Unlikely Advocates: Chefs Call On Congress To Defend Sustainable US Fisheries

MONTEREY, Calif. — From heartland states to coastal regions, more than 50 celebrated chefs across the United States have emerged as unlikely advocates for sustainable U.S. seafood. They're working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, reaching out in their dining rooms and in letters and calls to Congress. The chefs are urging the House of Representatives to defeat H.R. 200, a bill that – if passed when it comes to a vote next week – would drastically undercut the sustainability of America's wild-caught ocean fisheries.

H.R. 200 is one of several bills currently before Congress that seek to weaken sustainability measures in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), America's primary fisheries management law. Since its 2006 reauthorization, the MSA has been an unqualified success – nearly putting an end to overfishing in U.S. waters and enabling the recovery of 44 depleted species, while positioning the U.S. as a global leader in science-based fisheries management.

On June 14, chefs in cities including Omaha, Phoenix, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, Sarasota and New York joined together to celebrate the law's success in a #ChefsForFish evening. They served sustainable U.S. seafood dishes, and urged their customers to help defend it from threats in Congress.

Participating chefs point out that responsible fisheries management is not just an issue for fisherman or coastal residents—it's important to anyone who enjoys fresh, American-caught seafood.

"Fisheries management may seem like a weird topic for chefs to get involved in," says Danielle Leoni, chef and owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix, Arizona. "But we all love fish. And as a businessperson, I want access to a consistent supply of sustainable seafood even though my restaurant is hundreds of miles from the nearest coast."

This coordinated June 14 event is the latest in a series of efforts in which chefs used their voices as policy advocates, to support sustainable U.S. seafood. In the past year, culinary leaders have become increasingly vocal as bills to weaken the MSA advanced in Congress. Chefs are calling for action via social media, in newspaper op-eds and in letters to members of Congress.

"I depend on wild-caught, sustainable seafood for my businesses, and some of the best fisheries around are right here on the West Coast," says chef Michael Cimarustiof Providence in Los Angeles. "We've worked hard to get to this point. It doesn't make sense to move backwards."

For some chefs, particularly those in landlocked states, there is growing concern that Congress isn't hearing them.

"Even though we're in Colorado and Missouri, we have a real stake in the sustainable management of American fisheries," says Sheila Lucero, Executive Chef of Jax Fish House, with locations in Denver, Boulder, Glendale, Fort Collins and Kansas City.

"Jax serves thousands of pounds of seafood in our restaurants each year, and we're committed to sourcing all of that seafood sustainably," Lucero says. "Any changes to the MSA that weaken the sustainable, science-based management of our fisheries ultimately affects the seafood on our plates. We want Congress to think long and hard before they do anything drastic."

H.R. 200, which will come to the House floor for a vote as early as Tuesday, June 26, also faces opposition from scientists, commercial fishermen, environmental groups and seafood businesses.

About the Monterey Bay Aquarium
With a mission to inspire conversation of the ocean, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the most admired aquarium in the United States, a leader in science education, and a voice for ocean conservation through comprehensive programs in marine science and public policy. Everything we do works in concert to protect the future of our blue planet. More information at montereybayaquarium.org.

Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium