The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is made up of people that have experience, expertise, and interest in the fishery. The chairman of the Council’s Reef Fish Committee is no exception. In fact, he is one of the most well known fisheries scientists across the Gulf coast.
Dr. Bob Shipp has spent his life researching and appreciating the fish of the Gulf of Mexico. His passion for the ocean was ignited at the early age of 4 by his grandfather with whom he enjoyed countless hours of surf fishing from the shores of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. As he grew a bit older he and his cousins spent summers snorkeling jetties and piers collecting fish and invertebrates for aquariums. Eventually, Bob got into SCUBA diving when it was first becoming a recreational activity.
During his childhood Dr. Shipp moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where he began his academic pursuit of fisheries. He focused on marine biology as much as he could, making it the topic of every school project possible. Dr. Shipp explains “My friends from those days joke with me now for being the only one of the group that followed through with my harebrained teenage career dreams.”
After graduating from Spring Hill College, Dr. Shipp attended Florida State University where he earned his master’s degree and PhD. Shortly thereafter he began working for the University of South Alabama teaching anatomy and physiology. He quickly moved into a fisheries biology position where his career flourished. He chaired the biology department and served as the acting director at the Sea Lab on Dauphin Island. He recently retired after serving 20 years as the chairman of the Department of Marine Sciences.
In addition to his work with the university, Dr. Shipp served for 12 years as the Director for the Alabama chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association. He has also been a judge for the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo since 1982. He authors articles for multiple magazines and scientific papers, and he published “Dr. Bob Shipp’s Guide to Fishes of theGulf of Mexico.”
Dr. Bob Shipp answered a few questions to give us some insight on his perspective of our Gulf fishery.
What is the most important issue in our fishery right now?
“I’m concerned that federal fishery law (the Magnuson-Stevens Act) prevents the Council from trying innovative fishery management techniques. Requiring species to be managed using quotas prevents the use of tools like Marine Protected Areas to manage our fish. Our hands are tied by the Act and it shows – the red snapper stock is healthier than it’s ever been, and we still have shorter and shorter fishing seasons – we obviously need the freedom to try something different.”
What can the Gulf Council do to improve management?
“The Council’s options are very few. Under the current system we can only tweak things rather than solve problems. The idea of Regional Management, for example, still only allows the Council to change some minor management measures like seasons and bag limits, while the major problems still remain.”
“There are two alternatives for our future; either Congress frees the hands of NOAA Fisheries so they have the freedom to manage properly, or the states will take more control. Either way, we can’t manage effectively if things remain as they are.”
Do you have a favorite fishing story to share?
“I have a group of close friends that I went to high school with who wanted to experience some yellowfin tuna fishing. They are mostly freshwater fishermen and had not had the opportunity to spend much time off-shore. We all got together for a weekend after 41 years apart, and spent the day 100 miles out catching yellowfin. I had so much fun watching them experience such an amazing day on the water. We used kite baits, and at one point the tuna were leaping 8 feet out of the water. The excitement really transported us all back to our giddy 15-year-old selves again, and for that reason we now make the trip an annual event. It’s always one of my favorite outings of the year.”