Share the Gulf Gears Up for New Fight

by / Newsroom Ink on April 20, 2015
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Meeting at Quality Seafood Market and Restaurant, Share the Gulf has reawakened to respond to efforts by Gulf State fishery managers to grab control of the Gulf of Mexico’s Red Snapper fishery, giving a larger percentage to the recreational sector and leaving the future of the commercial fishery in doubt. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor

A small group of Texas seafood leaders, restaurateurs and chefs gathered around tables carefully lined together in an Austin seafood market and restaurant to give new life to an organization that has been on a year’s hiatus after successfully delaying the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Amendment 28 that would have removed fresh Gulf fish from seafood counters and restaurant tables across the country.

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Buddy Guindon brought a film crew shooting a new reality show for the National Geographic Channel on his commericial snapper operations  to the meeting. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Share the Gulf has reawakened to respond to efforts by Gulf state fishery managers to grab control of the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper fishery, leaving the future of the commercial fishery in doubt.

In the fall of 2013 more than 130 chefs, restaurant owners, fishermen, seafood industry leaders and conservationists came together to form the coalition dedicated to raise awareness and support for fishermen, restaurants, retailer, consumers and tourism communities dependent upon fair access to fresh Gulf seafood.

Red snapper is a shared fishery under the Magnuson Stevens Act and overseen by the Gulf Council. It is currently split almost evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen.  Due to what many see as an outdated data collection system , fishery managers have had no choice but to further restrict catch limits resulting in shortened seasons for recreational fishermen.

Share the Gulf Awakens

“Because of the initial interest in Share the Gulf two years ago we know there are a lot of people out there who have an interest in fresh sustainable seafood,” said Buddy Guindon of Galveston, TX, a spokesman for Gulf red snapper commercial fishermen.  “It is going to be much easier this time to re-energize our base and get them out there in order that we can keep fish on the consumers plates in restaurants and in markets around the country.”

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“Share the Gulf was dormant for a period because we didn’t have a challenge,” Guindon told the group. ” I think we are going to come off stronger this time around because we are adding to our supporter base.”

Guindon, who is the Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and a Founding Member of the Gulf Seafood Institute, brought a film crew shooting a new reality show for the National Geographic Channel to the meeting. He feels Share the Gulf is needed more than ever if the state management initiative is to be to become history.

“Share the Gulf was dormant for a period because we didn’t have a challenge. I think we are going to come off stronger this time around because we are adding to our supporter base,” said the owner of Galveston’s Katie’s Seafood about delaying the initiative that could mean the end to commercially caught Gulf snapper.  “Everyone in the organization is engaged in business, the members are much more willing to get involved and help when the need arises if you aren’t bugging them all the time.”

Needed More than Even

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Jim Gossen (l), chairman of Sysco Louisiana Seafood and a Texas board member of GSI, said that Share the Gulf is needed more than ever. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Jim Gossen, Chairman of Sysco Louisiana Seafood and a Texas board member of GSI, said that Share the Gulf is needed more than ever because red snapper is on a similar path as speckled trout and red fish toward becoming a “game fish” only.

“It is imperative that everyone from Kansas City to Kenai, Alaska have equal access to the renewable seafood the Gulf produces daily. For a majority of American’s commercial fishermen provide the only access they have to Gulf seafood,” said Gossen. “The Gulf is one of the few remaining resources that provides wild sustainable seafood for America and the world.”

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According to Robert E. Jones, the new Director of the Gulf of Mexico for Environmental Defense Fund, successful management in the commercial sector has played a large role in the rebuilding of historically overfished stocks like red snapper. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

According to Robert E. Jones, the new Director of the Gulf of Mexico for Environmental Defense Fund, successful management in the commercial sector has played a large role in the rebuilding of historically overfished stocks like red snapper and gag grouper.

“Looking at trend line data on overfishing and the health of the stocks in the last 50 years, I can imagine how hard it must have been for commercial fishermen, charter captains and private anglers,” said the former political consultant. “The good news is that NOAA just released the annual Status of Stocks and species like gag grouper have come off the list of overfishing. Federal management under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is not perfect but it is working; for example folks look at what has been done here in the commercial sector in the Gulf of Mexico and they see it as a model around the world.”

Jones said he is also really optimistic about the charter-for-hire industry getting an accountability management plan that will result in two-thirds of the user groups in the Gulf being accountable for how much red snapper is actually landed.

Accountablity

Captain Scott Hickman of Galveston’s Circle H Outfitters

and a member of the Charter Fishermen’s Association, agreed with Jones’ assessment.   He said that the Commerce Department’s recent approval of Amendment 40 (recognizing the federally permitted charter-for-hire fishing community as its own independent sector) was an important step in Gulf red snapper accountability.

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“I just want to leave the Gulf of Mexico better for my children, and their children’s children,” said Captain Hickman about why the issue is so important to everyone. “It’s about a lifestyle that I don’t want to see go away.” Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“We are currently awaiting final selection by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on who will administer and monitor our newly funded electronic data collection system approved last year by Congress,” he said.  “The Charter Fisherman Association has sent a letter supporting a proposal submitted by CLS America in partnership with the Gulf Seafood Institute that uses CLS America electronic logbook system.   More than 300 Gulf-wide charter-for-hire boats are expected to participate and we are hoping for a quick decision so the system can be implemented as soon as possible.”

Both Captain Hickman and Jones see the program as a vital part of the charter boat future. “It’s all about accountability, accountability, accountability,” explained Hickman.

The 30,000 supporter strong Share the Gulf has aligned a variety of diverse stakelholders to collaborate on giving a voice on the issue of making red snapper available to everyone. Fishermen have joined with chefs, restaurateurs, seafood organizations and consumers to educate members of Congress, Gulf State governors, the Gulf Council and the federal and state fishery agencies on the need for fair fishery allocations on behalf of the American consumer.

“It is important the coalition continues to 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,” said Gossen, the Co-Chair of the Texas contingency for Share The Gulf. “Giving the Gulf states exclusive management authority over the Gulf red snapper fishery could completely cripple both the commercial and charter-for-hire sectors.”

Chefs Support

Having grown up in a coastal region of Texas Jacob Weaver, the Executive Chef at Austin’s new Juliet Ristorante, knows as well as anyone that snapper is an essential fish for chefs and home cooks alike.

“One of the reasons I support the Share the Gulf campaign is that it seeks more regulation of our fisheries, especially in the recreational sector which can only have good effects for snapper and other gulf species,” he said. “It would be a massive failure of the system if myself and other chefs could no longer sell wild snapper on our menus and I think its important for the public to learn just how close we could be to that happening.”

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Executive Chef Camden Stuezenberger (r) of Austin’s Fork and Vine Restaurant listens to how purposed legislation could effect red snapper with Chef Nathan Lemley of Austin’s Parkside Restaurant. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“We are in the process of changing our menu, and red snapper will play an important part,” said Executive Chef Camden Stuezenberger of Austin’s Fork and Vine Restaurant. “We sell more than 200 pounds of snapper a week, and after todays meeting I plan on becoming actively involved to make sure that snapper stays on my menu.”

Stuezenberger, who is new to Share the Gulf, said he plans to buy more fish from the Gulf instead of outsourcing from other places, as well getting his team at the restaurant more involved.  “We already buy all our shrimp from the Gulf and all the fish on our menu is wild caught. That is the big movement, and sustainability is important for the customer,” he said.

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Roberto San Miguel, an owner in Monger’s Market + Kitchen in downtown Austin, said he appreciated the opportunity to directly talk with the people responsible for harvesting and managing the Gulf Red Snapper fishery. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Roberto San Miguel, an owner in Monger’s Market + Kitchen in downtown Austin, said he appreciated the opportunity to directly talk with the people responsible for harvesting and managing the Gulf red snapper fishery.

“I plan to get out there and spread the word to get my staff and customers involved with this important issue so they can contact their state and federal representatives,” said San Miguel.  “Red snapper is huge on our menu, it is probably our number one product. People who are red snapper enthusiasts are especially passionate about their seafood; it’s a worldwide icon.  Without it on the menu it would be like emptiness inside.”

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“Chefs are really good at carrying our message to the public, especially when you don’t have an ocean in your backyard like in Austin,” explained Carol Huntsberger, proprietor of Austin’s Quality Seafood Market and Restaurant. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“Chefs are really good at carrying our message to the public, especially when you don’t have an ocean in your backyard like in Austin,” explained Carol Huntsberger, proprietor of Austin’s Quality Seafood Market and Restaurant where the meeting was held and longtime Share the Gulf supporter. “It is all about education, and at all levels – from the consumer who is taking it home to the sports fisherman who goes on average 10 times during his lifetime.”

Huntsberger, one of the few fishmongers in the state of Texas, said that it is important for the consumer to understand the sustainability and availability of various species of fish. “Coastal residents are much more likely to understand fishery issues, but the further you go from the coast that understanding drops proportionately.  That is why an organization like Share the Gulf is so important,” she said.

“I just want to leave the Gulf of Mexico better for my children, and their children’s children,” said Captain Hickman about why the issue is so important to everyone. “It’s about a lifestyle that I don’t want to see go away.”

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .

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