Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium Underway in St. Pete Beach, FL – Day 1 Recap

September 14, 2012

A very productive and enlightening Day 1 at the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium is coming to a close. Antonio Fins, Executive Director of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, filed the following synopsis of today’s conversation:

A score of researchers and stakeholders in the Gulf of Mexico’s environment wrestled with the challenges from the 2010 Deepwater Horizons disaster.

The spill — rather, the blowout — from two years ago isn’t the only challenge facing the massive body of water.

For starters, hypoxia — low oxygen levels — impact size able areas. And demands for fish and Gulf seafood puts pressure on stocks even without the oil blowout that unleashed 20 times more oil into the Gulf than what the Exxon Valdez dumped in Alaska waters.

What to do?

The answer: stakeholders need to stop battling each other. Instead they need to back technology, better fishing practices and precise data on species to meet America’s and the world’s need for Gulf fish an seafood in the next 25 years.

One area to improve is aquaculture — the harvesting of fish and seafood in environmentally sensitive and sustainable ways.

Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium Announced for September 14-15 in St. Pete Beach, FL

August 21, 2012

Health of Gulf Seafood, Fishery Analysis and Habitat Restoration on Agenda

ST. PETE BEACH, FL—AUGUST 20, 2012— Two years after the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil well was finally capped, the largest gathering of scientists, fishery experts and government officials are gathering in St. Pete Beach to share the findings of their research, and to offer direction for further study.

The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium, on Sept. 14-15, is the first summit to bring together the various stakeholders in the Gulf’s fishery, an annual multi-billion-dollar industry for Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The oil gusher and the clear environmental damage in 2010 captivated international attention and raised doubts about the safety of eating Gulf of Mexico seafood. It also raised concerns about short- and long-term damage to fish stocks.  Research to be presented at the symposium will begin to definitively address these issues.

The symposium will also present the results of research funded by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation‘s 2010 “Save Our Gulf” campaign, which raised $500,000 to fund gulf fisheries research related to the oil spill. It will bring together representatives from all sectors of the marine world – recreational and commercial fishermen, non-governmental and governmental agencies, politicians, fishing authorities and marine scientists – to explore vital issues facing the Gulf through presentations and panel discussions. More than 200 are expected to attend and participate.

The recommendations offered by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium will also involve requesting funding from the $20 billion trust established by BP to respond to claims from individuals, businesses and government entities.

Headliners appearing at the symposium are Dr. Bill Hogarth, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and a former Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA, and Dr. Guy Harvey, celebrated artist, fisheries scientist and conservationist. The symposium’s line-up includes Eric Schwaab, Acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management, Gil McRae, Director, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), Donald Kent, President of the Hubbs-Seaworld Institute, Dr. Bob Hueter from Mote Marine Laboratory, Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University.

The ultimate mission of the symposium is to provide a platform where all stakeholder groups can share knowledge and move forward with a unified mission of a sustainable and healthy fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.

For a final agenda and listing of speakers and panelists, please go to

The symposium will be held at the TradeWinds Islands Resort on St. Pete Beach.  The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Symposium is sponsored by NOAA, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the University of South Florida, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, Mote Marine Laboratory, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Magazine.

An Open Letter from Guy Harvey

August 3, 2012

Fellow anglers, divers and boaters,

It has come to my attention that that there is some concern, particularly among anglers in the northeast US, about my allegiance to the sport fishing community. Please know that first and foremost I am a life-long angler who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water in pursuit of big fish. It’s my passion and my profession, and I live it practically every day of the year. I am also a dedicated conservationist – I believe that we must fish responsibly and ensure the health of fish stocks throughout the world.

In an effort to broaden the message of responsible fishing, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) has supported, collaborated and partnered with many organizations over the past four years, including the Shark Free Marina Initiative (SFMI). Sharks are in serious trouble in the US and around the world. However, I am not advocating for a ban on all shark fishing. My position has always been for all anglers to take a responsible, conservation-minded approach to sharks – before you legally harvest a shark, simply consider what you are doing and why you are doing it.

The shark free/friendly concept was initiated to educate and make people aware of the severe pressures being put upon sharks populations around the globe. In the past several years, we have seen many shark tournaments – particularly in Florida – go to an all-release format, which makes for responsible fishing since most of the species of sharks caught in tournaments are traditionally not good table fare.

In contrast, the iconic mako shark is considered fair game in the northeast US, as are tunas and swordfish above federal size limits. Catch and release shark tournaments in this area with high minimum qualifying weights are well organized and have shark conservation measures at heart, as do the partial release billfish tournaments in the mid-Atlantic, which I have proudly supported for over two decades.

In addition, in the US and around the world there are areas of local abundance of species where anglers can legally harvest these species in a sustainable way, even though elsewhere in the world that species may be considered rare or overexploited. This practice is fine with me. I am all about sustainability in sport fishing and commercial fishing, as well as in spearfishing and diving. However, there are many anglers who are not concerned about sustainability and that is cause for concern.

Much of the recent criticism directed my way has stemmed from the role of the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) within the SFMI organization, and alleged ties to PETA and the PEW Environment Group (PEG). I have difficulty in accommodating the role of the HSUS in the sport fishing arena. Other than encouraging catch and release where possible, I see no reason for this organization to exert any influence in sport fishing. I have an even stronger opinion of PETA, which is just too extreme to even get my attention.

As for Pew, I am not aligned with them personally, nor have I supported them during my 20-year tenure as a board member of the IGFA. The one instance in which I worked alongside PEG was in a successful effort to prevent the archipelago of the Bahamas – which was home to the last bastion of sharks in the western Atlantic – from being scoured of sharks by impending commercial interests. The GHOF’s collaborative effort with PEG and the Bahamas National Trust worked, and it prevented the wholesale slaughter of species by people who don’t give a damn.

I also support shark interactive programs and have patronized many such programs in different countries. These interactions with otherwise shy, elusive creatures are inspiring, educational and very entertaining – all without killing a single animal. In addition, the socio-economic value of these interactive sites is immense to the host countries. Only days ago, I returned from a shoot in Isla Mujeres, Mexico where for 60 days each summer thousands of whale sharks gather to feed on plankton blooms and fish spawn. This interaction pumps millions of dollars into the Mexican economy each summer. If this phenomenon occurred in the Orient, then I am certain the harpoon boats would be racing the snorkelers to the sites every day.

Another issue I have difficulty accepting is proposed MPAs based on nothing other than whims of people who want to get rid of sport fishing. These proposed areas, which are closed to sport fishing, typically do not go through a scientific analysis to tell us all about the inventory of species or the estimated biomass from which a regulated harvest could be managed. However, specific time and area closures for certain species at certain times of year do work well. It is ludicrous to allow any harvest of any animal when it is reproducing, so closure of reef fish (snapper and grouper) spawning aggregations during their respective spawning times is a good management practice, as we have seen in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands.

There are many issues facing recreational anglers and many of us have conflicting opinions on how to apply solutions that best benefit the fisheries. Not everyone is going to agree with me on every issue. However, please don’t underestimate my dedication and commitment to the sport fishing community – along with AFTCO, I put back approximately 10 percent of all royalties generated by my art into fishery research and educational programs around the world.

I want to remind my fan base – as well as all of the naysayers – that I love fishing and I love to cook and eat the fish that I catch. I do fish responsibly – I release all billfish and undersized wahoo, tuna or dolphin that I catch. But, a nice bull dolphin, yellowfin or blackfin is going in the cooler! Swordfish are also fair game – in the tournaments we have in Cayman the small ones are released and the big ones are taken. In fact, we just landed a 600 pound plus swordfish on July 22 in Mexico. Not a scrap was wasted!

Tight lines and good luck.

Guy Harvey PhD.

GHRI, Georgia Aquarium Partner for Stingray Census Study in Grand Cayman

July 16, 2012

Alex Harvey, Louisa Gibson and Dr. Brad Wetherbee secure a large ray in a pool in the cockpit of Guy’s Scout boat while Georgia Aquarium’s Tonya Clauss prepares to take blood from the ray’s tail.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute just finished conducting the annual census of the stingray population at Stingray City in Grand Cayman. The GHRI team, led by Guy Harvey and GHRI Director Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Dr. Brad Wetherbee of the University of Rhode IslandEdinburgh University student Louisa Gibson and Guy’s adult children, Jessica and Alex Harvey. Assisting the GHRI this year were three special guests from the Georgia Aquarium – veterinarians Tonya Clauss, Lisa Hoopes and Nicole Boucha, who were on hand to analyze blood samples to better assess the overall health of the rays. Thanks to all who participated – updates from the census will be available soon!

FLORIDIAN VIEW: The Water World of Guy Harvey

June 29, 2012

NOTE: This post is excerpted from an article in the June 2012 issue of Floridian View magazine.

By Jeanne Willard

Standing over six feet tall with sandy brown hair and sun-kissed skin, Guy Harvey looks every inch the avid outdoorsman while sporting one of his signature button-down fishing shirts paired with khaki’s  and casual loafers.  Harvey, 56, is perhaps best known for his realistic marine-life artwork that reels the observer into the ocean’s depths with an explosion of color and dynamic movement. But, you may not know that he’s also a scientist who holds a Doctorate in Fisheries Management and captains a multi-faceted business empire that supports his efforts as one of the world’s leading marine conservationists.

Harvey sat down exclusively with FV recently to talk about his art, passion for conservation, latest business ventures, and for those enthusiastic anglers – his favorite fishing spot. From apparel to dinnerware, home furnishings to gifts, sportswear to fine art and jewelry to speciality license plates, the Guy Harvey empire is all about  the cause.

Born in Germany, Harvey was the son of a British Army Gunnery Officer.  He honed his fishing and diving skills growing up in Jamaica, and was profoundly influenced by Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea.” At the age of 17, the classic tale so captured his imagination that he took on the task of illustrating the entire story in pen and ink. Those drawings comprised the self-taught artist’s first exhibition in Kingston, launching his decades-long career.

Today, Harvey’s works are most recognizable by the meticulously detailed and brilliantly colorful paintings of large game fish such as marlin, tuna and sailfish. He relies on his scientific knowledge and observation of marine life in its natural habitat as inspiration, and has become an accomplished diver and underwater photographer.

Harvey rarely paints from photographs, despite his skill and love of photography, preferring the “minds-eye” snapshot of marine life interactions. Many of his paintings portray large fish circling smaller fish, and sharks feeding on stingrays, among other dynamic aquatic happenings.


Sawfish Research Continues with Help from Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation & Hell’s Bay Boatworks

May 8, 2012

In October 2010, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Hell’s Bay Boatworks donated a custom boat and trailer valued at more than $50,000 to the Florida Program for Shark Research. Since then, FPSR director and world-renowned shark expert George Burgess and his team have successfully used the boat on several sawfish* expeditions in south Florida, filing reports in both March and August 2011. The FPSR recently concluded two months of field work to wrap up the 2012 sawfish season, and George submitted this follow-up progress report on the team’s efforts:

The spring sawfish fishing season has been an outstanding success!  We captured and tagged our ESA permitted limit of 11 adults over the course of three Florida Bay field trips undertaken in March and April in Everglades National Park waters.  Analysis of data we curate in the International Sawfish Encounter Database at the Florida Museum of Natural History has demonstrated that this is the prime time period to find large examples of the federally-endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) in the Bay and, with the help of guide-supreme Capt. Jim Wilcox of Bud N Mary’s, we were able to locate areas of local abundance and successfully capture the sawfishes.

Although we are permitted to use longline and gillnet gear, we have employed traditional rod-and-reel techniques to minimize social conflicts with other user groups in the region.  New terminal tackle developed by Capt. Jim allows us to “horse” the hooked animal to boat very quickly, eliminating long and back-breaking 2-4 hour “fights” that characterized earlier captures.  Getting “green” animals alongside is better for the critters while saving field time and our backs.

Nine of the saws received the three-tag “Grand Slam” of a dart tag, an acoustic tag and a satellite pop-up tag.  Two others did not receive the latter as we were so successful capturing sawfish on one trip that we didn’t have enough satellite tags on hand (these are expensive items – $3000-6000 apiece depending on capabilities). On that trip our crew of Yannis Papatamatiou, Bethan Gillett, Allison Strong, Dan Brown and Capt. Jim (I was home nursing a sore hand from a previous “close encounter” with the fighting end of a sawfish) caught nine saws in six days, including one that had been caught and tagged earlier in the trip.  It had moved 16 km (9.4 miles) in three days. On our last trip we caught our final allocation of two sawfishes in about 20 minutes of fishing and our total time from dock to dock, including fishing, retrieval and tagging, was about three hours.  A project record for productive efficiency!

Our 11 saws were overwhelmingly males (10 males and 1 female, the latter the very first animal captured on March 1st).  It would appear that there is some sexual segregation going on in the area at this time of year.  Sizes ranged from 374 cm (12’3”) to 410 cm (13’5”) and all were adults (sexual maturity occurs at about 10 ft. so those commonly reported 6-9 footers are just “babes”).

It’s too early to discuss any data interpretations, but we will be getting preliminary data soon.  At the end of our last short-but-sweet trip we downloaded a couple of our underwater acoustic receivers and found a fair number of “hits,” suggesting both tags and receivers are working well and that at least some of our tagged saws have stayed in the area.  Acoustic tags are gifts that keep on giving so we anticipate getting months of data from these if the saws stay in the Bay.  The satellite tags will be popping up over the next few months, hopefully giving us info on larger scale movement patterns as well and, more importantly, good depth-choice data.

The Hell’s Bay skiff once again earned its keep, allowing us to stick our nose into areas other vessels wouldn’t dare go.  Despite its size, it hangs well with the large sawfishes we hook and bring alongside.  Most impressively, it is a very stable platform such that we can have two or three scientists on one side measuring and tagging the critter without fear of taking on water.  Unfortunately, the beautiful Guy Harvey paint job took a few more hits this spring (I successfully got my hand between the rostrum or “saw” and the hull on one occasion, won’t do that again!), so it bears some new battle scars (as does my hand).  These guys are quick and dangerous when hooked – I guess I’d be mad too…

Thanks again to you folks for your support of our work!

Nassau Grouper Recovery Efforts Put Cayman Islands on the World Conservation Map

April 18, 2012

GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN—APRIL 16, 2012— Recent scientific evidence shows that a ten-year effort to protect the spawning aggregation sites for the endangered Nassau Grouper has resulted in a growing and healthy population of the species on the reefs near Little Cayman—a harbinger that the recovery of the species may spread throughout the Caribbean.

“After ten years the detective work is finally done,” said an exuberant Dr. Guy Harvey, a Cayman resident and an ardent conservationist and internationally known marine wildlife artist.

Dr. Harvey, who has worked closely with research leaders REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), Oregon State University and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) to bring about legislation to protect the species, continued:  “The work is finally done and science indicates the groupers need to have aggregation sites projected to help them survive.”

Late last year a groundswell of public support generated by Dr. Harvey’s latest film The Mystery of the Grouper Moon prompted the Marine Conservation Board of the Cayman Islands to extend a ban on fishing the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site near Little Cayman.  A recent re-mastering of the film, which includes spectacular footage of the 2012 spawning, will make its debut at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival scheduled to be held in Miami, Florida on Saturday, April 21. Dates of the festival are April 20-23 with April 22 being Earth Day.  Emmy Award winning producer George C. Schellenger edited the film.

During a recent return to the spawning area this February, researchers collected a sampling of eggs for genetic research and noted a marked increase in the number of groupers.

“It was the biggest spawn we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Harvey noted.  “With the right cooperation the Nassau Grouper will become a symbol of conservation for threatened marine species—a shining example of what can be achieved if all the stakeholders work together.”

As one of the “stakeholders” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, is recommending complete closure of the Nassau Grouper fishery during spawning season and for the remainder of the year, enforce catch limits for hook and line.

Government officials agree and are drafting a decision to extend the fishing ban during the spawning season—November 1 through March 31—and implementing an open and closed season for groupers on an annual basis. The penalty for catching Nassau Grouper in a spawning aggregation site between November and March is up to one year in prison or up to $500,000 in fines.

“This is wonderful news, “ said Dr. Brice Semmens, who along with his wife, Christy, has spearheaded the REEF research efforts.

“I think we will find in the years to come, as we monitor these populations ,we’re going to see a dramatic response in terms of the number of new fish on the reefs for divers to see and fishermen to catch,” he said.

Dr. Semmens said that a healthy and growing Nassau Grouper population will not only seed the local reefs surrounding the Cayman Islands but will be at the epicenter for the recovery of the species everywhere in the Caribbean.

“The Cayman Islands through their cooperation and support have put themselves on the international conservation map,” he added. “The government officials made the correct and appropriate decisions based on science.”

Louisiana Authorities Confronting Illegal Shark Fishing

April 13, 2012

Though much of the demand for shark fins comes from Asian countries, where it is used in soups to celebrate weddings, banquets and important business deals, the pipeline for supplying the product is global in its reach – and includes fisherman catching and finning sharks in US waters.

Two recent arrests in Louisiana highlight the need for stronger regulations, enforcement and penalties to ensure that shark populations within federal waters are protected from this highly destructive practice, which is pushing certain shark species to the brink of extinction. In separate incidents in February and April, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division cited or arrested five commercial fisherman for exceeding the daily shark limits allowed under LA law and for finning the sharks in their possession. In the case of the arrests, law enforcement officials found “a hidden compartment in the bow of the vessel that contained 12 large sacks of shark fins totaling 2,073 fins”. The bodies of the sharks were not on board the boat, which is consistent with the practice of finning – cutting the fins off live sharks and dumping the body overboard, leaving the shark to endure a slow death from drowning.

Hats off to the LDWF for their proactive efforts to catch shark poachers. You can show your support by signing our pledge to denounce shark finning and any businesses that profit from the trade.

Guy Harvey-Sponsored All-Release Tournaments Partnering to Cross-Promote, Spread Message

March 25, 2012

Creators of the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge Tournament and Festival and Organizers of the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament have announced plans to strengthen and share their commitment to conservation by cross-promoting their common missions and messages to the general public, press and media. The Ultimate Shark Challenge Tournament and Festival takes place in Punta Gorda’s downtown waterfront at Laishley Crab House at Laishley Park May 4 th – 6 th followed by the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament in Boca Grande May 17th and 18th and the Downtown Tarpon Festival May 19th and 20th.

Both all-release tournaments feature exciting and innovative high-stakes competitions that also place an emphasis on best practices when it comes to the post-release welfare of their respective target species; sharks and tarpon. The common ground between the two events is clear when looking at the USC’s established mission to, “Combine the Goals of Sport, Science and Conservation” alongside the WRTT’s new message of, “Conservation, Education and Sportsmanship”. Strategic alliances include Mote Marine Laboratory and Mote Center for Shark Research, Guy Harvey Enterprises and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. The event’s respective festivals are free to the public and offer a host of family-friendly fun, excitement, entertainment and education.

Without a doubt, the main attraction at both events are the fishing tournaments, which also share boundaries within the same storied fishing grounds of Boca Grande Pass, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. While their marquis species are indeed very different, event organizers are quick to point out that, “Sharks and tarpon have been coexisting here for millions of years and that their symbiotic relationship is a matter of essential mutual benefit to a healthy marine and coastal environment. In many ways, that relationship is a great metaphor for why we’re collaborating with our events.”

USC Creators, Sean & Brooks Paxton add that, “We’re extremely fortunate to have this uniquely diverse environmental playground right here in our backyard. The area offers so many choices for not only boaters and recreational anglers, but anyone interested in an endless list of eco and adventure-based activities on land and sea. There really is something for everyone. We’re proud of that and feel a responsibility to protect and conserve these natural assets while promoting the region, the people and the businesses that rely upon and support them. We do that by leveraging purposeful entertainment that also educates and inspires people.”

Lew Hastings, Executive Director at the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce and Tournament Director of the WRTT explains, “My goal is to strengthen and promote the financial growth and well being of the local businesses in order to sustain a healthy community. We see the constant threat of damage and destruction to the natural beauty and wildlife habitats that surround us and recognize that they can not and should not be looked upon as a cost of doing business. Exploitation of natural resources in the name of progress and financial gain leaves us all a great deal poorer in the end. The significant economic and environmental impact recreational fishing has on our communities, make conservation for a sustainable fishery not only preferable but necessary. Education and conservation of the fishery combined with sport fishing will be the primary focus. Safe boating, sportsmanship and responsible angling will be promoted in order to encourage a safe, successful family friendly atmosphere that will inspire everyone to engage in the protection and proper stewardship of our natural resources so that they may be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Tag-A-Giant Releases Foundation Results of 2011 Atlantic Bluefin Tagging Campaign

March 5, 2012

Tag-A-Giant Satellite Tagging Update

Gulf of St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia, Canada:  September 2011 – December 2011

* Funding for this research was provided in part by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Atlantic and Pacific bluefin tuna are quickly disappearing due to high demand for sushi. Due to the very real possibility of Atlantic bluefin becoming commercially extinct, a dedicated group of scientists and recreational fishermen founded Tag-A-Giant (TAG) in 2006. Their mission: to support scientific research, policy and conservation initiatives that promote a sustainable future for bluefin tuna.

Since 1994, the Tag-A-Giant research program of Stanford University has been building the necessary knowledge to maintain bluefin tuna in captivity and sustain healthy populations of wild fish. The team has pioneered electronic tagging of marine fish species across the globe. TAG scientists have tagged nearly 1,800 northern bluefin tuna in both ocean basins, allowing them to follow the bluefins’ wide-ranging journeys across the oceans.

This fall marked Tag-A-Giant’s sixth tagging season in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (GSL).  Due to the need to track fish to the Gulf of Mexico spawning ground to assess distribution and behavior in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it was also the most important.  And with forty-three giant bluefin tuna tagged, we’re thrilled to report that the 2011 tagging campaign in Canada was also our most successful. A few of the tags have reported early, but the majority of tags are on schedule.

Deployment Summary:

  • 20 Atlantic bluefin tuna were released with mini-PAT tags
  • 11 Atlantic bluefin tuna were released with MK10-PAT tags
  • 6 of these fish were double-tagged with MK10-PAT and mini-PAT tags
  • 21 Atlantic bluefin tuna were released with Vemco V16 acoustic tags
  • Tagged fish ranged in size from 175-299 cm CFL
  • DNA samples were taken from all tagged fish, and DNA were taken opportunistically at the docks from fish landed by commercial fishermen.
  • The tagging was conducted during 18.5 fishing days between 23 September and 2 November 2011.
  • 2 to 6 vessels fished per day, with one of the vessels serving as the tagging vessel, and the others transferring fish to the tagging vessel.