• Gulf Fisheries Profiles
  • Sustainable Fisheries Management
  • Gulf Fisheries Economics
  • Enjoying Gulf Seafood

Sustainable Fisheries Management

Fish and shellfish are natural resources used by many groups, such as anglers catching fish for sport, commercial fishermen harvesting shrimp for a living, and families enjoying seafood for dinner. These important fisheries resources are renewable—they can reproduce and replenish their populations despite losses from natural causes and fishing. But they are not infinite—they must be harvested within certain limits to ensure they’re not depleted over time. Fisheries management is the process of using science to determine these limits—when, where, how, and how much fishermen can sustainably harvest—to ensure all groups can continue to share these resources for generations to come. 

Read on to learn more about how we manage our fisheries in the Gulf, keeping this unique ecosystem healthy and ensuring people will always be able to enjoy our world-famous seafood and fishing.  

Various state and federal entities manage fisheries in the Gulf. Each Gulf state is responsible for managing the fisheries that operate in state waters (out to nine nautical miles in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida; out to three nautical miles for Mississippi and Alabama). State fisheries commissions and legislatures establish fishing regulations with the assistance of state fisheries agencies that are responsible for monitoring and enforcement.

The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission works on behalf of the Gulf States to help ensure fisheries resources that cross state boundaries are managed consistently. The Commission compiles scientific data collected across the Gulf and works with its member states to make science-based management recommendations about shared fisheries.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries are responsible for monitoring and managing fisheries resources in Gulf federal waters (from state boundaries to 200 nautical miles offshore). The Council consists of representatives and stakeholders from each state. NOAA Fisheries provides the Council with scientific information and advice that enables them to sustainably manage Gulf fisheries.

The Council, NOAA Fisheries, the Gulf States, and Commission support and advise each other and work together to ensure the management of fisheries resources found in both state and federal waters is consistent across jurisdictions.

Gulf state and NOAA Fisheries enforcement agents and the U.S. Coast Guard enforce fisheries regulations. Adequate enforcement is necessary to maintain the sustainable harvest of fishery resources and prevent overfishing.

Introduction Science Management Compliance and Enforcement

The sustainable harvest of Gulf fisheries resources depends on sound science, responsible management, and effective compliance and enforcement.


Science-based management is not just a noble goal—it’s a requirement, as one of the ten national standards of sustainability in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal law that guides U.S. fisheries management. To obtain this information and properly manage the fisheries resources of the Gulf, fisheries scientists from state and federal agencies and research institutions gather and analyze fishery independent data about aquatic life and their habitats and fishery dependent data about trends in harvests. Using these data, fisheries scientists periodically develop stock assessments, reporting on the status of the stock and fishery, to inform management.

Fishery independent data

State and federal agencies are responsible for conducting and maintaining long-term surveys of fisheries resources in the Gulf. They use stringent scientific protocols, such as random sampling, to collect data on the environmental conditions of the Gulf, the various life stages of aquatic life, and the condition of important habitat. Many of these surveys are regional in nature, and rely on the cooperation of state, federal, academic institutions, and other stakeholders.

Fishery dependent data

Scientists derive these data from catch statistics from commercial and recreational fishermen of the Gulf. Fishermen and seafood dealers report the “where, when, how, and how much” information about commercial landings through trip ticket programs, electronic logbooks, and other methods. Estimates of recreational catch come from state and federal surveys of anglers. Fishery dependent data show the human impact on fisheries resources.

Other data sources/research

Managers also use socioeconomic information to assess the overall value of fishing and the impacts of changes in fisheries to coastal communities. These studies are especially important when dealing with the aftermath of large hurricanes or manmade disasters, which are common occurrences in the Gulf region. Research also involves fishery gear improvements and studies to improve reporting and monitoring of catch.


The goal of fisheries management in the Gulf is to sustain the fisheries resources (fish and shellfish), the unique ecosystems of the Gulf (habitat and other aquatic animals), and the people that depend upon these resources (commercial and recreational fishing industries and coastal communities).

Framework and process

Federal and state law establish the standards and guidelines for Gulf fisheries management. The regional councils, comprised of representatives from a variety of fishing interests, state and federal management agencies, and state commissions use the best available science to develop fishery management plans. These plans outline management goals, identify issues in the fishery, and specify measures to meet these goals and address any issues. Measures include regulating   where, when, how, and how much fishermen may fish to ensure the fisheries operate sustainably, minimizing impact to aquatic resources while maximizing the overall value of the harvests. Managers update these plans to adapt to new scientific information about fisheries resources or new issues in the fishery.

Public input

The public can participate throughout the management process, ensuring their voice is heard and they understand management actions, through the following venues:

  • Commenting on the development of fishery management plans, measures, and amendments
  • Serving on advisory panels, industry task forces, and even state and federal commissions and councils
  • Providing data through cooperative research
Compliance and Enforcement

Federal and state agencies responsible for fisheries management have divisions tasked with enforcing regulations. These agencies often partner to expand their reach and more effectively ensure fishermen are complying with the law. Enforcement checks occur on the water, at the dock, and throughout the supply chain. Enforcement agents reach out to the fishing community to ensure they’re aware of and understand all applicable management measures. Proper compliance with management measures ensures the sustainability of the Gulf fishery resources.