The Gulf of Mexico's most hotly contested fish, the red drum, or "redfish," was transformed in the late 20th century from a universally shared source of nourishment and recreation to an engine for the consumption of goods and services related to sport fishing.
Plentiful in the Gulf of Mexico's coastal marshes, the iconic species was a culinary staple that had been harvested for the market by commercial fishermen for more than a century. Handsome and a dogged fighter, the redfish was also targeted by increasing numbers of recreational fishermen.
In the late 1970s, anglers in Texas organized the Gulf Coast Conservation Association to win exclusive access to the fish. After GCCA's 1981 "gamefish" victory in the Texas Legislature, like-minded sportsmen formed chapters of the group in their own Gulf states.
The redfish spent part of its life in the coastal states' inshore waters, and even more time in the offshore waters controlled by the federal government. Though the traditional, small-scale commercial fisheries had been managed by the states for years, when bigger operators in the 1980s began to target the species offshore the federal government became involved.
Federal fisheries were to be managed by regional panels of scientists and stakeholders but the redfish was controversial enough to have attracted the attention of the U.S. Congress, Secretary of Commerce, even the President of the United States. Along the way, but for a modest commercial fishery in Mississippi, everyone across the Gulf who'd harvested wild-caught redfish for the market was out of business.
As inimical as its intervention proved for fishermen and seafood consumers, the federal government's involvement enabled an unprecedented overview of the entire Gulf of Mexico's red drum population: It uncovered something astonishing--the species had begun to go missing years before Cajun Chef Paul Prudhomme blackened his first redfish.
About the Author
A passion for netting redfish landed him in the middle of the 1980s controversy over that contested species. Frustrated with media coverage of fisheries issues, he wrote and published “Wetland Riders” in 1994 to inform consumers that their access to seafood was threatened by an exploding recreational fishery. Put out of business by Louisiana’s 1995 legislative net ban, Fritchey commenced work on a sequel to his first book called “Gulf Wars.”
“Gulf Wars” is in fact a series of e-books recounting the pivotal fish fights that
occurred across the Gulf of Mexico in the mid-1990s. “Missing Redfish, The Blackened History of a Gulf Coast Icon,” is the first of that series.
Fritchey is currently a correspondent with National Fisherman, the trade magazine for the nation’s commercial fishing industry. His work has appeared in Louisiana Life and other periodicals, and he was a contributor to “Out on the Deep Blue: Women, Men, and the Oceans They Fish,” an anthology published by St. Martin’s Press in 2001. He currently divides his time seasonally between South Louisiana and Pennsylvania.