Monday, September 29, 2014

Meet the Council: Two Newest Members of the Council

Dr. Crabtree swears in the two newest Council members
and Pam Dana renews her vows for her second term.

Members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are responsible for making important decisions for our fishery.  Luckily, the Council is populated with a variety of incredibly knowledgeable people with different perspectives about the resource. The two newest members of the Gulf Council are no exception.

Dr. Greg Stunz 
is a professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas. He also serves as the Director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation and Endowed Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health at the Harte Research Institute. 

Following his passion for fishing has taken him from the creek banks of the Texas Hill Country where he grew up, all the way to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to imagine that as a small boy this man was squeamish to bait his own hook or fillet his own catch especially since these days he makes a habit of wrangling and satellite tagging large sharks.

When asked to describe his most interesting research Dr. Stunz doesn’t hesitate to describe the work he has been doing with sharks. “Satellite tagging sharks is really exciting for two reasons; first, catching and handling massive predators is thrilling and second, we know very little about sharks relative to other marine species so, it’s wonderful to uncover and share some very fundamental information about the animals and their migration.”

When asked about his favorite research Dr. Stunz points to his projects involving
catch and release mortality of some less dangerous finfish. “I started with spotted seatrout, currently working with red drum, and now continue on to look at red snapper. It’s incredibly interesting to look at the different factors contributing to fishing mortality and hopefully, we can find ways to reduce mortality after a fish is released.”

Although this is his first appointment to the Council, Dr. Stunz is no stranger to fisheries management. He has spent the past 20 years studying marine fisheries and has contributed scientific data for use in both state and federal fisheries management. He has served as a scientific advisor on the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee and he is on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission’s Coastal Resources Advisory Committee.

Dr. Stunz says he hopes to “use his scientific expertise to help promote sustainable fisheries in the Gulf.“ He also wants to “ensure access to the fishery to a diverse group of anglers and he looks forward to moving beyond red snapper issues to focus attention on some of the other species that are vitally important to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Captain David Walker, President of Walker Fishing Fleet, has been fishing professionally for 30 years. He started fishing recreationally with his father but, everything changed after his junior year of college when Walker got a summer job on a commercial longline boat and never returned to school. Instead, he opted to build his professional life as a commercial reef fish fisherman and boat captain.

When asked to describe his most memorable fishing trip David doesn’t hesitate to pick one out. “Things use to be different. We didn’t have the convenience of GPS, weather radars, and satellite phones that guide us now, so sometimes we found ourselves in some unpredictable situations. In 1988, I was fishing about 115 miles off-shore, southeast of The Flower Garden Banks and a bit north of the Bay of Campeche, Mexico. I caught the noon weather report on the single side band radio and found out that a storm had developed and was moving rapidly towards us at 21 knots. My boat didn’t run faster that 8 knots so, it was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to out run the storm. So, we did what any fishermen would, we continued to fish. Eventually, we decided to look for some good bottom where the anchor would hold so we could ride out the storm. By chance we happened upon a pipe laying boat and gained their permission to tie up behind them and ride out the storm. We hunkered down behind that boat for 8 hours in 16+ foot seas and 55 mph sustained winds - it was miserable.  However, mid-morning once the storm finally broke and the waves transformed into 12-14 foot soft rolling swells we decided to get back to work. After the worst night I’ve ever had on the boat we were rewarded with the best fishing I’ve ever seen. We fished three oil rigs and caught 5000 pounds of warsaw grouper before nightfall.”

Walker has incredible fishery experience both on and off the water. He got involved with the Gulf Council early in his career, regularly attending meetings and serving on a number of different advisory panels over the years. He has also been very involved with different fishing organizations including; The Gulf of Mexico Shareholders’ Alliance Board, The Gulf Coast Professional Fishermen, Share the Gulf, The Gulf Fisherman’s Association, Organized Seafood Association of Alabama, and Fish for America.

When asked what motivates him to serve as a member of the Gulf Council Walker says “I’ve spent my life connected to the commercial fishing industry and it’s important to make decisions that will keep fishermen fishing for years to come. We’ve come a long way in improving our fisheries and I want to find ways to make the Gulf a better place for all fishermen.”

David recognizes that “red snapper management isn’t working for everyone in the recreational sectors. We need to develop accountable and sustainable solutions that can benefit all people, whether they fish from their own boats, from charter boats, or they’re seafood consumers.”