GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport artist Marty Wilson has been fishing for cobia in the Gulf for years. He said where he is used to seeing hundreds of the fish, he now sees fewer of them when he’s out on the water.
"I think I saw three fish in six weekends in a row," Wilson said. "That's scary."
Wilson believes the low numbers could be caused by invasive predators in the water, like the lionfish. He also said sport fishermen looking to catch record breaking fish are hurting the population.
“You don’t have to be a marine biologist to know that if you take those big females out of the water, you don’t have a brood stock,” Wilson said.
He said there have been more cobia tournaments in the Gulf of Mexico than used to be.
“There were like three tournaments in Destin for cobia. Now there’s like 25,” Wilson said.
Through his foundation “One Gulf, One Goal,” he is looking to fix the problem in the Gulf.
“God knows we’ve taken a lot out of the Gulf. It’s just time to put one back,” Wilson said.
He designed a cobia Mississippi state license plate to aid in the conversation effort. If approved, the plate will cost $31. Once the state takes out its portion for taxes and fees, the remainder will be used to buy a baby fingerling cobia enough food to raise it to 8 to 10 inches to release back into the wild.
“So when you buy a tag, you buy a baby cobia, and that’s cool,” Wilson said.
This is not the first time Wilson has given his support to the cobia. Back in 2011, he worked with the Department of Marine Resources to release baby cobia into the wild before funds for that program ran out.
“We released 5,000 baby cobia. That program has been done already, so the pathway is there,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that State Rep. Scott Delano is writing the bill for the cobia conservation tags. If the bill gets approved, 300 tags will have to be sold.
State lawmakers end their session in March.