We read David Cresson's op-ed “Chefs push half-baked fisheries agenda” and were immediately struck with how little he seems to appreciate the real problems in Gulf fisheries.

As chefs who rely on healthy fisheries to run our businesses, we know it is possible to have fish for both the commercial and recreational sectors to catch and eat while also preserving this resource for the future. We know this because we already have a system that is doing just that: the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary federal law managing our nation’s fisheries.

Cresson is right when he states, “It’s time to set the record straight. The United States manages its fisheries better than anyone else in the world.” MSA has rebuilt 43 fish stocks since 2000, all while increasing their economic output.

He also correctly points out that Louisiana’s senators and congressional representatives support the proposed Modern Fish Act, a bill that would weaken fishery management and is supported by Cresson’s Coastal Conservation Association.

But it makes sense that the Louisiana congressional dDelegation would stand with CCA once you follow the money.

CCA, through the lobbying firm Adams and Reese, has rewarded the Louisiana delegation handsomely. CCA paid Adams and Reese more than $110,000 each of the last three years to dole out campaign contributions to Louisiana politicians.

Cresson attempts to paint MSA defenders’ focus on red snapper as overblown, even irrational. But it is CCA’s champion, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who introduced a bill titled the Red Snapper Act that would exempt that single species from the protection of MSA, the very legislation that rebuilt the stocks.

Despite CCA’s claims that the commercial sector is taking more than its fair share, recreational fishers are allocated 49 percent of the red snapper quota. And still they have exceeded their quota 7 out of the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the commercial sector is intensely monitored to stay within its quota and the charter for-hire component of the recreational fishery (captains who take individual, paying anglers out on fishing trips) has developed separate management that is keeping them in their limit.

If Cresson is indeed interested in leading the fight for conservation, perhaps he could explain to the public why the Louisiana politicians his lobbyists influenced pushed the Commerce Department to open up the federal recreational season this summer for an extra 39 days, knowingly allowing overfishing by upwards of 50 percent, or 6 million pounds.

CCA has been the most vocal proponent for state management, but Cresson’s op-ed fails to mention the recent passage of an Exempted Fishing Permit program that would be a pilot program for state management of red snapper and is tentatively supported by the commercial industry. He’s silent on this issue because CCA would rather divide the recreational and commercial sectors to create the perception of a crisis in management.

Cresson and CCA have half of the pie, but they always want more. They likely won't be satisfied until red snapper is off menus and out of markets entirely like Louisiana redfish and speckled trout, which are now only available to recreational fishers.

Far from being self-interested, chefs and fishers ask for science-based catch limits because we believe in a productive fishery for our children and grandchildren as well as ourselves. We have no interest in dividing the fishing community. Many of the chefs who have been working to protect Gulf fish are ourselves recreational fishers.

But for those of us who can’t afford lobbyists or expensive boats to access the deeper parts of the Gulf where snapper live, the commercial industry is all we have. And for the 207,000 people who work in the Louisiana restaurant industry, a healthy fishery is more than a recreation. It’s how they pay their bills.

That is why those of us working to support Magnuson-Stevens are so proud to offer local seafood on our menus. We know that when we buy and serve Louisiana fish, we are feeding more than just ourselves.

Cresson refers to the Modern Fish Act as bipartisan even though it passed the House Committee on Natural Resources strictly along partisan lines. The Senate version of the bill will likely do the same sometime in February unless we let our senators know we support science-based management of fisheries and will not let wealthy special interest groups like CCA purchase their votes. Tell Congress to vote no on the Modern Fish Act.

 

Dana Honn owns and operates Cafe Carmo and Jason Goodenough owns and operates Carrollton Market, both in New Orleans.