Fifth generation fisherman leads Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United into the future

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Ryan Bradley, with sons Cooper and Aiden, is leading the promotion of sustainable fisheries in the Gulf through leadership in stewardship. Image: Margaret Krome

Gulf of Mexico fisheries face problems ranging from natural disasters to manmade disasters, global warming to dead zones, coastal erosion to water quality. In Mississippi Ryan Bradley,a fifth-generation fisherman, is leading the charge to promote sustainable fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico through leadership in stewardship.

As executive director of the Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United (MSCFU) for the past three years, he has worked tirelessly to save what he feels is the most endangered species – the commercial fisherman.The goals of his organisation are to protect the common interests of Mississippi’s commercial fishing industry, to promote sustainable fisheries through leadership in stewardship, and to advocate on behalf of commercial fishermen, fishing businesses and consumers of the resources the industry provides.

The 200-member organisation Ryan Bradley leads is a community-based commercial fishing body based in Long Beach.

‘My typical day includes working with multi-ethnic fishermen, fishing businesses, and seafood consumers to improve the economic conditions of the seafood industry and conserve the marine environment in which we work, play, and depend upon,’ he explained.

As a child he began shrimping with his grandfather at the age of eight. By the time he was a teenager he ran boats fishing for oysters, shrimp and crab.

Before April 2010 the Gulf Coast historically produced more seafood than anywhere in the continental US, both in volume and dollar value. The spill devastated the Gulf’s seafood industry. More than 88,000 square miles of the Gulf’s federal waters, nearly 37%, were closed to fishing and Mississippi closed nearly 95% of state waters.

In the days following the spill Ryan Bradley participated in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity Programme, working nearly 80 days removing oil from the waters of the Gulf.

In 2017 the executive director became involved in the Gulf restoration processes, explaining that initially he wasn’t engaged in the process, but as time went on he noticed money was being spent on projects that he and other commercial fishermen weren’t convinced to be beneficial.

‘Shrimp is the largest commercial fishery in the southeastern US, and there really hadn’t been a lot of projects or effort that’s gone into restoring shrimp habitat,’ he said. ‘I had real concern about a number of projects that would actually further degrade shrimp habitat.’

He became motivated to help the voices of the commercial seafood industry be better understood. As the director of MSCFU, he acts as a liaison between the fishing community and the restoration decision-makers. He relays information about the restoration processes to MSCFU members, advocates for their interests and concerns, and assists in submitting verbal and written comments and project ideas.

His goals include keeping fishermen informed and educated about the Gulf’s restoration, as well as providing his community a platform to express their ideas and concerns about how it takes place.

One important restoration project on his radar is Mississippi’s public and private oyster grounds. At a public meeting of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council he requested funding for an oyster shell-recycling programme in Mississippi, explaining that fishermen hope future oyster restoration projects will use oyster shells for cultch material. He proposed a project to recover shells from local restaurants, processing plants, and other sources, modelled after successful recycling programmes in other states and a pilot project he helped organise at a local oyster festival.

The Oyster Bed, a purpose driven company providing innovative cookware to both professional chefs and home cooks, has joined MSCFU’s effort to recover oyster shells for the recycling programme.

‘We are committed to using our brand to educate our customers on the value of oysters to the world’s coastal ecosystems,’ said Adam Waller, a co-founder of the company along with brother Tommy.

‘We are supporting the Mississippi oyster shell recycling efforts with a special offer on every Oyster Bed purchase using the coupon code ‘MSCFU.’ Each time the code is used on our online store, we will donate $10 to the recycling effort as well as providing a 15% saving to the customer.’

According to Waller, for every $10 given to the project, 10 square feet of new oyster bed can potentially be created with the shells, approximately the size of a king size bed.

Believing in Partnerships

Ryan Bradley believes that partnering with other organisations on the shell-recycling programme is key to the success of the creation of new reefs. The organisations of the Annual Gulf Coast Oyster Cook-Off and Festival in Gulfport have also joined in the recycling efforts.

Eight years after the spill, and four hurricanes later, the Gulf is still facing financial instability and has observed significant declines in landings and stock quality. Ryan Bradley has worked hard to place the organisation on the forefront of advocating for fishing industry at both state marine resources meetings and at Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meetings.

‘We have been working collaboratively with the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, Charter Fisherman’s Association, Share The Gulf, MS/AL Sea Grant, and multiple academic institutions and researchers throughout the Gulf,’ he said.

‘We have also built relationships with state and federal elected officials to ensure healthy marine ecosystems along with fair and equitable seafood access for America’s countless seafood consumers.’

‘The Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United applauds the efforts of the Gulf Seafood Foundation to bring Helping Hands to the fishing industry,’ he went on to say.

‘We look forward to supporting this effort and lending a helping hand to Gulf Seafood Foundation, fishermen, and fishing communities throughout the Gulf.’

Ryan Bradley is determined to get more fishermen to speak up for their needs and concerns.

‘You have to have the confidence to engage decision-makers and tell them the needs and concerns of the fishing industry,’ he said.

‘I have found they more receptive in hearing directly from fishermen who know, and are directly affected by, the issues.’

Source: Gulf Seafood News