Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Gulf of Mexico was formed as a result of seafloor subsidence approximately 300 million years ago. It is approximately 995 square miles from east to west and approximately 560 square miles from north to south. Circulating as a loop current water enters the Gulf through the Yucatan Strait and exits through the Florida Straight, forming the Gulf Stream. This body of water is the ninth largest in the world; it serves as a deposit from the Mississippi River which pushes more than 3.3 million gallons of water into the Gulf every second, and its resources are some of the most productive in the world.
These resources, such as fisheries, shrimp and oysters, are supplied to states all across the country, and to help keep the supply flowing, the Coast Guard helps regulate those resources by training its members at the Gulf Regional Fisheries Training Center in New Orleans.
GRFTC conducts approximately 20 classes a year and trains nearly 400 law enforcement agents from the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies ranging from Brownsville, Texas, to Key West, Fla.
The training center instructors combine classroom lectures, which include learning about anything from the different lengths and weight of fish to different fishing seasons. They perform practical exercises from learning how to measure fish to learning about turtle excluder devices. And class members are given written tests that include information about laws and regulations, types of vessels, how to use marine measuring tools and how to identify and preserve the many different species of marine life.
“It is important to preserve the living marine resources that are out there for future generations,” said Lt. Ben Krebs, commanding officer of GRFTC. “The conservation and management efforts that we enforce are critical to keeping up the fish stocks and preserving the beauty of the seabed and the marine life.”
To identify the marine life up close, class members spend one morning at the Audubon Aquarium with a book about sport fish in the Gulf. This book helps with identification and information on all popular species that are in the 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit.
“The class gives the members a better understanding of the types of vessels and resources that are out there and they get taught by experienced instructors,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Aldo Portillo, an instructor with GRFTC.
After completion of the class, members return to the field to continue the living marine resource mission and the marine environmental protection mission with their perspective units along the Gulf Coast. During the mission, they conduct boardings using the skills taught about how to identify certain fish, identify if a fisherman has the proper equipment onboard his vessel and much more.
The Gulf of Mexico has more than 400 species of shells, it is home to two of the 10 busiest ports in the world and its shores and beaches are ideal for swimming, water sports and fishing. With all these facts into play, and many many more, the goal of GRFTC is to ensure that class members learn and retain everything that is taught, and are prepared when boarding a vessel in the Gulf to help ensure the protection of the Gulf and its resources.
“Any one person can make an impact in a mission like this,” said Krebs. “One person enforcing that regulation, that day, could impact years down the road. Every single boarding is important.”
This story was originally published at Coast Guard Heartland August 23, 2011.