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.