Monday, August 19, 2013

Sharing a sustainable Gulf focus of emerging coalition

Gulf residents haven’t forgotten when many of their favorite fish were in short supply and even unavailable during parts of the year. Today red snapper, a wide variety of groupers and other “reef fish” are more readily available, caught by a well-managed and increasingly sustainable commercial fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. The consumers who want to enjoy these indigenous fish species are served by the commercial fishing community.

These same fish are shared with recreational fishermen and charter fishing boats. In the Gulf of Mexico the red snapper allocation between commercial and recreational fishing is just about even (51% commercial and 49% recreational). The recreational interests have sought as the total catch increases to allocate more of it for recreational fishing. The Louisiana Restaurant Association supports today’s allocation percentages whether based on the current allowable catch or any future allocation increase.

At the Gulf Fishery Management Council meeting in June in Pensacola Chefs Haley Bittermann and Brian Landry received applause from the gathered commercial fisherman following their testimony. They both spoke in support of maintaining the equitable allocation of red snapper as it currently exists. The Council also was considering additional quota to this year’s red snapper allocation.

Gulf Fisheries Management Council member Harlon Pearce
with Chef Haley Bittermann at the June 20 Red Snapper
emergency hearing in Pensacola, FL.
“The fish in the Gulf of Mexico belongs to all of us, every person in the United States,” said Bittermann, executive chef of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group. “Reasonable people should be able to have an engaged dialogue that can satisfactorily address the ideas of the restaurant and hospitality industries, the recreational and charter fishing industries and the commercial fishing industry.”

Bittermann believes, as does the LRA, that Gulf seafood is integral to Louisiana’s heritage and culture, and that the accessibility of these indigenous fish species provides the state’s restaurants with the opportunity to differentiate its cuisine and menu items. 
Chef Brian Landry fishes with his son, the same way he did
with is father as a child. Landry believes equitability 
between the commercial and recreational interests is of
the utmost importance to his restaurant Borgne, named
for the Louisiana lake he grew up fishing in.
“At Borgne Restaurant, we get our vegetables from Covey Rise Farms, rabbits from Arkansas and Mississippi and our fish from the Gulf of Mexico,” Landry said. “As certain fish have become less available or not available at all, like speckled trout and red fish, and if fish like snapper and grouper go, we just become any town USA. We’ll be blackening tilapia and serving fish that has nothing to do with our heritage and culture and why many people come to Louisiana.”

In July, Chefs Frank Brigtsen, Bradley McGhee, Tenney Flynn and Greg Sonnier testified in the second emergency meeting of the Council regarding red snapper allocations held in New Orleans. LRA President/CEO Stan Harris also spoke on behalf of the industry at both meetings and has been an advocate for the commercial fishing and the hospitality industry’s alliances as the needs of the consumer are met through commercial harvest.

Share the Gulf Coalition has grown from the effort of the restaurant industry to support the commercial fishing industry which supplies establishments with consumer-demanded fish species. The LRA believes by sharing this resource responsibly, the desires of all the interested parties can be met.

Currently there are some interests working to tilt the allocation of the red snapper fishery more to the recreational fishermen. As an industry, we cannot support this modification. These changes if approved would hurt these family-owned small commercial fishing businesses across the Gulf who rely on access to the fishery to earn their living. In turn the impact of any allocation restructuring would be felt on the tables of our restaurants resulting in some items disappearing from menus and dinner tables across the country.

It’s happened before as Landry mentioned. In the 1980s commercial fishermen were cut out of the Gulf red drum and speckled trout fisheries. The issue surrounding who can catch how much snapper is fundamentally one of fairness. The Gulf’s recreational fishermen catch eighty percent of the most popular fish in the Gulf, including overwhelming majorities of amberjack, red drum, speckled trout, king mackerel and triggerfish.

What can you do? The Share the Gulf Coalition includes chefs, restaurateurs, restaurant associations, seafood businesses, supermarkets, fishermen and local food advocates engaged in a public campaign to draw attention to the movement to reserve Gulf of Mexico red snapper and other reef fish for recreational anglers at the expense of American seafood businesses and consumers.

“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 Harris. “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. "

Join the coalition here.

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