Katie’s Seafood Market is a corrugated-metal building on the Galveston waterfront with a wooden ship wheel hanging from its ceiling and an 89-pound snapper mounted near the entrance. A small retail area faces the street, but most of the action happens on the dockside, which opens onto a channel leading to the Gulf of Mexico.
It was there, last November, that William “Bubba” Cochrane could be found supervising the unloading of 11,000 pounds of red snapper from his boat the Chelsea Ann. A beefy man with a gray-flecked beard, Cochrane recorded weights on a clipboard as large blue vats filled with fish. Outside, his twelve-year-old son and deckhand, Conner, moved around the boat in orange bib pants. “Kids in school say, ‘I want to be a video-game designer,’ ” Conner said. “I’m the only one who has ever said, ‘I want to be a fisherman.’ ”
That would have been a ludicrous ambition a decade ago. When Cochrane started fishing for a living in the early nineties, the Gulf population of red snapper—mild and buttery, easy to catch, with pink-orange scales that stand out on market shelves—had bottomed out following a forty-year decline. Potential egg production, a key measure of population health, had fallen to 2.6 percent of its natural level, one tenth of what scientists consider sustainable.