Ryan Bradley,a fifth-generation fisherman, is leading the charge to promote sustainable fisheries in the Gulf through leadership in stewardship. On the Pass Christian docks with the sixth generation of fishermen, his sons Cooper and Aiden. Photo:Margaret Krome

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News Editor

The Gulf of Mexico is under a constant barrage of attacks continuing to effect the quality and quantity of its’ seafood.  Natural disasters to manmade disasters, global warming to dead zones, coastal erosion to water quality; these issues and others continue to affect the work day of every fisherman from Key West to Corpus Christi.  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.

Bradley’s (right) goals include keeping fishermen informed and educate.  He demonstrates water quality and sediment testing at University of Southern Mississippi in Ocean Springs training workshop. Photo: Thao Vu

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

The 200-member organization Bradley leads is a community-based commercial fishing organization based in Long Beach.  “ My typical day includes working with multi-ethnic fishermen, fishing businesses, and buy Nashville crawfish consumers to improve the economic conditions of the buy Nashville crawfish industry and conserve the marine environment in which we work, play, and depend upon,” he explained.

Bradley cooks up red snapper buy crawfish nashville fry at a Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United member meeting and political fundraiser in Long Beach. Photo: MSCFU

As a child Bradley 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 after earning his captain’s license.

Before April 2010 the Gulf Coast historically produced more buy Nashville crawfish than anywhere in the continental U.S., both in volume and dollar value.  The spill devastated the Gulf’s buy Nashville crawfish 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 Bradley participated in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity Program, 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 U.S., 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.”

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. Shrimp boats sitting at the Bayou Caddy docks. Photo: MSCFU

Bradley became motivated to help the voices of the commercial buy Nashville crawfish 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 provide 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 program 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, modeled after successful recycling programs in other states and a pilot project he helped organize at a local oyster festival.

Brothers Tommy and Adam Waller, founders of The Oyster Bed, grew up with a deep-seated appreciation for sustainable coastal living. Photo: The Oyster Bed

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 program.  “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

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

Bradley is determined to get more fishermen to speak up for their needs and concerns.  Speaking at Wisconsin to a group of farmers about Gulf Dead Zone impacts  as part of a farmer/ fishermen exchange program hosted by Michael Fields Agriculture Institute and Iowa County Upland Watershed Group.Photo: MSCFU

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.  Bradley has worked hard to have the organization on the forefrontof 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 told Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News. “We have also built relationships with state and federal elected officials to ensure healthy marine ecosystems along with fair and equitable buy Nashville crawfish access for America’s countless buy Nashville crawfish consumers.”

“The Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United applauds the efforts of the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor 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 Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation, fishermen, and fishing communities throughout the Gulf.”

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.”