People come from all over the world to experience New Orleans’ distinct culinary traditions. As a chef and a fisherman, we work every day to bring Louisiana’s heritage to life. One of us catches wild, local fish, shrimp and other species straight from the Gulf waters, and the other prepares fresh seafood for patrons. Louisiana is our home, and our craft and livelihood depend on productive fisheries and healthy ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.
Showcasing Gulf seafood can be difficult when local fishermen struggle to compete with a supply of cheaper, foreign, industrially farmed seafood. Chefs and consumers who want to support local fisheries frequently have a difficult time distinguishing between sustainable and unsustainable options. Illegal fishing continues to be an issue in the Gulf, contributing to fish undercounting that impacts accurate data collection and stock assessments for species such as red snapper, which has traditionally suffered from overfishing.
Making a profitable living on the water also isn’t easy. Fishermen have to pay for permits, fuel, crew, insurance, moorage, maintenance and other costs associated with operating a boat. This burden is squeezing out independent fishermen who are the backbone of our working waterfronts; those fishermen are being replaced by firms with business models that are not as likely to take the health of our oceans into account. These high costs also set a very steep barrier to younger folks who might want to get into commercial fishing.
We see good news on the horizon, though. Congressman Jared Huffman, Democrat of California, is leading the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives to update and reauthorize our nation’s primary federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. As a first step, he is setting up roundtable discussions around the country to listen to people like us who are invested in the management of our oceans and fisheries. Rep. Huffman is right to gather public input about how to manage these publicly owned resources that benefit us all. And he is coming to New Orleans Thursday, Jan. 30, to hear from us.
Our main message to Rep. Huffman and all of Congress is that science-based management of our fisheries under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working for the most part. We’ve seen firsthand how improvements enacted during the last reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens have ensured we have enough fish in the ocean and on our plates. However, if we do not address the financial challenges that fishermen face, we will forever replace community fishermen with those who do not have the best interests of the fish nor the seafood system at heart.
We have an opportunity now to build upon the success of this law and ensure future generations of fishermen and chefs have the same — or even better — opportunities to make a living from the Gulf’s bounty. We must look after the small-boat fishermen who form the backbone of America’s working waterfronts and ensure the next generation of community fishermen have fair and affordable access to our fisheries.
We hope future marine policy will expand seafood-labeling laws that require more transparency for consumers to know where their seafood is coming from. Additionally, we need greater enforcement of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to ensure that all fish caught are accounted for and provide income for the hard-working and responsible women and men who legally fish every day.
World-class Gulf seafood is an integral part of Louisiana’s culture. As climate change, dead zones, hurricanes and potential oil spills threaten the Gulf’s long-term health, science-based management will become increasingly important to navigate uncertain waters. We have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to strengthen an already successful law to address current and future challenges that happen from the Gulf’s open waters to New Orleans’ open seafood markets.
We thank Rep. Huffman for his leadership in coming to our region, listening to our issues and learning from our experiences. We look forward to sharing our perspectives on Jan. 30 and will continue to make our voices heard in support of strong, science-based management and prosperous working waterfronts for generations to come.
Ryan Prewitt is a James Beard Award- winning chef at Pêche in New Orleans. Lance Nacio is owner of Anne Marie Shrimp and captains the F/V Anna Marie for shrimp and reef fish in the waters off of Montegut.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and Louisiana’s own U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-6th District) hold a listening session at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas from 4:30-6:30 PM Thursday, Jan. 30. You can find details at this link.
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