The owners of Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants believe you should fish less!

In fact, Darden Restaurant’s official position on the matter is that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) should reconsider the present recreational sector quota of red snapper, which the corporate restaurant chain feels may be too large!

The allocation of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico currently stands at 51 to 49 in favor of the commercial sector; that’s to say that when an annual Gulf-wide harvest of red snapper is decided upon at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council), 51% of that quota gets allocated to the commercial sector with the other 49% allotted to the recreational community.

In letter signed by Roger Bing, vice president of seafood purchasing at the Darden Restaurants chain, the corporate owners of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze and other chains asked the Council for “a review of the Gulf of Mexico recreational sector quota,” explaining that “the (recreational) sector is allocated a very large portion of the red snapper quota, almost equal to the commercial sector; however, they do not have the reporting requirements that the commercial sector does.”

“Additionally, some stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, including red snapper, are not on target to be rebuilt in 10 years as is mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Bing said, adding “calling for improved data collection and monitoring from recreational fishers and shorter rebuilding plans within 10 years could lead to clear benefits to the resources.”

In a May article appearing in the Sun Sentinel newspaper, Washington Bureau correspondent William Gibson reported how Darden Restaurants supported stricter quotas on red snapper harvest in the Gulf of Mexico while asking the Council to support the continuation of more restrictive red snapper quotas, adding that “commercial fishers should be allotted more and recreational anglers less.”

Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) executive director Jim Donofrio said U.S. saltwater anglers who feel they’re often fighting a losing battle against both commercial and anti-fishing interests need to ask themselves how important the battle really is.

“RFA has been leading the charge against efforts to take fish away from the recreational fishing community, and we’ve been extremely vocal about protecting America’s right to fish,” Donofrio said. “Perhaps we haven’t been vocal enough.”

Donofrio suggested that saltwater angles who were angry enough to fight back might consider turning away from Darden restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

“These folks apparently don’t want you catching your dinner, they’d prefer you bought some overseas import raised in squalid, uninspected locations,” he said.

Another new coalition of restaurant owners and fish mongers in the Gulf of Mexico has formed in a unified front to oppose recreational anglers’ efforts to more fairly balance the present allocation of red snapper. “This is a coalition of people and groups from across the Gulf that care about making sure access to the Gulf’s resources are shared fairly and sustainably,” said Chef Stephen Stryjewski of New Orleans-based Cochon and Pêche Seafood Grill and founding chef chair of Share the Gulf.

Stryjewski and his fellow coalition members noted that red snapper is a shared fishery split “almost evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen,” but they claim that offshore recreational fishermen who target red snapper are caught in a failed management system resulting from outdated data collection. Regrettably, some of the supporting organizational members of the Share the Gulf also include Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and EDF-funded Gulf Fishermen’s Association and Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, groups which currently support the concept of privatized coastal fisheries through catch shares and individual fishing quotas.

In a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee on June 27th, EDF’s Pam Baker specifically asked members of Congress to consider catch shares as a new way of managing our coastal anglers. “For example, states can try methods such as harvest tags, similar to those used to allot hunting privileges for limited game populations like deer and elk,” Baker said, explaining how “tags could be allocated throughout the year to accommodate tourist seasons, tournaments, and other priorities.”

Very similar to the lead balloon introduced by a conservation group at the Gulf Council back in 2009, Baker and EDF suggest that “Angler management organizations, which receive a given amount of fish to distribute at the local level and allow anglers to manage themselves in cooperation with regulators, also have promise.”

RFA and its members were quick in leading the charge in the Gulf region in 2012 to rally opposition to a plan which would have separated the recreational sector into sharply divided pieces. The Council ultimately held off on voting on the plan, but regrettably that means that the idea is still in place.

“It’s hard to believe but we have some members of our fishing community who’ve already compromised away some fairly critical positions, first giving in to cap and trade fisheries policies as being appropriate for the commercial sector, and now yielding to the concept of trading shares amongst the charter and head boat community,” Donofrio said. “EDF is running towards the goal-line with this new plan to privatize all fisheries, and unless anglers fight back now I really believe it could be the end of recreational fishing as we know it.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will be meeting October 28th through November 1st in New Orleans, and the Share the Gulf coalition said it plans to alert members of the restaurant and seafood communities, elected officials, and consumers of these plans and their dire economic consequences. It is expected that all of the EDF ‘catch share’ supporting members will be in attendance for these meetings.

Representing RFA in an effort to fight for the rights of recreational anglers will be Capt. Tom Adams and Capt. Buddy Bradham. Join Capt. Buddy this Saturday starting at 4 p.m. at the Fat Cat Tavern in Tri-Cities Plaza, 16080 US Hwy 19 North in Clearwater, FL for an open discussion on fisheries management.

“I listened to the testimony at the Pensacola, FL Gulf Council meeting and got very confused,” Capt. Bradham said. “A group of New Orleans chefs were there testifying about how the commercial fishermen needed more quota because they could not keep enough fish at their restaurants to supply the American consumer, yet the commercial fishermen were testifying that they wanted the Gulf Council to move forward with the inter-sector trading plan to allow commercial fishermen to lease quota to charter boats and recreational fishermen.”

 

“I am still scratching my head,” Capt. Bradham added. “Do the commercial fishermen want to fish for the chefs and American consumer or do they just want to sit back and lease their quota to the recreational sector? They can’t have it both ways.”

Logo courtesy Recreational Fishing Alliance

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