Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery & Enhancement Center

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Project Description

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Florida’s recreational and commercial fishing and associated business have been severely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Besides having beaches, estuaries, and other coastal areas directly impacted by oil intrusion vast expanses of state and federal waters were under fishery closures for months on end. Combined, these impacts resulted in significant loss of human use and access to Florida’s saltwater fisheries resources. Consequences of these losses include:

  • A documented significant reduction in the number of recreational fishing trips (i.e., angler-days) that impacted private recreational anglers, charter boat captains, and headboat fishing operations.
  • Reduced numbers of resident and out-of-state visiting anglers given the perception of lost fishing opportunities or unhealthy/contaminated fish stocks.
  • Consequent drastic reduction in fishing-related tourism revenues.
  • Commercial fishery harvest levels well short of what would be expected (i.e., less than available quotas) for several key fish stocks due to the extended fishery closures associated with the oil spill.
  • Reduced sales and loss of new market development opportunities for Florida seafood given the national- and international-level perception of unsafe, oil-tainted seafood post-DWH oil spill.

This drastic reduction in fishing-related revenues had severe economic consequences. Florida has the nation’s largest recreational fishing industry, contributing in excess of $5 billion annually to the state’s economy and supporting one of the largest saltwater fishing-related tourism industries in the world. Close to half of the estimated recreational fishing trips in Florida are made by visitors to the state—i.e., additional tourism dollars. The $1.4 billion that resident and non-resident saltwater anglers spend preparing for and conducting saltwater fishing trips in Florida produces an estimated $119.7 million in indirect business taxes.

To address this problem, FWC and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida are working with a variety of partners to develop a saltwater fish hatchery in Pensacola (Escambia County, Florida). This facility will focus on restoring fishing activity (i.e., increase angler participation and the number of fishing trips) by providing hatchery production and eventual release of highly sought-after sportfish species such as red snapper, red drum, and spotted seatrout. Facility design and construction will be focused on the use of green technologies (LEED certification) to minimize negative environmental impacts. Hatchery production will be based on the use of intensive (i.e., indoor, tank-based) recirculating aquaculture systems that reduce water usage and effluent discharge (most of the water is re-used). Similar to the process now used at FWC’s Stock Enhancement Research Facility (SERF) in Manatee County effluent water will be cleansed through a two-fold filtration process. The final stage consists of a filtration marsh composed of native coastal wetland plant species. In this manner, nutrients from the aquaculture facility are recycled as plant biomass which is used to support ongoing regional coastal habitat restoration efforts. In the future, we anticipate expanding our plant nursery capabilities as to provide much-needed native coastal wetland plants for Gulf of Mexico habitat restoration projects.


1. Restore the loss of fishing activity:

(a) Proven impacts from FWC’s Project Tampa Bay on recreational anglers success and perceptions of the quality of the fishery;

(b) Providing non-regulatory means for addressing commercial/recreational catch allocations (a critical FWC strategy for ensuring sustainable fisheries); (c) Potential for commercial fisheries to purchase genetically wild hatchery fish from the facility for commercial grow-out (reducing pressures on wild stocks, adding a sustainable revenue stream, and benefiting local restaurants with a continuous supply of locally important food species).

2. Changing perceptions of visitors and resident anglers:

(a) The investment in hatchery and marine restoration sends a strong signal that the Gulf fishery is being properly managed for long-term benefit of the resource and people;

(b) Visitors will once again believe that the Gulf is a viable and desirable angling destination.

3. Job development:

(a) Sustainable community jobs within the region related to commercial, recreational, and food-base fishery production;

(b) Increase fishing tourism-related jobs;

(c) Construction-related jobs (all feasible contracts to be let in the county and city);

(d) Tourism dollars to the community based on end-destination visits to the facility (the facility, in phase 2, is designed as a end-destination that fits with the city's plans for waterfront development and destination visits); and

(e) Creation of new jobs for hatchery production, habitat restoration, and visitor/end-destination jobs related to education and outreach.

4. Integration with community development goals:

(a) Actively partnering with the community to create an tourist friendly end-destination in alignment with waterfront development goals and long-term economic strategies for growth;

(b) Working with the local colleges, universities, and school systems to develop the next generation of marine science professionals trained in marine ecosystem management (critical to Florida's long-term environmental success); and

(c) Working with the city and county to align all marine restoration goals and projects.

5. Developing the future conservationists and anglers: Through education and outreach, develop the next generation of anglers and conservation-minded Floridians that will support and sustain resource restoration.

6. Restoring important fisheries habitats in the region

(a) Cleansing hatchery effluent using coastal wetlands created at the center

(b)  Providing native plants for restoration projects, including living shorelines, from the created wetlands

(c) Developing and testing new restoration technologies

(d) Actively partnering with federal, state, local, and university entities to leverage funds for restoring habitats such as wetlands, seagrasses, hardbottom reefs, and oyster beds.