The US coastline of the Gulf of Mexico is 1631 miles, roughly the distance from Portland, ME to Miami, FL. If you include all the bays and inlets, the distance increases 10-fold. I can certainly see that from the maps I’ve been looking at—hence the attraction of ferries. My route is around 700 miles, about a third or so of the total. Almost all of that is in Texas.
Fisheries landings in the Gulf region were worth around $630M in 2009, about 16% of the US total. The Gulf was the third region by value, after the North Pacific (lots of species, including crabs, salmon, pollock, and halibut) and New England (super-popular scallops and lobsters). For the Gulf, the money species is and has been shrimp. Forget that blackened redfish, those groupers and snappers. Shrimp is what people are willing to pay big money for. Or were willing to. Competition from cheap farm-raised imported shrimp has driven the price shrimpers can command down dramatically in the last 10 years. (I can feel another post coming on contrasting what American fishermen catch and what Americans eat.) Shrimp prices decreased 33% per pound in real dollars. Total revenue from shrimp decreased 50% in real dollars. This drastic reduction is reflected in the fishing port statistics. In 2000, 10 of the top 20 fishing ports in the US were in the Gulf (two were menhaden ports). In 2010, the Gulf was down to five in the top 20, (one menhaden port). After shrimp, the next most valuable species are oysters and blue crabs, both much more valuable than any fish species. (Except menhaden. I’ll write about menhaden later.)
When I made my roadtrip plans, I hadn’t found the map below yet. I did my analysis based on 2010 data from NMFS charts, then started looking at maps. Key West was too far from anywhere, so a trip starting in Texas and ending in Louisiana made sense. The 2010 NMFS database didn’t show anything in AL. But the map does. At some point it hit me—2010 wasn’t just the most recent data from NMFS. It was the year of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf. For many fishermen in the Gulf, the word “disaster” is far too mild. The hardest hit major port was Bayou La Batre, at the mouth of Mobile Bay. It dropped from 24th in the country in 2009 to 86th in 2010, all but taking it off the charts (fish geek alert: I think the data behind the map are actually from 2009). Of course many ports too small to show up in the charts were wiped out as well, along with their fishermen. As for the major ports, nearby (but away from the oil) Dulac/Chauvin, LA dropped as well, from 10th to 19th. Two ports well outside the oiled areas, Port Arthur and Key West actually went up in the rankings. The other Texas ports seemed unaffected. The graph of Bayou La Batre’s landings over the years below shows the staggering impact of the Deepwater Disaster.
Tomorrow I get up very early for a flight to Brownsville. I’m looking forward to finally hearing about the human side of all these statistics and seeing what the fishermen are catching. And eating some of it.
from NMFS, Fisheries of the United States 2010
Does any phrase other than “fell off a cliff” capture this?