Fishing Industry

The Abrams Family also owns Tarpon Dock Seafood Market and Greg Abrams Seafood which is where our seafood comes from daily. Both are located in the heart of Panama City and was founded by Greg Abrams. With a large fleet of commercial fishing boats that unload daily at their own dock, they not only supply local restaurants, but they also supply seafood to various markets and restaurants in the Atlanta, GA, Birmingham, AL and all up the North East Coast! With all that being said, this industry has it's challenges and below you will find up to date information about the commercial fishing industry and how if affects the supply of the fresh seafood we all love to eat!

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses stock assessments to assess the status of fish species. A critical component of stock assessments is catch data from commercial, charter for hire, and private recreational (PR) fishers. Catch data includes, but is not limited to, effort (amount of fishing by individuals and gear), harvest (landed), discards, and discard mortality. The majority of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are prosecuted by all three sectors with assigned allocations based on social, economic, and catch data. As all should know, commercial fishers provide a product to consumers through wholesale and retail markets and restaurants. Charter-for-hire fishers provide the platforms and experience for recreational anglers to fish. Private recreational anglers fish for sport and to enjoy eating what they catch. Commercial fishers' vessels are regulated by state and federal permits, must have a vessel monitoring system (VMS) that tracks their every movement of the vessel from departure to return, must report their catch for every trip, and are required to carry NMFS observers to observe their fishing activities. Their trip reports include the species landed, those discarded, and how many discards were released dead or dying.

Charter for hire fishers vessels must have state fishing licenses and federal permits if they fish in federal waters. The vessels with federal permits must have a VMS that tracks their departure and return and they also must report every trip made listing the species landed and discarded. Their trip data must also list the departure and return dock, the length of trip, how many anglers on board, fuel used, and cost of the trip. Private recreational fishers must have a state fishing license but there is no requirement for a federal license. PR fishers catch data is collected by random surveys conducted by federal and state resource agencies. There are two surveys, effort and catch. The effort surveys are done by mail sent to randomly selected coastal households. The mail survey is called the Marine Recreational Information Program - Fishing Effort Survey (FES). This FES survey samples less than 5% of PR fishers The PR catch is collected by random dockside intercepts where dockside samplers will randomly select various PR landing sites and check the catch of randomly selected PR fishers where they check the species landed, length and weight, and ask what and how many were discarded. Then the PR effort and catch data are multiplied together producing the PR weight per species landed across the Gulf. In addition to the licenses and permits mentioned above, the NMFS Highly Migratory Species (HMS) division requires everyone fishing for HMS species (sharks, tunas, and billfishes) to have a HMS permit. Currently there are over 5,000 PR HMS vessel permits issued in the Gulf of Mexico. With the exception of the HMS permit, the only vessels required to have a federal vessel permit are commercial and charter for hire vessels.

Currently there are no federal fishing permits required on PR vessels fishing in federal waters. The state and federal agencies have an exact number of commercial and charter for hire vessels fishing in federal waters. They have no clue of the number of PR vessels fishing. The PR effort numbers are generated solely by the randomly mailed FES survey. While these numbers can be high or low, there is a serious need to know the real number of PR vessels fishing. In most data surveys the effort, and resulting catch, information is highly questionable which leads to questionable stock assessments which leads to questionable stock status. Our experience on the water with communications with all fishers tells us that the PR fishers want to provide real effort and catch data rather than that produced by random estimated surveys. These fishers want their numbers known, what they catch, what the discard, so their sector can be accountable like the commercial and charter-for-hire sectors. A request to require PR vessel permits fishing in federal waters was recently presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Several NMFS staff and scientists support the permit. This permit would only be required if fishing federal waters. The permit would provide a real number of PR vessels fishing and along with a required trip reporting system would dramatically improve the PR fishing data thus dramatically improving stock assessments.

In a recent federal court filing, the State of Louisiana suggests that private anglers are unmanageable because they are too numerous. But HMS and agencies across the country manage recreational fishing, including through permits, licensing and reporting requirements (anglers must possess a "catch record card" to fish for salmon and other species, must write down the date, location and species of each fish caught, and return the card to the state agency each year). Indeed, the National Academy of Sciences recently issued a report to Congress with recommendations for improving management of private anglers (recommending "harvest tags or day passes for private anglers" that "foster accountability while enhancing fishing experiences and opportunities to heterogeneous groups of anglers"). Solutions, such as a federal permit and required trip reporting, exist to reduce bycatch and improve catch accounting in the recreational sector. We firmly believe Louisiana is wrong. To that point, Louisiana has developed their own fishery data program, LA Creel, where they know exactly how many anglers fish and what they catch. If we are to have complete stock assessments to determine accurate stock status of our fisheries so that the resources and all users can benefit, we must all work together to provide the best data we can. The old saying "garbage in, garbage out" has never been so true when applied to fishery data. Good data, based on reliable data programs, will produce good assessments and more accurate stock status.

There are many misnomers about Commercial Fishing and Commercial Fishers. We provide the truth about the professional and dedicated fishers who provide consumers with Fresh Caught Gulf of Mexico Seafood. The commercial fishing vessels and operations of the Gulf of Mexico are small family-owned businesses, many multi-generational, who work hard under multiple local, state, and federal regulations. Many localities require business licenses for these vessels to operate. The fish harvested must be kept in highly regulated and controlled ice holds so the fish are kept fresh and ready for consumption. There is an Internationally Recognized Method of identifying and managing food safety, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), that all commercial fishing vessels must use, along with every fish processing business where the fish are landed, to ensure your seafood is fresh and safe to eat. This process ensures that the harvested fish are kept at the right temperatures and the facilities are clean and safe for storage until they are in the retail market or restaurant.

In addition to the health requirements, commercial fishers must undergo extensive training to ensure the safety of the crews and vessels they operate, to ensure the proper care of any endangered species such as sea turtles and other marine mammals they may encounter are properly cared for and released unharmed. Each vessel is required to carry specialized equipment and instructions to properly release these rarely caught animals. The crews are also required to take periodic classes on how to handle these animals as well as to identify all shark species that may be inadvertently caught. The U.S. Coast Guard requires specialized safety equipment such as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) which provide the vessel location and immediately sends a signal to the USCG should a vessel have a serious problem offshore. They require special emergency flares, automatic inflating life rafts, and other life saving equipment, all of which must be reinspected or replaced on a regular basis. All of these requirements and equipment are expensive and time consuming to the vessel owners but all work to ensure the safety of the crews and vessels and freshness of the fish harvested for consumers. In addition to the multitude of regulatory training and equipment, every fish harvested is strictly controlled by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act (MSA) was implemented in 1976 to ensure that all fish species in U. S. waters are controlled and managed to sustainable levels. The NMFS requires a federal permit to harvest federally managed fish and sets strict quotas, size limits, harvest limits, and other requirements. The Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper and Grouper commercial fisheries are managed by Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) that work to keep all of these commercially harvested fish within their allowed quotas. This prevents any possible quota over runs which ensures the species are sustainably managed. As part of the IFQ program every fish landed under an IFQ and sold to a fish processor is charged an administrative fee of 3% of the price per pound. This fee is collected by the NMFS and is used to administer and provide enforcement to the IFQ program. The fish dealer records and collects the 3% fee and sends it to the NMFS. IFQs also help to reduce discards and discard mortality of these species which provides for more sustainability. In addition to the harvest requirements, the NMFS requires each commercial fishing vessel to have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) that is required to be operational 24/7 and monitors every vessel location from departure to return. Every vessel must report every departure and must report, a minimum of 3 hours before landing, the species onboard, approximate poundage, and landing location.

Periodically NMFS enforcement will meet a vessel upon return to further ensure the harvest is what was reported before landing. Every commercial vessel fishing federally managed fish must land and sell to a federally permitted fish processor. Extensive and redundant records of the fish harvested, released, and locations of harvest are kept, processed, and provided to state and federal agencies. This provides the records of what the commercial fishers have caught and processed. Multiple regulatory agencies monitor and record all vessel activities. Any deviation from the these requirements can result in extensive fines, and/or, permit sanctions or confiscation. You can clearly understand that commercial fishers are among the most regulated and their compliance is the best among fishers across the country. As with the farmers who harvest food from the land to provide safe and healthy products for consumers, fishers (the farmers of the sea) harvest fresh healthy seafood for consumers!
The For Hire Charter Fishing vessel fleet in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as other parts of the country, varies in many ways. Most for hire charter fishing operations, just like most commercial fishing operations, are small family businesses that are 2nd, 3rd, and more generations. For hire vessels range in size from small center consul type vessels, typically called guide boats, that can carry up to 4 anglers and some can carry up to 6 anglers. There are larger sportfishing type vessels that can carry up to 6 anglers with some of the larger sportfishing type vessels that are U.S. Coast Guard Certified and they can carry more than 6 anglers with their passenger capacity limited by their the USCG COI. There are also large multi passenger vessels, typically called headboats because they charge by the head, that are USCG Certified to carry up to a 100 or more passengers.

All vessels that carry passengers for hire on the navigable waters of the U.S. must have a USCG Licensed Captain and those that carry more than 6 passengers must have the required number of crew members according to the vessel certificate of inspection. All for hire vessels must have the USCG required safety equipment and the crews must go through periodic safety drills to ensure the safe operation of the vessel and safety of the passengers and crew onboard. In addition to the required safety training every crew member on a for hire vessel must be enrolled in a drug and alcohol consortium and be subject to random drug testing. In the Gulf of Mexico for hire vessels must have a state for hire fishing license from the state they operate from. In addition, the for hire vessels that fish in federal waters must have the required federal permit to fish for reef fish, coastal pelagics, and highly migratory species. For hire vessels without these permits are not allowed to fish in federal waters. Many fish species are regulated by the states and federal government and have size and bag limits and fixed fishing seasons. All fish have some type of regulation. In the Gulf many for hire vessels are dually permitted, permitted for recreational fishing and permitted for commercial fishing. These vessels cannot do both types of fishing on the same trip. Those vessels with commercial fishing permits must also meet all of the commercial fishing regulations and requirements. Every federally permitted for hire vessel must complete a fishing trip report for every trip they take. This is done electronically with a smart device and they also must have a vessel monitoring system (VMS) that monitors the vessel movement from departure to return (just like commercial fishing vessels). The trip reporting and vms requirements ensure that the for hire charter fleet is fully accountable (just like the commercial vessels) for how much effort and catch they have so their fishing data reflects what they catch and discard. State licensed only for hire vessels are not required to comply with this reporting of fishery data. The required reporting by commercial and federal for hire vessels ensures what they catch is fully recorded so the government has good information for their stock assessments where they determine the status of the stocks.

For hire charter vessels provide the platforms for anglers to recreationally fish. These professional owners and operators are able to take anglers to the best fishing grounds to ensure an enjoyable experience on the water and a good catch. Much like commercial vessels provide fresh Gulf seafood to consumers, for hire charter vessels provide the opportunity for anglers to catch fresh Gulf seafood to enjoy with family and friends. In many areas some restaurants provide a “hook and cook” experience (where the fresh fish caught is prepared in the restaurant) so they can enjoy what they caught moments after they get back to the dock. Both for hire charter and commercial fishing vessels provide a valuable service to the public and their crews work hard to ensure the fish stocks are sustainably managed so their services can continue year after year. The for hire charter and commercial fishing fleets work together on many management and regulatory issues so our marine resources remain viable for future generations. Consumer and angler satisfaction is paramount to both fleets success. The services provided by both fleets also provide social and economic benefits to their local communities and working waterfronts. Fishing and providing fresh fish is a long standing historical activity. Generations of families have and still are operating fishing activities today and are working hard to ensure future generations will be able to continue this heritage.
The below information is for all to read to have a better understanding of how our fishery resources are managed. Commercial fishers spend days catching fresh Gulf of Mexico seafood to supply retail markets and restaurants with fresh American seafood to provide for their consumers. For hire charter boat operators provide access to the fishery resources for those folks who visit the coast on vacation so they can enjoy the experience of catching their own fresh seafood of which they can cook for themselves, or they can take the cleaned fish to local restaurants to have it cooked for them.

Commercial fishers sell their fish to local seafood processors who then sell the fish to retailers and restaurants. Consumers can enjoy this fresh caught seafood that has been harvested for them. Most all the commercial fishing vessels, seafood processors, for hire charter boat owners, and local restaurants are owned and operated by small families, many who are multi-generational whose families have fished, processed, and chartered for years. All these small family businesses are heavily regulated by several local, state, and federal agencies. These regulations help to ensure the fish are fresh, the vessels are safely and environmentally operated, and that the processors process the fish in a healthy environment to ensure the fish are safe to eat. All fish harvested from the waters of the United States are regulated by the Magnuson Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act that became law in 1976.

The MSA created 8Regional Fishery Management Councils and the Gulf of Mexico is managed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. This council has 17 members of which 11 members are recommended by the 5 Gulf State Governors and then appointed to the Council by the Secretary of Commerce. The MSA requires the Secretary of Commerce to appoint the members to ensure a fair and balanced representation of commercial and recreational representatives. Over the past 2 years, the SOC has appointed more recreational members than commercial members. Currently the Gulf Council now has only 1 commercial representative and 6 recreational members who are all members of 1 recreational organization, Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). At the recent Gulf Council meeting, more than 100 professional commercial fishers, for hire charters, processors, and restaurant owners testified that the Gulf red snapper fishery is in decline, and they did not recommend any increase in the allowed quota to be caught. These professionals, most with decades of fishing experience, all agree that the red snapper fishery needs a rest so the stock can stay healthy and sustainable so fresh red snapper can continue to be provided to consumers and fishers. Unfortunately, the CCA representatives fought for and voted for over a 1.2-million-pound increase in the quota. CCA and their other organizational partners argue that recreational anglers enjoy the fishing experience whether they catch fish or not and by increasing the quota they will have more days to fish. In the process of the fishing experience, those who catch small undersized fish and those who fish for large fish all throw back those fish dead. The increased amount of dead discards will harm the overall stock of fish which will result in fewer available fish in the future.

We are working to inform the public, consumers, anglers wishing to hire charter boats, restaurant owners, retail market owners, and others as to how their fisheries are managed and what needs to be done to ensure fair and balanced representation to ensure the resource is managed fairly for all. The MSA requires that managers manage to ensure the resource is sustainable and available to all users, commercial, charter, and private recreational. We fully support sustainable fisheries and fair access for all. Stay tuned to this site for future updates regarding this information. Also, feel free to ask questions as we will work to provide you the real sto