FISHERMEN AND CHEFS STAND FIRM IN OPPOSITION TO H.R. 200 AND S. 1520

We recently shared an op-ed with you written by Florida fisherman Chad Haggert for the Tampa Bay Times. In the piece, he described H.R. 200 and S. 1520, two pieces of legislation currently being considered by Congress, as unnecessary and threatening the progress being made by fishermen.

Chad is not the only one who opposes H.R. 200 and S. 1520. Many important industry leaders around the country are speaking out against these harmful bills. This includes Alabama fisherman David Walker who wrote a powerful piece in The Hill about how proposals like S. 1520 undermine the health and productivity of fisheries in the Gulf and around the country. Capt. James Bruce, a long-time commercial fisherman from Mississippi, asserts that “congressional bills that could undermine science and harm a business I have built from the ground up, are not the solution.”

A letter signed by over two dozen chefs, including top chefs and restaurant owners from New Orleans, was sent to Congressional leaders earlier this year detailing how these bills, despite their titles, are “hardly what we would consider modern or strong” and are “taking our nation’s fisheries in the wrong direction and undermining gains made in the last ten years.”

All around the country, opposition continues to grow against these two dangerous bills. In April, Chef Rick Moonen wrote a column for the Las Vegas Sun about how these bills will negatively affect his business and those of other restaurateurs in Las Vegas, which collectively serve large volumes of seafood including from the Gulf. In the op-ed, he encourages Congress “to hold the line and ensure any changes to Magnuson-Stevens are built on what works: science-based management, strong accountability and a commitment to Nevada businesses and visitors who want to enjoy sustainable seafood for generations to come.”

While chefs, fishermen, and others continue to speak out, many Share The Gulf members are hopeful that the recently approved state recreational management pilots in Gulf may provide a more constructive way forward. As Chad Haggert wrote last month:

“HR 200 and S 1520 are largely driven by the need to fix the broken recreational management system in the Gulf. But unlike these new state pilot programs, these bills don’t solve any problems, they just create new ones by threatening fisheries with the risk of overfishing and creating bans and hurdles for proven tools.”

MISSISSIPPI COMMERCIAL FISHERIES UNITED JOINS SHARE THE GULF

The Gulf of Mexico’s fishing and seafood tradition has especially deep roots in Mississippi. In fact, Biloxi was known as the “Seafood Capital of the World” at the beginning of the 20th century. Now, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United (MSCFU) and its Executive Director, Ryan Bradley, have a plan to honor the state’s fishing heritage and strengthen its industry, with a timely focus on sustainability. MSCFU is now joining the Share the Gulf Coalition, which includes more than a dozen organizations and hundreds of chefs, restaurant owners, seafood industry representatives, and fishermen.

“Mississippi shellfish and seafood is generally harvested using the most ecologically sustainable methods we have globally, and targeting species that are really abundant and fresh,” Bradley explained. “We want to bring that sustainably sourced, healthy seafood to the public and help to expand opportunities for the fishermen who bring it to us—most of whom come from generations and generations of fishing.”

Ryan, Bradley, Executive Director of the MSCFU speaking at the event in Gulfport, MS on April 18, 2018.

With its focus on promoting stewardship in the commercial fishing industry and fair access to Gulf seafood, MSCFU is an important addition to the Share the Gulf coalition as Mississippi’s commercial fishing sector can be underrepresented in discussions about fisheries laws.

“It’s great to see more commercial fishermen getting involved in the management and seafood arenas,” said Eric Brazer, Deputy Director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, also a member of the Share the Gulf Coalition. “We’re excited that they’ve agreed to join Share the Gulf and bring their generations of expertise to this coalition.”

In that vein, Share the Gulf, MSCFU, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and the Charter Fisherman’s Association co-hosted a reception at Salute Italian & Seafood Restaurant in Gulfport, MS on April 18, 2018. Attended by Mississippi Congressional legislative staff, members of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and high-level representatives of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the event gave the coalition a chance to formally welcome MSCFU to its ranks and spread the message that fair and sustainable access to the Gulf’s fishery resources is a Mississippi tradition.

You can learn more about MSCFU by clicking here.

NEW GULF PILOTS APPROVED FOR STATE MANAGEMENT OF RECREATIONAL RED SNAPPER FISHING

Gulfport, Mississippi – The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced its approval today of pilot programs, formally known as Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs), which will give the five Gulf states a chance to test state-based management of private angler fishing of red snapper. Approval of the plans was announced by regional administrator, Dr. Roy Crabtree, during an open session of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Share the Gulf members expressed support for this pilot in a letter submitted during the public comment period with a few caveats to ensure that the plans would not unfairly impact other fishermen in the for-hire sector and would adhere to core conservation principles.

In line with a strong recommendation made in the letter, the permits were modified to exclude the charter for-hire industry and focus the experiment on the private angling component. In addition, the plans include crucial measures to ensure the experimental method complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Act including science-based catch limits and robust data collection to monitor catch.

Statement from David Walker, commercial fisherman from Andalusia, Alabama and Share the Gulf Co-Chair:

“I am excited about this opportunity for the Gulf to find a new way to manage fishing for private anglers, who have been hamstrung by conflicting state and federal seasons. We appreciate that this plan is built with sustainability in mind and ensures fair access for all, including the charter and commercial sectors.”

Statement from Chef Haley Bittermann, Executive Chef for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group and Share the Gulf Co Chair:

“I commend NMFS and the Gulf states for making sure the final plans aim to fix the broken recreational management system without hurting other sectors of the fishery. As a chef and an angler, I want to see us move beyond proposals that pit us against one another. I know there’s a way to improve things for anglers like me in a fair and sustainable way.”

HARMFUL BILL ADVANCES IN THE SENATE

An update from David Walker and Stephen Stryjewski:

Earlier this week, despite opposition from fishermen, chefs, conservationists, and consumers, the Senate Commerce Committee advanced S. 1520, a bill that threatens progress made in the Gulf to sustainably manage fisheries and the ability to provide fresh, local seafood to Gulf communities.

While we are disappointed, we are encouraged by the opposition recorded by a number of Senators and a commitment by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida to address remaining concerns with the bill before it advances.

The bill’s proponents claim it will increase fishing opportunities for recreational fishermen, which we all agree is a worthy goal. But the reality is it offers no real change and instead includes provisions that would hurt conservation and our seafood industry. We joined Share the Gulf because we believe we can solve problems without harming our seafood heritage or the long-term health of our Gulf resources.

The bill would take away important conservation tools, while gridlocking our regional Fishery Management Council with contentious fights over fish allocations that challenge public access to seafood and don’t really solve any problems.

S. 1520 stifles innovation for solving overfishing by placing a two-year moratorium on new catch share programs in the Gulf as well as the Mid- and South Atlantic , even though catch shares have completely stopped overfishing in the commercial fishing sector.

The bill also creates additional burdens for scientific research pilot programs known as Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs), which have long been a way for fishermen and researchers to form collaborations and pioneer solutions to some of the most difficult fisheries challenges.

Seafood and fishing are core to our economy, heritage, and way of life. These harmful provisions should be removed before any further consideration of S. 1520.

We appreciate your continued support of the Share the Gulf Coalition and will keep you updated on this bill and other pending fisheries legislation in Congress.

Captain David Walker is a commercial fisherman from Andalusia, Alabama and Stephen Stryjewski is chef and owner at Cochon in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

OPPOSITION AGAINST SENATE FISHERIES BILL GROWING

In a piece recently published in The Hill, Alabama fisherman David Walker detailed why proposals like S. 1520 endanger the sustainability of seafood from the Gulf and around the country.

David’s not alone in his concern. Yet Senators on the Commerce Committee are poised to move Senate Bill 1520 forward next week.

Just this month more than 30 fishing organizations from Maine down to Florida and up to Alaska have submitted letters to Congress expressing concerns about Senate Bill 1520. While the legislation aims to solve problems facing anglers, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance noted that “…a number of provisions would impose harm on the nation’s commercial fishermen and seafood supply chain. Helping recreational fishermen doesn’t have to come at the expense of hurting commercial fishermen…”

Similarly, a letter from more than 150 of the nation’s preeminent chefs including Jacques Pepin, Tom Colicchio, Stephen Stryjewski and Hugo Ortega declared, “We need strong federal laws…to ensure we will continue to be able to provide high quality food to our customers.”

And just last week the Seafood Harvesters of America said, “Improving recreational fishery management doesn’t require undercutting commercial fishery management, yet this bill is much more focused on the latter than on the former.”

Fishermen, chefs and conservationists agree that S. 1520 risks damaging the commercial sector and supply chain, only to miss the mark on fixing recreational management. We urge Senators to oppose S. 1520 until the anti-conservation and anti-seafood provisions are removed.

SHARE THE GULF NEWS ROUNDUP

February 8, 2018 – In an effort to keep our supporters informed about the threats and opportunities facing the Gulf, we are starting a regular news roundup like the one below.

BREAKING NEWS:

Last week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recommended the approval of five Gulf state proposals to test state management of recreational fishing for red snapper. While there are a lot of critical details to hammer out before the projects hit the water, this could be an encouraging step in the effort to fix the currently broken recreational management process. While the states may be best equipped to manage private recreational anglers, it is clear that the vast majority of federal charter boat captains and commercial fishermen want to stay under federal management and should be excluded from this experiment.

If approved, the proposals (submitted to NOAA as exempted fishing permits, or EFPs for short) would allow each Gulf state to set the start and end dates for recreational harvest of red snapper in Gulf state and federal waters. Several of the states would also test new data collection systems for tracking harvest. The Council’s approval was contingent on the condition that the decision to include federal charter and for-hire vessels by some states (Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana) not result in a reduced federal charter for-hire season.

Two bills pending in Congress (H.R. 200 and S. 1520) could stifle innovative fishery solutions by adding restrictions and hurdles to the exempted fishing permit (EFP) process. The ability to test new approaches at the regional level is allowed under the Magnuson-Steven’s Act (MSA) through the use of EFPs. These permits allow for scientists and fishermen to conduct research, test new technology, or pilot innovative management approaches. If those bills pass as they are, regional fishery councils and NMFS might not be able to pilot experimental solutions like those mentioned above by the Gulf states in the future. Take a moment to tell Congress to keep the MSA strong and continue to allow for innovation through the current EFP process.

Dozens of prominent New Orleans chefs recently sent a letter to Congress encouraging legislators to protect the strong science-based conservation standards of our top fisheries law. The MSA does more than just create opportunities for innovation—its tenets have enabled the U.S. to boast one of the best regulatory systems in the world. In fact, the MSA has successfully rebuilt over 40 species, several of which are essential to the commercial fishing, restaurant, and tourism industries. Prominent chef, restaurant owner, and Share the Gulf member Ryan Prewitt recently expressed his support for fair access for seafood-lovers—access that doesn’t jeopardize the hard-fought recovery of red snapper made possible by a strong MSA.

Preliminary numbers from the recent Gulf council meeting illustrate the importance of strong conservation measures and accountability. In 2017, a decision to extend the private angler red snapper season in contradiction to MSA’s requirements resulted in private recreational angler landings exceeding the science-based fishing target by 212% and the annual catch limit by 170%. Ensuring that private anglers stay within science-based catch limits is core to the MSA and will be essential to any state management program.

Thank you for your support of healthy and strong Gulf fisheries. If you would like more information or to get involved, please email the coalition directly or join the coalition here.

AN UPDATE ON FISHING LEGISLATION THAT THREATENS GULF SEAFOOD

**This update was circulated to Share the Gulf supporters on December 22, 2017**

Last week, a congressional committee voted to advance two bills, H.R. 200 and H.R. 3588, that seriously threaten sustainable fishing and the hard-fought recovery of the red snapper fishery, putting businesses, anglers, and families who depend on Gulf fisheries at risk.

As you know, the hard work of fishermen and conservationists, enabled by our current fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, has increased the amount of red snapper on the menu, on fishermen’s lines, and in the water. Provisions in H.R. 200 would weaken that law by exempting key fisheries from science-based catch limits, undermining the recovery of depleted fisheries, putting important management tools off limits for managers, and stifling the ability of fishermen and researchers to innovate.

Another bill, H.R. 3588, would give Gulf of Mexico states the authority to manage private angler fishing for red snapper but would exempt them from the annual catch limit process that has helped this red snapper population grow and reproduce. While we need to fix the broken recreational management system and provide fair and flexible access for anglers, H.R. 3588 lacks adequate conservation safeguards to ensure that private anglers don’t far exceed their quota, which has occurred in the 23 of the last 27 years. The Gulf States should have a chance to succeed while working within a scientifically-justified, conservation-based backstop to protect against potential unforeseen problems.

Fisheries bills have historically had strong bipartisan support. Both previous reauthorizations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act were overwhelmingly bipartisan. But H.R. 200 and H.R. 3588 lack broad support from stakeholders, and as a result, the votes last week were largely along party lines.

Hundreds of Share the Gulf supporters—from chefs and fishermen to conservationists and consumers—have weighed in to oppose these bills in their current forms. Organized in part by Share the Gulf, a group of more than 175 chefs, restaurant owners, and seafood dealers, including signatories from all five Gulf States, sent a letter to Congress opposing these bills. Furthermore, the leading organization representing commercial red snapper fishermen, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, sent a letter expressing their concerns.

The fight is not over. We must continue to remind our Members of Congress that these bills lack meaningful bipartisan support and are currently opposed by fishing groups, chefs, restaurateurs, and others throughout the nation who value and depend on sustainable fishing for today and future generations. There is still time before the next key vote to tell your Member of Congress to keep our Gulf fisheries strong and healthy.

Thank you for your continued support and commitment to sustainable Gulf fisheries.

Sincerely,

Stephen Stryjewski
Cochon, Louisiana
Gulf Chef Chair

Eric Brazer
Deputy Director
Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance

SHARE THE GULF EXPRESSES CONCERN AHEAD OF COMMITTEE VOTE

** Ahead of House Natural Resources Committee markup that threatens the remarkable recovery of Gulf of Mexico red snapper, Share the Gulf supporters Captain Bubba Cochrane of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and Stan Harris of the Louisiana Restaurant Association wrote to Congress to express their opposition to the bills as currently written.**

Share the Gulf is a coalition of chefs, restaurateurs, seafood wholesalers and distributors, fishermen, conservationists and consumers. With supporters across the Gulf of Mexico, our mission is to ensure businesses, anglers and families have access to abundant and sustainable Gulf fisheries now and for years to come. As a diverse group of stakeholders in the region, we are contacting you to express our opposition to H.R. 200 and H.R. 3588 as currently written and ask members to stand up for sustainable seafood and equitable use of federal fisheries for all of us.

On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Committee will markup H.R. 200 and H.R. 3588, which in their current forms would hurt seafood and fishing businesses and the long-term conservation of our fisheries, including Gulf of Mexico red snapper. Some of us have proposed amendment language that would include conservation language and allow science-based data to direct fisheries management. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been included in the legislation’s current form.

As a result, we ask that you oppose the bills unless they are amended in markup to:

  • Ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries, including red snapper, by requiring science-based management that adheres to annual catch limits as prescribed in current law.
  • Allow stakeholders and regional decision makers to have access to a full range of tools, including catch shares.
  • Eliminate the mandate for burdensome periodic reviews of fishing quota allocations.
  • Ensure that no unnecessary hurdles are introduced for fishermen and researchers to use exempted fishing permits, an important way to test management innovations and technology.
  • Set reasonable deadlines for rebuilding fish populations so that they don’t remain depleted for decades.

It has taken years of hard work and sacrifice to revitalize Gulf fisheries that anglers, commercial fishermen, restaurateurs, chefs and seafood lovers all depend on. The future of our region depends on healthy and sustainable Gulf fisheries. We appreciate you taking our concerns into account.

Sincerely,

Stan Harris
President & CEO, Louisiana Restaurant Association

Captain Bubba Cochrane
President, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance
Owner & Operator of F/V CHELSEA ANN

CONCERNS GROWING FOR THE FUTURE OF GULF FISHING AND SEAFOOD

After coming back from the brink, the future of Gulf red snapper is once more in the balance.  Proposals in Congress and recent actions by the Trump Administration are undermining years of progress, posing a threat to small businesses throughout the Gulf and to Americans everywhere who love to eat or catch fish.

The recovery of red snapper is a remarkable success story we can all be proud of. Years of chronic overfishing had reduced the stock to just 3 percent of healthy levels, but in the last decade, working together, the fishery has started to rebound. Science-based catch limits and reformed commercial management have led to more fish for anglers, better and more stable jobs for coastal small businesses, and more sustainable seafood for Americans to enjoy. The amount of fish that can be sustainably caught each year has grown from 5 million pounds in 2007 to 14 million pounds today. Moreover, the benefits of a healthier fishery are shared, with the total catch divided evenly between the seafood and recreational sectors.

But even as the fishery has rebounded and the amount everyone can catch has grown, private anglers continue to fish under a profoundly broken system. This is leading to unsustainable overages even while recreational fishing opportunities have been reduced, angering everyone – especially anglers.

As Gulf States have set ever-longer seasons, more than 80 percent of recreational catch is happening in state waters – sharply reducing the number of fish that can be caught in federal waters. Meanwhile, authorities continue to rely on season and bag limits in the private angler fishery rather than exploring new approaches to recreational management, fueling frustration and leading to calls for the weakening of conservation standards.

This year, the Trump administration unilaterally extended the recreational fishing season without implementing appropriate safeguards, jeopardizing the health of the fishery. And legislation introduced in Congress, including H.R. 200, H.R. 2023, H.R. 3588 and S. 1520, would weaken conservation standards and repeat the mistakes of the past.

Just last week, more than 150 chefs, restaurant owners and seafood dealers, including signatories from all five Gulf States, sent a letter to Congress opposing these bills. These bills would all weaken the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which has enabled the comeback we have seen in the red snapper fishery.

“Fishing and seafood are not just important to the Gulf economy; they are a part of our heritage,” said Haley Bittermann, who signed the letter and is a Chef for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group in New Orleans and Share the Gulf. “I love to go fishing with my family. I know folks down in the Gulf are frustrated by the shortened federal seasons for red snapper. But as written, these bills threaten the conservation standards and hard work that helped bring snapper populations back after years and years of decline.”

The chefs are not alone in advocating for a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act. Share the Gulf member Gary Jarvis, a fisherman and restaurateur from Destin, Florida, penned an op-ed with Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President, Carol Dover celebrating the Florida fishing and seafood industry and the role MSA has played in making it stronger.

In fact, fishermen from Alabama, Mississippi and Texas took the occasion of National Seafood Month to do the same, highlighting the comeback of red snapper and voicing their support for the foundational fisheries law.

As leaders in Congress consider these bills, Share the Gulf will be making sure they hear from our members like Haley, Gary and all the other seafood providers, anglers and consumers who want to keep Gulf fishing strong through responsible, science-based conservation.

THERE IS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE ON SHORT RED SNAPPER SEASONS

Politics and State Fishing Seasons Restricting Angler Access to Federal Waters

May 2, 2017 – NOAA has just announced that this year’s federal red snapper recreational fishing season will be three days long. The season was 11 days last years and has been consistently decreasing over the last decade. This short federal season is unfair to private recreational anglers and they deserve a management system with more sustainable access to federal waters. However, the factors that led us here are complex and policy makers should also look at decisions made by Gulf States to understand how overfishing occurred in 2016 and why the season has been cut again.

In the early 2000’s red snapper were pushed to the brink after decades of overfishing by both recreational and commercial fishermen. Harvest limits had to be drastically cut and commercial fishermen moved into an individual fishing quota system that encouraged conservation and ended the race to fish caused by short seasons. The result has been a remarkable rebuilding of red snapper, allowing commercial fishermen to provide fresh, wild caught red snapper to consumers across the country.  In fact, the total annual allotment of red snapper that everyone in the Gulf can catch, including recreational fishermen, has more than doubled over the last nine years.

While federal managers have been successful in keeping commercial fishermen at or below their quota for a decade now, inconsistent state and federal recreational seasons have failed anglers and led to regular overharvesting in that sector – including going 25% over the recreational quota in 2016. Last year Texas had its state waters open for red snapper fishing for 365 days with a four fish bag limit, Louisiana 272, Florida 85, Alabama 66 and Mississippi 102. The result is that upwards of 79% of the total Gulf-wide science-based limit of recreational red snapper is now being caught within nine miles. That leaves very little quota for fishing between 9-200 miles.

Anglers are the ones that lose quality access to deeper more productive federal waters in this protracted fight between the Gulf States and the federal government. They deserve a better system that gives them the flexibility to fish when and where they choose and that produces more accurate real-time catch records while preventing overfishing. The Gulf of Mexico fishery is a shared national treasure that should be accessible to all Americans whether by boat, grocery store or restaurant.

It is time to move past anti-commercial rhetoric and fish grab schemes to real solutions that preserve the balance we all deserve in the Gulf. We encourage policy makers to take a close look at proposals under consideration in the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to give the states more flexibility to manage their private anglers while still preserving science-based catch limits and the protections given to commercial fishermen under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

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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.