Top New Orleans Chefs Weigh In On Fisheries Bills

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More than two dozen chefs, including some of New Orleans' finest, are asking members of Congress to shoot down bills that would change fisheries management, which they say could lead to overfishing.

"While claiming to 'modernize' and 'strengthen' fisheries management, they increase the risk of allowing overfishing to occur," said the letter signed by 26 chefs, including eight James Beard Award winners or nominees. Most of the restaurants are in New Orleans, but they include two in Lafayette, one in Lake Charles and one in Memphis, Tennessee.

The letter, dated Tuesday, was made public Wednesday by the nonprofit Gulf Restoration Network. It targets three bills introduced by House Republicans: two by Garrett Graves of Louisiana and one by Don Young of Alaska.

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"My bill gives regional councils the flexibility they need to make good, science-based fisheries management decisions," Young said in a statement emailed by press secretary Murphy McCollough.

Young's bill is the "Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act" and Graves' is the "Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017." Graves did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

The third bill, which has co-sponsors from several states, would give states the power to regulate private recreational red snapper fishing seasons in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Opponents say the bills would weaken reliance on scientific evidence in drawing up plans to build up overfished species and would set up different rules for different regions.

The Fishing Communities Coalition, which represents small fishing boats from a number of areas, took issue with Young's treatment of rules that set "catch shares," giving a pound quota to each commercial fishing boat.

"The bill bans new catch shares in some regions, requires a referendum to enact them in other regions and fails to address the issue in others," it wrote in a December statement.

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Supporters of the bills say the current system was designed for commercial boats, not recreational anglers.

The chefs wrote that "the United States boasts one of the world's best regulatory systems to govern its marine fisheries. Its regional council system, strong national standards, and mandate to use the best available science have led to safeguarding and restoring the health of our ocean ecosystems — which, in turn, have provided us with a sustainable source of seafood. This clearly is a success story — one that needs to continue by building upon a foundation developed over the past four decades."

James Beard winners or nominees who signed include Anty Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis; and Nina Compton of Compere Lapin, Justin Devillier of Balise and La Petite Grocery, Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette, and Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon and Cochon Butcher, all in New Orleans.

Other signers included Brian Burns and Ryan Prewett of Peche Seafood Grill — winner of the James Beard national award for best new restaurant in 2014; Dickie Brennan of Dickie Brennan and Co. Restaurant Group; Ernest Prejean of Prejean's in Lafayette; Ryan Schantz of Calla in Lake Charles; and Mark Alleman of Hook and Boil in Lafayette.

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