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Gulf Offshore Energy, Fishing and Tourism – A Thriving Coexistence

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 6, 2018

Since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed opening most of the nation’s outer continental shelf to offshore leasing, we keep getting asked whether offshore energy development can coexist with tourism and fishing?

The answer is absolutely yes. And there’s a pretty good case study backing that up: The Gulf of Mexico.

While surging onshore oil and natural gas production have grabbed headlines the past few years, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf continues to play a critical role in meeting the nation’s energy needs.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, oil production in the Gulf last year averaged 1.66 million barrels per day, and natural gas production hit nearly 3 billion cubic feet per day. That production means an expected $275 million in revenue sharing between the federal government and Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas this year.

Offshore energy production has been a mainstay of the Gulf region for decades, producing the energy to move us, to light, heat and cool our homes and to power industry. There have been more than 50,000 offshore wells drilled in the Gulf since the 1950s, and cumulative production is approaching 20 billion barrels of oil and 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Nothing to sneeze at.

All the while, the fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf states have thrived. The Gulf produces nearly 20 percent of the nation’s seafood each year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which provides analysis of the nation’s fisheries, Louisiana and Texas produce half of the nation’s shrimp landings (literally the shrimp brought from water to land), which amounted to $258 million in revenue in 2015.

NOAA reported that landings revenue in the Gulf Region totaled $858 million in 2015, the year with the most recent, complete data. That number represents a 24 percent increase from 2006. Louisiana had the highest revenue of the Gulf region at $374 million.

In all, commercial fishermen in the Gulf landed 1.6 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2015, a 24 percent increase from 2006. Crawfish and red snapper catches led that growth. Crawfish landings jumped by 272 percent and red snapper landings by 45 percent! Louisiana accounted for the lion’s share of the catch, a remarkable 1 billion pounds of seafood.

The tourism industry in the Gulf region is thriving as well. As our friends at Energy in Depth point out, tourism and recreation industries grew in jobs, wages and economic contributions from 2005 to 2014. Visitor spending in the Gulf Coast region eclipsed $217 billion in 2016.

Tourism and Recreation along the Gulf Coast

Gulf coast communities are reporting booming tourism. For example, Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism in Alabama, said in 2016 that “for the sixth consecutive year, we are forecasting another record-breaking year in tourism.” Gulf Shores and Orange Beach saw more than 6 million visitors in 2015 who spent roughly $4 billion dollars.

In neighboring Mississippi, tourism along the coast is booming as well. According to Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, 6.2 million tourists came to the state’s coast in 2016, spending about $2 billion.

There’s similar data from Texas. Galveston reported in 2016 that the island had seen a record number of tourists in 2015, the fourth straight year of record visits.

The Gulf proves the point: Offshore energy production, fishing and tourism not only coexist, they thrive together. It’s an important lesson to remember as we think about the offshore potential along so much of the outer continental shelf that has for too long been off limits to exploration and leasing.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.