NOAA rules could jeop­ar­dize state’s fish stocks

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Spike Gjerde ter­roir ter­roir. meroir — Spike Gjerde (spike@wood­ber­ryk­itchen.com) is chef and part­ner of Bal­ti­more’s Wood­berry Kitchen, Ar­ti­fact Cof­fee, Parts & La­bor, Grand Cru and Wood­berry Pantry; in 2015, he won the James Beard award for “Best Chef:

When I opened Wood­berry Kitchen in 2007, one ques­tion de­fined my ap­proach: What’s the best way for us to feed our­selves qual­ity, lo­cal food while re­turn­ing value to the grow­ers and water­men who make it avail­able? The an­swer be­came our foun­da­tion. I would source my in­gre­di­ents only from lo­cal grow­ers and water­men of the Ch­e­sa­peake in or­der to shift con­sumer spend­ing away from in­dus­trial — and of­ten ex­ploita­tive — farms and fish­eries to­ward those who are true stew­ards of the land and sea.

I am deeply con­cerned about the new fish­eries man­age­ment rules pro­posed by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion Fish­eries (NOAA Fish­eries). The quan­tifi­able progress my restau­rants and our lo­cal fish­eries and water­men have made for our aquatic ecosys­tem could van­ish with a cou­ple of sig­na­tures on a page.

Since 2006, un­der the Mag­nu­son-Stevens Act (MSA), Amer­i­can fish­eries have been man­aged more ef­fec­tively than ever be­fore. Thanks to science-based catch lim­its and stock as­sess­ments, 30 fish stocks once in se­vere de­cline have been re­built to health­ier lev­els since 2007. Now it seems NOAA Fish­eries wants to jeop­ar­dize that suc­cess.

Re­cently, NOAA Fish­eries fi­nal­ized al­ter­ations to Na­tional Stan­dard 1, the rule un­der MSA that guides our na­tion’s eight re­gional fish­eries man­age­ment coun­cils in set­ting catch lim­its, as­sess­ing the health and abun­dance of fish stocks, reg­u­lat­ing by­catch, and other is­sues. Un­der MSA we have had strong, science-based rules that es­tab­lished catch lim­its by con­duct­ing an­nual as­sess­ments and re­views. The new rule opens the door to de­lay­ing the trig­ger for tak­ing ac­tion to en­sure sus­tain­able man­age­ment as well as putting off ac­tu­ally ad­dress­ing prob­lems in our fish­eries. Ad­di­tion­ally, the MSA re­quires the sec­re­tary of com­merce to re­view all stock re­build­ing plans to de­ter­mine if they were mak­ing progress. Un­der the new rule, the sec­re­tary is only re­quired to de­ter­mine if the plan is be­ing im­ple­mented as in­tended re­gard­less of whether the fish stock is im­prov­ing.

Since 2006, fish­ery man­agers largely stopped over­fish­ing be­cause MSA had the teeth to re­quire man­agers to take im­me­di­ate re­me­dial ac­tion when over­fish­ing was oc­cur­ring. We know what hap­pens when re­me­dial ac­tion isn’t taken right away. In the 1980s and 1990s, be­fore MSA, fish­ery man­agers saw that their man­age­ment plans weren’t work­ing, but they re­fused to change course. As a re­sult, many fish­eries plum­meted, re­quir­ing a decade to re­bound — many are still slowly re­cov­er­ing.

If U.S. fish­eries re­turn to the days of high-risk man­age­ment, can’t I just serve In­done­sian fish or Venezue­lan crab in­stead? Ab­so­lutely not. When I make my Til­gh­man Is­land Crab Cake, it has to be made with blue crab from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. It’s not about a cer­tain recipe or style of cook­ing. It’s about sup­port­ing our re­gion’s wa­ter­shed and the ac­tual pro­duc­tion of the in­gre­di­ents that re­lies on farm­ers and water­men as much as it does any recipe. It’s about a com­mit­ment I made nearly a decade ago to source thought­fully caught fish and shell­fish from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, West Ocean City and Chin­coteague.

The French of­ten speak of the taste of a place, the of a food. Ch­e­sa­peake Bay oys­ters have a spe­cial, dis­tinct the seafood ver­sion of When the our water­men are sell­ing black sea bass, blue cat­fish, rock­fish, Ch­e­sa­peake clams, oys­ters and the iconic blue crab, I make the most of what is sea­son­ally and lo­cally avail­able. And it makes sense; our pa­trons want de­li­cious and fresh food more than a pre­dictable menu. And there are things we just don’t serve. I don’t buy sal­mon or shrimp be­cause they are not avail­able at lo­cal fish­eries. I’d much rather work closely with bay water­men to help guar­an­tee them re­li­able mar­kets. This is the real goal of build­ing a lo­cal food econ­omy: to cre­ate a healthy ecosys­tem of bur­geon­ing fish­eries, in­de­pen­dent fish­er­men, won­der­ful restau­rants and ul­ti­mately our own good health.

Sup­port­ing fish­eries man­age­ment also makes good busi­ness sense. When fish­eries are not man­aged through science-based de­ci­sions, sup­plies are er­ratic, which in­tro­duces a whole new level of un­cer­tainty that makes it hard to run a kitchen. If we don’t make re­spon­si­ble choices now, we may not even have the op­tion to make them in the fu­ture.

I know many peo­ple don’t have the time to in­ves­ti­gate where their food comes from. But thanks to MSA it has been clear to buy­ers like me and con­sumers alike that Amer­i­can fish­eries could be trusted — not only is the qual­ity ex­cel­lent, but stocks are be­ing re­stored.

So, what’s the best way for us to feed our­selves qual­ity, lo­cal food while re­turn­ing value to the grow­ers and water­men who make it avail­able? The an­swer is clear. I call on the next pres­i­dent of the United States to work with NOAA Fish­eries to aban­don these weak­ened rules and once again man­age our fish­eries with the sus­tain­able prac­tices that MSA de­liv­ers.

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