Leading chefs from across the United States unite to send message to Congress

Joint letter highlights concerns for the future of U.S. fisheries

November 7, 2017
Matt Smelser, (202) 572-3272, msmelser@edf.org

(WASHINGTON – November 7, 2017) A group of more than 150 chefs, restaurant owners and seafood dealers from across the United States sent a joint letter to Congress today voicing concerns about legislation that would threaten the health of U.S. fish populations and the businesses that depend on them. Signatories include prominent figures in the culinary community, regional and community leaders, and several James Beard award winners.

The letter details specific concerns about bills that would undermine key provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the forty-year-old law that serves as the foundation of fisheries management in the United States. The law has been amended a number of times since its original passage, and each time the process has made it stronger. As a result, overfishing in federal waters has been reduced dramatically while the fishing industry has increased revenue and created more stable jobs.

“The comeback of fisheries in the United States has been remarkable to see, and we want to make sure these bills don’t undermine that progress,” said Kerry Heffernan, Executive Chef of Grand Banks, Pilot and Island Oyster (New York City) and Seaworthy (New Orleans), who helped organize the letter. “When I’m not in the kitchen, I’m fishing as much as possible. I understand how important recreational and commercial fishing are in this country; that’s why we have to make sure we protect our fisheries for generations to come,” added Heffernan.

In the letter, the chefs ask representatives in Congress to oppose the bills in question (H.R. 200, H.R. 2023, H.R. 3588, and S. 1520) unless they are stripped of problematic provisions that would undermine the use and enforcement of science-based catch limits, the ability of regional fishery managers to use a full array of management tools, requirements that regulations be based on the best available science, and the deadlines for rebuilding depleted fish populations.

“Fishing and seafood are not just important to the Gulf economy; they are a part of our heritage,” said Haley Bittermann, Chef for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group in New Orleans, Louisiana. “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 chef letter was welcomed with praise from leaders in the commercial and charter fishing community as well as the Environmental Defense Fund, which helps connect chefs with fishermen to learn more about the issues facing U.S. fisheries.

Quotes from the fishing and conservation community about this action by chefs:

From Kevin Wheeler, Executive Director, Seafood Harvesters of America:

“Commercial fishermen have witnessed the comeback of U.S. fisheries firsthand and what works best in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We share many of the concerns these chefs highlight and want to see a law that benefits everyone in the fishing industry and ensures fish populations continue to grow.”

From Buddy Guindon, commercial fisherman and Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance:

“I’m proud to see chefs join us in taking a stand for how our fisheries are managed. Thanks to smarter management in the commercial fishery, red snapper are coming back in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of what these bills propose would really threaten that progress. We know recreational anglers want longer seasons, but we can’t sacrifice better fishing for our children for a quick fix today.”

From Gary Jarvis, charter captain, commercial fisherman and restauranteur

“It’s great to see chefs getting involved in the process. This is a public resource we all share, whether you catch it, cook it or just eat it. In the Gulf, commercial and charter fishermen have pushed for changes that are helping our industries and the resource. These bills would undermine our work at the regional level and won’t solve the problems private anglers are facing.”

From Matt Tinning, Senior Director of EDF’s US Oceans program:

“Millions of Americans across the country enjoy dining out on sustainable seafood. As our nation’s fisheries rebound, the range and quality of sustainable seafood available at their favorite restaurant continues to grow. Congress should stick with what’s working, not undermine our progress.”

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