Gulf of Mexico stocks in federal waters are managed by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, or jointly with the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council. In the case of highly migratory species that must be managed both domestically and internationally, species are managed under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act with recommendations from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The number of Gulf of Mexico stocks contained within the various Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) of these management bodies has ranged from over 60 in the early 2000s to approximately 40 in recent years. While the number of managed species has decreased slightly, stock assessment efforts have increased dramatically; stock status was only known for about one-quarter of all managed species in the early 2000s whereas status is currently available for over 90% of species.
The assessment and identification of overfished stocks, implementation of rebuilding plans, and increased regulations over the past several decades have all led to a general decrease in the number of managed stocks that are overfished or experiencing overfishing. Changes in stock status nationally are compiled in annual reports to U.S. Congress (Stock Status Updates). In the GoM, management regulations implemented largely in the 1990s led to positive changes during the decades that followed. Vermilion snapper, red grouper and king mackerel were rebuilt to sustainable levels in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. Red snapper, a species which has historically undergone intense overexploitation, was no longer subject to overfishing in 2012. In 2014, gag grouper was declared rebuilt, and in 2015, Hogfish, Greater amberjack, and Gray triggerfish were all removed from overfishing lists. Overall, the proportion of stocks undergoing overfishing has steadily decreased from over one-third to less than five percent, and as of 2016 only a single stock (Dusky shark, managed through the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species FMP) is subject to overfishing. As expected, stock responded to decreases in fishing pressure by rebuilding, with the proportion of stocks in an overfished state decreasing from nearly half in the early 2000s to less than one-fifth within the same decade. Since 2007, however, the proportion of stocks in overfished status actually increased slightly and remained level around one-fifth. A reduction in fishing pressure, in the absence of subsequent recovery, may indicate that forces external to stock dynamics have prevented stocks from rebuilding as expected. Such forces could include management implementation error, environmental drivers, and alterations in predator-prey dynamics – or a combination of the above.
It is important to note that hundreds of species of commercial and recreational importance in the GoM do not fall under any Fishery Management Plan, and the ratios reported here are not necessarily representative of all fished species in the region. However, those species not regularly assessed generally make up a small portion of the total landings and have marginal economic importance.