Chefs, Restaurants, Fishermen, Seafood Industry Leaders and Conservationists Seek Fairness
More than 150 chefs, restaurant owners, fishermen, seafood industry leaders and conservationists announced the formation of Share the Gulf, a coalition to raise awareness of and support for local fishing businesses and the restaurants, grocery stores, consumers and state tourism industries that depend on fair access to fresh Gulf seafood.
“This is a coalition of people and groups from across the Gulf that care about making sure access to the Gulf’s resources are shared fairly and sustainably,” said Chef Stephen Stryjewski of New Orlean’s based Cochon and Pêche Seafood Grill and founding chef chair of the coalition.
The effort was initiated in part as a response to a proposal in front of regulators at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to take fresh Gulf fish away from seafood counters that are supplied by family-owned commercial fishing businesses that catch red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
“These proposals are not real solutions to the problems facing the recreational fishery,” said John Schmidt, a commercial fisherman from Madeira Beach, Florida and coalition co-chair. “Taking fish away from consumers, who have sacrificed enough, and the businesses that serve them will hurt local businesses across the Gulf and won’t do much to help recreational fishermen. Recreational leaders need to work with fishery managers to find better ways to manage the fish.”
Red snapper is a shared fishery and is already split almost evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen. Frustrating recreational fishermen and others, offshore recreational fishermen are regrettably stuck in a failed management system that leads to the fishery exceeding its limit every season and inaccurate and insufficient data collection which has forced regulators to shorten the season year after year.
While the vast majority of recreational and commercial fishermen believe in sharing the Gulf’s resources, some groups suggest that the solution is simply to take fish from consumers and reserve it for offshore recreational fishing. Share the Gulf disagrees.
“We have worked to build a healthy and sustainable commercial fishery for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Bubba Cochrane a commercial fisherman from Galveston, Texas and President of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “The plans in front of the Council will hurt fishing businesses and consumers and set a dangerous precedent.”
In 2007, the Gulf’s commercial red snapper fishery implemented a new management program that has helped the population recover from a long-standing depleted status and kept commercial fishermen within their allocation of fish. The change has been working, and contributed to last month’s removal of red snapper from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Red List”, a nationally recognized sustainable seafood program that rates the sustainability of fisheries around the world.
If red snapper, grouper or other reef fish are taken away from commercial fishing businesses, seafood suppliers, restaurants and retailers that rely on them, that could have serious consequences for the Gulf’s seafood industry at large.
“Members of Congress, our Gulf state governors, the Gulf Council and the federal and state fishery agencies must hear from the chefs and restaurateurs about the need for fair allocations on behalf of the American consumer and the businesses our industry partners with for supply,” said Stan Harris, President/CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “The coalition will press decision-makers to keep sustainably caught Gulf seafood on the table for the millions of Americans who don’t fish or own their own boat.”
Efforts to reserve fish and limit consumer choice have happened before, with red drum and speckled trout in particular. Some worry that this could lead to the elimination of commercial fishing for red snapper and then other Gulf fish, like grouper.
The coalition knows that if the resource is managed well, there are plenty of fish like red snapper and grouper to go around. Rather than taking fish away from chefs, restaurants, consumers and small fishing businesses that are managing the resources sustainably, we should consider alternative management options that could provide relief to recreational fishermen from their failed management plan.
“The members of this coalition want to foster a reasonable debate that leads to fishery management that is fair to everyone and above all sustains the resource for all of its benefits to society and the environment,” said Pam Baker, Gulf of Mexico Director for Environmental Defense Fund. “We want to work with fishery leaders to explore options that provide the longer fishing seasons and long-term conservation anglers seek.”
The body responsible for managing these fisheries, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is meeting the last week of October in New Orleans to discuss the possibility of taking away fish from the Gulf’s seafood industry. Share the Gulf plans to alert members of the restaurant and seafood communities, elected officials and consumers to these plans and their consequences.
The members of the Share the Gulf coalition are committed to a productive, fair and reasonable dialogue with regulators, elected leaders and others about how we can best share the Gulf’s resources fairly and sustainably now and for generations to come.
Share the Gulf is a coalition of chefs, restaurateurs, restaurant associations, seafood businesses, fishermen, conservationists, local food advocates and regular consumers that want to keep the local Gulf seafood industry fair and strong. Our simple goal is to make sure Gulf seafood continues to be shared fairly and sustainably so that all of us can enjoy it for generations to come. Join the coalition at www.sharethegulf.org.