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Efforts to Restore the Gulf of Mexico

It has been five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and while tremendous fishing opportunities abound in the Gulf of Mexico, the impacts of the spill are ongoing and can be seen in degraded habitats and reduced tourism activity, especially recreational fishing. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) remains engaged in the two primary processes that will shape major investments in the Gulf of Mexico region aimed at economic and natural resource restoration.
In early May, NOAA finalized its plans for reparation money to restore the Gulf of Mexico Coast in the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act will make funds available for marine and estuarine research, monitoring, and data collection and stock assessments.

On July 2, a record-setting $18.7 billion settlement was announced between BP, the five gulf states and the federal government over environmental damages and lost revenues resulting for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that leaked at least 134 million gallons of oil. Included in the total figure, BP will pay out $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, $7.1 billion in natural resource damages, and $4.9 billion to settle economic and other claims made by the five Gulf Coast states. Combined BP and TransOcean penalty charges will be distributed to affected parties. This settlement allows for renewed commitments to improve the Gulf’s fisheries and fishing access.

Our Position

ASA fully supported the RESTORE Act and was a member of the Gulf Spill Recreational Fishing Response Group, which made recommendations to the Administration regarding resource recovery. Some of these recommendations were included in the RESTORE Act. ASA continues to work to ensure that the monies from RESTORE and Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) go to critical projects on the ground restoring the economy and natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

Issue Background

In July 2012, President Obama signed the Transportation Bill into law, which included the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act of 2011. The RESTORE Act will provide much needed money to the region to restore the Gulf Coast environment and economy and help bring anglers back to the region. This legislation directs 80 percent of the funds from the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other penalties assessed in the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are used to pay for economic and environmental restoration projects in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The provision provides critical funding to the Gulf of Mexico region to help revitalize coastal communities and improve fisheries habitat and data collection. Specific things that RESTORE will accomplish include:

Recreational fishing contributes $41 billion in economic output in the Gulf Coast region annually and supports over 300,000 jobs. This legislation provides a strong framework for long-term investment in business recovery and fisheries resources.

To learn more about the RESTORE Act, click here to view a fact sheet.

On January 29, 2013 the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, the body charged with developing and overseeing implementation of a comprehensive plan to help restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast region in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill per the RESTORE Act, released the “Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan”. This plan reflects the work done thus far in creating a detailed comprehensive restoration plan.

On August 28, 2013, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council voted to adopt the “Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy,” which outlines recovery efforts, both ecological and financial for the Gulf. The plan establishes the general types of projects to be targeted by the Council, including approaches that can help repair habitat degradation and ensure the health and sustainability of recreational fishing throughout the Gulf for generations to come.

ASA, along with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), the Center for Coastal Conservation and the Coastal Conservation Association, convened a series of five workshops in the Gulf region focusing on further identifying the recreational fishing community’s priorities for Gulf restoration. TRCP released a report in late 2013 summarizing recommendations from the workshops.

The NRDA process is moving forward led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and projects have begun to be funded using the $1 billion in funds BP has already made available in an “Early Restoration” fund. The other major source of funding for Gulf restoration distributed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will come from penalties assessed to BP through provisions in the CWA. Many of the projects that have been awarded to date through the various funding sources are specific to recreational fishing and align with the types of projects for which ASA and its partners have advocated, including the establishment of fisheries research facilities, creation of dozens of near shore artificial reefs and improvements to boating access facilities.

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