Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New Share the Gulf Coalition seeks fairness for Gulf commercial fisherman

More than 130 chefs, restaurant owners, fishermen, seafood industry leaders and conservationists have come together to form a coalition to raise awareness and support for fishermen, restaurants, retail, consumers and tourism depending on fair access to fresh Gulf seafood.

Share the Gulf is an effort 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.
“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 Orleans-based Cochon and PĂȘche Seafood Grill and founding chef chair of the coalition.

Red snapper is a shared fishery split almost evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen. Due to an outdated data collection system, the offshore recreational fishermen targeting red snapper are caught in a failed management system producing inaccurate data on the amount of fish caught, resulting in shortened seasons year after year.
Coalition to Bring Groups Together
“This coalition is a great opportunity to bring together fishermen, chefs and consumers to voice the importance of seafood to Texas and the rest of the Gulf,” said Jim Gossen, Chairman of Houston-based Sysco Louisiana Seafood and a Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) board member. “Our goal is to make sure fishery managers continue the practice of fair regulations that sustain the resource for the people depending on it.”

While the vast majority of recreational and commercial fishermen believe in sharing the Gulf’s resources, a few groups have suggested taking fish from consumers and reserve it for offshore recreational fishing as a solution to the problem. Share the Gulf, whose goal is to ensure Gulf seafood continues to be shared fairly and sustainably to be enjoyed for generations to come, 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, TX 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 self-management program helping the population recover from a long-standing depleted status.  The allocation system has allowed commercial fishermen to fish smarter, as well as continuously year round.
The change has been working.  Recently Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, an internationally recognized sustainable seafood program rating the sustainability of fisheries, removed red snapper from its “Red List”.

If red snapper, grouper or other reef fish are taken away from commercial fishing businesses, seafood suppliers, restaurants and retailers that rely on them; the consequences could be devastating to the Gulf’s seafood industry.
“It’s not just fishermen who depend on red snapper, grouper and other Gulf fish,” said Chef Hugo Ortega of Houston’s Backstreet Cafe and Hugo’s and a coalition co-chair. “Being able to buy fresh Gulf seafood is important to my business and important to the customers I serve.

Gulf Seafood Needs to Align in Collaborative Way

Stan Harris
Louisiana Restaurant
“The industry needs to align in a collaborative way so the Council can hear the challenges our chefs and owners face in today’s environment,” said Stan Harris, President/CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, and GSI Board Member. “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."
Efforts to reserve fish and limit consumer choice have happened before, with red drum and speckled trout in particular.  A number of interests have expressed concern that the elimination of commercial fishing for red snapper could lead to other Gulf fish, like grouper.
"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," Harris added.
The removal from the “Red List” confirms fisheries like red snapper, as well as grouper, are being managed properly by commercial fisherman. Rather than penalizing chefs, restaurants, consumers and small fishing businesses responsible for managing the resources sustainably, Share the Gulf realizes the solution is not easy. It believes working together options are available to provide relief to the recreational fishermen from their outdated management plan.
As a first step to better management, technical solutions for recreational fishermen could be instituted; such as a phone application to collect data on fish harvested, documented with photos.

“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 Share the Gulf coalition is committed to a productive, fair and reasonable dialogue with regulators, elected leaders and others on how the Gulf’s resources fairly and sustainably can best be shared, now and for generations to come.

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