Chefs oppose changes to fisheries management

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I expected the commercial fishermen to oppose our quest for changes in federal fisheries management. I also accepted misinformed environmentalists might speak against us. But I must admit, I didn’t foresee the attack of the chefs. (No, not a typo – chefs.)

It seems an unholy political alliance — commercial, environmental and chefs — is attempting to get Congress to back off needed changes to the nation’s primary fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act, initially passed in 1976. Congress is finally recognizing the need for serious updates and is now considering passage of our boating and fishing industry-backed Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, more commonly known as the Modern Fish Act.

As boat dealers and anglers, we’ve never been more vocal about needed changes. So, it’s no surprise the commercial fishing and related interests are pushing back, concerned that our recreational fishing customers could finally get long overdue fair treatment.

Understand the original MSA was passed initially to protect U.S. waters from foreign fishing fleets. It was reauthorized later with the stated purpose to promote the U.S. commercial fishing industry’s optimal exploitation of coastal fisheries by “consolidating control over territorial waters.” It has done just that, but it has also totally failed to recognize the even larger economic impact of recreational fishing. And that’s what we’re out to change now with our support for the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, more commonly called the Modern Fish Act.

Back to the alliance that includes filet flippers as groups like Saving Seafood join the opposition. As a smoke screen, some environmentalists, commercial fishermen and chefs are putting out information about red snapper regulations and implying it has to do with the MSA revisions. It does not. Despite misleading claims, our Modern Fish Act is not a red snapper bill.

“But since this political alliance is trying to turn this debate using the red snapper, Americans should have all the facts,” says David Cresson, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana. His Op-ed appeared in the March issue of Keep America Fishing Newsletter. If you want to understand all this, and our industry’s stake in it, here’s what Cresson so aptly wrote:

“Chefs push half-baked fisheries agenda: Environmentalists, commercial fishermen and chefs may be three of the strangest bedfellows you will ever see in a political debate.

“Yet, this unlikely alliance has been formed to advance a misguided federal fisheries policy agenda that will hurt Louisiana’s economy and jeopardize our valuable recreational fishing.

“In their quest to limit the number of people who can fish and enjoy our natural resources, environmentalists have turned a blind eye to the waste in commercial fisheries while working to advance their political agenda – a move that is hypocritical at best.

“This small, yet vocal, group is trying to disrupt the progress of badly needed reforms by making the dubious claim that improving recreational fishing management will turn back the clock to the bad old days of overfishing.

“It’s time to set the record straight.

“The United States manages its fisheries better than anyone else in the world, and for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in Sportsman’s Paradise (Louisiana), we have the best of the nation’s marine resources right at our fingertips. However, that does not mean our system is perfect. Tweaks to federal law are necessary to better serve both the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

“Congress is finally recognizing the need for these updates and is now considering passage of the Modern Fish Act. This bipartisan bill, which has been introduced in both chambers of Congress, aims to improve our nation’s primary fisheries law by finally recognizing commercial and recreational fishing are fundamentally different activities needing different management approaches.

“By allowing managers to appropriately manage recreational fisheries, the Modern Fish Act would bring parity to the commercial and recreational sectors under a law originally designed to manage commercial fishing.

“It is estimated that in the commercial fishing process — hauling the load to the deck, sorting the fish and throwing back what can’t or won’t be kept — the commercial sector has a discard mortality rate of roughly 75 percent. 75 percent. Is it really worth it to chefs to kill — and throw back dead – millions of pounds of red snapper to harvest 7 million pounds of “plate-sized” snapper?

“This ‘low-grading’ is the antithesis of the red snapper rebuilding effort, which is to increase the number of spawning-sized snapper. This should outrage environmentalists, yet they have conveniently decided not to take this into consideration.

“In addition, commercial operators at the forefront of opposing the Modern Fish Act brazenly take credit for the conservation gains in the red snapper fishery while failing to mention how many fellow fishermen were put out of business when they were gifted a sweetheart Limited Access Privilege Program by the government. LAPPs have been slickly dubbed “catch share” programs.

“Furthermore, the (privileged) handful of (commercial) fishermen who are actually allowed to catch red snapper and their friends in the restaurant business tout their ability to provide America with healthy, sustainable seafood year-round while failing to mention 91 percent of seafood consumed in this country is imported — and half of that comes from aquaculture.

“While environmentalists, commercial fishermen and chefs try to hijack the conservation ethic developed by recreational fishermen, we have history and facts on our side. America’s 11 million saltwater recreational anglers and the boating community annually contribute $1.3 billion through excise taxes and licensing fees toward conservation, boating safety and infrastructure and habitat restoration. Our primary focus is to have healthy marine resources available for the benefit of all Americans to wisely use those resources as they were intended for generations to come.

“Congress now has an opportunity to do the right thing by modernizing federal fisheries management. It will be critical for our elected officials to stay focused on what is right for the American people rather than the scare tactics of self-interested groups looking to give away public resources and keep families off the water.”

And now you know why it’s critical that all of us in the boating industry push our members of Congress to bring our Modern Fish Act to the respective floors for passage.


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