The Blackened History of a Gulf Coast Icon
Robert Fritchey

The red drum was the most hotly contested fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Plentiful in the coastal marshes, the iconic species was a culinary staple that local commercial fishermen had long harvested for seafood markets and restaurants. Handsome and a dogged fighter, the “redfish” was also a popular target for recreational fishermen.

In the late 1970s, a few anglers in Texas organized the non-profit Gulf Coast Conservation Association to win exclusive access to the species. GCCA’s 1981 “gamefish” victory in the Texas Legislature inspired sportsmen across the Gulf to pursue the same goal.

The redfish spent part of its life cycle in the inshore waters of the states, and even more time in the offshore waters controlled by the federal government. Both sport and commercial fisheries traditionally occurred near shore and were therefore managed by the states, until the 1980s when commercial purse seiners began to target the species offshore and the federal government became involved.

Federal fisheries are 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 harvesting wild redfish for the market was out of business.

As inimical as its intervention proved for commercial fishermen, coastal communities and 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.

With 245 pages, more than 30 black and white photographs, charts and tables, and an extensive bibliography, Missing Redfish (ISBN 978-0-9963882-6-9) is available from Amazon for $17.95. The e-book, with most photos in color, can be downloaded from Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, and Apple iTunes for $9.99.