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.

LOCAL, SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD TOP FOOD TREND IN 2015

In the past year, Share the Gulf’s coalition of concerned chefs, fishermen, seafood providers and conservationists have made great progress making sure our Gulf fisheries are managed fairly and responsibly.

The importance of local seafood to communities, fishermen and chefs continues to be in the forefront of our minds. Just last week, the National Restaurant Association released its annual report on Food Trends, surveying 1300 professional chefs. It’s no surprise that local, sustainable seafood dominated trends for 2015. Now more than ever, we need to protect our right to enjoy the seafood caught by hardworking fishermen in Gulf waters.

Unfortunately, the Council still has a lot of work to do to improve fisheries management in a way that will find solutions for everyone in the fishery. During their last meeting, the Council put Amendment 28 back on the agenda for their next meeting in Point Clear, Alabama on January 26, 2015. This proposal would take nearly half a million pounds of sustainably-caught red snapper off the consumer market next year, would stall important progress towards management solutions for the fishery and would hurt our coastal economy. In fact, a group of independent scientists appointed by the Council to provide expert, unbiased advice met over the summer to review this amendment and concluded by majority vote that reallocation is not necessary or proper at this time. This is not the right way forward.

We have made a lot of progress this year, but we will need your continued help in 2015 to reach our Gulf leaders. The Share the Gulf team will continue to monitor the Council’s actions and keep you updated.

GULF SCIENTIFIC PANEL SAYS REALLOCATION OF RED SNAPPER WOULD BE UNJUSTIFIED

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Socioeconomic Scientific and Statistical Committee (SESSC) unanimously agreed that instead of reallocating red snapper to the recreational fishery (Amendment 28), the Gulf Council should shift its work toward finding management solutions that could improve fishing opportunities for recreational fishermen.

Amendment 28 is a controversial proposal being considered by the Gulf Council that would take a portion of the red snapper fishery out of the consumer seafood market and move into the recreational fishery.

The SESSC, a 13-member panel that includes many experts on fisheries economics who are appointed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, is tasked with providing impartial, science-based recommendations on proposals being considered by the Council.

The public, scientists and fishermen across the Gulf of Mexico have made it clear that reallocating fish is not the answer to the problems recreational fishermen are facing. We need new management that can improve fishing for all anglers and we hope the Gulf Council will pursue these ideas.

In recent months, the Council has begun to move forward with amendments that may improve recreational red snapper management and provide more fishing opportunities for everyone. These ideas include giving charter boats and individual anglers separate quotas, delegating certain individual angler management responsibilities to the states, improving recreational data collection and an individual allocation-based system for the charter industry.

Share the Gulf believes that if managed correctly, the red snapper fishery can provide enough fish for everyone. In recent months, the coalition of more than 30,000 Gulf residents have urged the Gulf Council to halt all work on Amendment 28 until the recreational fishery has new management that improves fishing access for all anglers.

RED SNAPPER REALLOCATION SUSPENDED IN FAVOR OF RECREATIONAL MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS

“Amendment 28” Deferred by Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Key West, Florida – Citing the need for management changes in the recreational fishery and overwhelming opposition to reallocation by Gulf residents, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted Thursday to defer action on Amendment 28, a proposal that would take a portion of the red snapper fishery from Gulf seafood providers for the exclusive use of recreational fishing.

The Council’s vote means it will defer any further action on Amendment 28 until it has completed work on another proposal, “Amendment 40.” This proposal lays the groundwork for new management options for both private anglers and federally permitted recreational charter operators who provide access to recreational anglers through chartered offshore trips.

“We are glad to see the Gulf Council focusing on ideas that could help the recreational fishery,” said John Schmidt, a commercial fisherman from Madeira Beach, Florida and Share the Gulf co-chair. “Share the Gulf was built on the idea that if we manage the entire fishery well, we can share it fairly and sustainably.”

Amendment 28 in its current form (“Alternative 5”) would take nearly half a million pounds of red snapper out of the commercial seafood market next year alone and shift the majority of future increases to the recreational sector. This is in exchange for adding maybe one day to a nine-day recreational fishing season. Red snapper is a shared fishery and the total allowable catch is already split almost evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen. Unfortunately, despite that even split, anglers are stuck in a failed management system that leads to shorter and shorter seasons every year, frustrating everyone.

“Reallocation is a false promise to recreational fishermen,” said Capt. Shane Cantrell, a recreational charter captain from Galveston, Texas and Share the Gulf member. “The recreational fishery needs a new management plan and the Council’s action today takes this divisive issue off the table so we can focus on real solutions to the problems recreational fishermen are facing.”

The Gulf Council has received thousands of comments over the last three months in opposition to Amendment 28. A recent review of those comments by Share the Gulf showed that Gulf residents opposed reallocation by a nearly 3-1 margin.

While Amendment 28 has been deferred for now, Share the Gulf and its members will continue to educate Gulf leaders on the downsides of reallocation and work to promote solutions to the failed federal recreational management system.

“Reallocation will hurt Gulf seafood providers and consumers while doing nothing to help the recreational fishery,” said Buddy Guindon, a commercial fisherman from Galveston, Texas and Share the Gulf member. “We need the Council to permanently stop work on Amendment 28 and fully focus its efforts on solutions not fish grabs,” said Guindon.

GULF RESIDENTS OVERWHELMINGLY OPPOSE BID TO CUT ACCESS TO RED SNAPPER

Key West, Florida – As the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council resumes consideration of a proposal this week to reallocate red snapper away from consumers, a new review of Council records released today shows that Gulf residents who have submitted written comments on the plan oppose it by a nearly 3-1 margin.

Known as “Amendment 28,” the plan would permanently shift the amount of red snapper caught in the Gulf away from commercial fishermen and consumers and towards the recreational sector. Red snapper is a shared fishery and the total allowable catch is already split almost evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen. Frustrating recreational fishermen and others, anglers are regrettably stuck in a failed management system that leads to shorter and shorter seasons every year

While the vast majority of recreational and commercial fishermen believe in sharing the Gulf’s resources, some suggest that the solution is simply to take fish from consumers and reserve more of it for offshore recreational fishing. Share the Gulf and the vast majority of Gulf residents disagree.

As of June 20, 2014, the Council received thousands of comments from Gulf residents on the measure. A review done by Share the Gulf of these comments shows that Gulf residents who oppose reallocation far outnumber those who support it, both as a region and in each individual Gulf state. In addition, during a series of public hearings this spring, representatives from the Council heard from an overwhelming number of recreational and commercial fishermen as well as other stakeholders who believe “Amendment 28” should be voted down by the Council.

Share the Gulf just submitted a letter to the Gulf Council signed by its state co-chairs from across the region. The Share the Gulf coalition represents more than 30,000 Gulf residents, including hundreds of chefs, restaurateurs, fishermen, seafood industry leaders, retailers, and conservationists, as well as every state restaurant association across the Gulf of Mexico and the National Restaurant Association. The letter from Share the Gulf states, “reallocation will hurt Gulf seafood businesses and will not help recreational fishermen.”

“There is increasing consumer demand for fresh, locally caught seafood,” said Chef Stephen Stryjewski, Share the Gulf’s Chef Co-Chair of New Orleans. “Gulf red snapper is a huge draw at restaurants like mine for tourists and locals alike and limiting the supply would hurt my business.”

Not only is the public opposed to reallocation, the economic justification for it just isn’t there.  Amendment 28 in its current form (“Alternative 5”) would take nearly half a million pounds of red snapper out of the commercial seafood market next year alone and shift the majority of future increases to the recreational sector. This is in exchange for adding maybe one day to a nine-day recreational fishing season. With this proposal, everybody loses. It is not surprising that NMFS scientists and the Council’s own socioeconomic advisors have repeatedly raised concerns about the validity of the economic analysis used to justify reallocation.

“Reallocating fish is not the answer to the problems recreational fishermen are facing,” said Shane Cantrell, a charter captain from Galveston, Texas and Share the Gulf member. “We need a management plan that will actually increase fishing opportunities over the long term. Amendment 28 is a false promise to Gulf anglers.”

“Every American should be able to enjoy the seafood from our fisheries we’ve worked so hard to rebuild,” said John Schmidt, a commercial fisherman from Clearwater, Florida and Share the Gulf co-chair. “The Council should be focused on new management plans that will actually improve seasons for recreational fishermen, not reallocation schemes that hurt seafood providers and consumers.”

NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION ASKS GULF GOVERNORS TO SUPPORT ACCESS TO LOCALLY SOURCED SEAFOOD

(Washington, D.C.) The National Restaurant Association has asked the governors in five Gulf States to support their local restaurants in a quest to maintain uncompromised, year-round access to seafood fished in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

In a letter sent today to Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Scott of Florida, Robert Bentley of Alabama, Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Rick Perry of Texas, the NRA asked the Governors to “stand with us and support the commercial fishing sector that supplies restaurants in your state[s] and throughout the country.”

“In recent months, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Council has proposed changing the red snapper allocation in the Gulf to reduce the share that currently goes to commercial fisherman,” said Scott DeFife, Executive Vice President, Policy and Government Affairs, National Restaurant Association. “We strongly oppose these efforts. If successful, these proposed changes could seriously harm the commercial fishing industry and the ability of restaurants to source red snapper from the Gulf. Ultimately these changes could result in shortages and lead to significant price hikes or an inability to fulfill our customers’ desires for locally caught seafood.”

DeFife noted that the Association supports existing catch share allocations for red snapper in the Gulf. The ability to continue to source the fresh, local seafood of the area is essential to the growth of the affected states’ economies and their various foodservice businesses.

Read the full release here.

NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION JOINS SHARE THE GULF

Catch Of The Day: NRA In Effort To Protect Gulf Snapper

The National Restaurant Association, in its continuing effort to support sustainability practices in the foodservice industry, joined Share the Gulf, a coalition of chefs, restaurateurs, restaurant associations, seafood suppliers, fishermen, consumers and conservationists working to protect their access to fish in the Gulf States.

The initiative, launched in 2013, aims to ensure the region’s restaurants and grocery businesses maintain an equitable share of the Gulf States’ red snapper catch.

“Our 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,” said Stephen Stryjewski, executive chef at New Orleans-based Link Restaurant Group and Share the Gulf co-chair. “We believe – and science shows ‑ that if Gulf fisheries are well managed, there will be a growing population with plenty of snapper, grouper and other fish to go around. We are committed to sitting down and working together to find a productive, fair and reasonable solution about how to share the Gulf.”

Scott DeFife, the NRA’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said the Association is supporting Share the Gulf so the region’s restaurants and other food businesses retain access to the fish and do not experience business downturns because that access is denied.

Read the rest from NRA’s announcement here.