervised the use of fish, crustaceans and molluscs for stocking in inland waters. A part of the Atlantic coast also receives fish from gulf waters, but not to the extent used on the Texas coast.