Zurik: N.O. chefs worry seafood abundance could wash away
"Our fear as chefs is that we're going to lose the amazing variety we have in this country, at our fingertips, of fish that's fairly, sustainably raised," says Jason Goodenough, a chef at Carrollton Market bistro.
Goodenough warns that this varied abundance of seafood could quickly wash away. "Blackened redfish, to a lot of outsiders, is possibly the most iconic dish in the city of New Orleans from a culinary standpoint," he tells us. "And we can't serve wild-caught, Louisiana-landed redfish, which is a shame because we're not really representing the best of what Louisiana has to offer."
This speckled trout po'boy is a perfect example. The state allows commercial fishermen to catch a limited supply.
Chefs tells us the redfish or trout you might enjoy at a New Orleans likely is not from Louisiana.
"The fish that's out there, that's being served, is farm fish," says another chef, Dana Honn, "most of it from Texas or [the] Carolinas."
In February, FOX 8 News detailed the controversy behind another Gulf fish, the red snapper. Our investigation showed how a select group of commercial fishermen controls most of the red snapper allocation, making millions of dollars a year.
Some sell their yearly shares to other fishermen, making hundreds of thousands of dollars without ever dropping a line in the water.
"People often say we need to run government like a business," says Congressman Garret Graves of Louisiana. "If you had one of your most valuable assets as a business, would you ever just turn around and give it away? You wouldn't."
Graves calls this a perfect example of a sweetheart deal. He's been a vocal opponent of the current quota program for red snapper.
In the past, the recreational red snapper season lasted just days. But this summer, with Graves' help, the feds extended the season.
"I want to continue to have one of the top commercial seafood industries in the United States, right here in Louisiana," Graves says, "want to continue to have one of the top recreational fishing sectors in the continental United States, right here in Louisiana, as well. But we can't have this imbalance of favoring one versus the other, like I think was really dominate during the last administration, especially."
Graves helped introduce two bills in Congress that he hopes will serve as a long-term solution, opening up longer, permanent seasons for recreational fishermen.
But those changes raise concerns with at least two New Orleans chefs, who worry snapper could be overfished again - a situation they already see with redfish.
"This is a slippery slope for many people, for many fishers," Honn warns.
"I love to eat redfish at restaurants," Graves says. "Redfish is something that the commercial fishers overfished. And so, they did ultimately come in and ban commercial fishing of redfish, as a result of the commercial fishers' overfishing. I love to eat red snapper at restaurants and seafood at restaurants. I think that we need to continue to make sure that our restaurants here, that are some of the best in the world, have the freshest, abundant supply of seafood. But you've got to have a better balance than we're seeing today."
Graves says he wants to improve the science to get a better idea of how much fish is out there. Regardless, he thinks recreational fishermen should have more access to a resource swimming off Louisiana's coast.
"We're on a good path," Honn notes. "The number of fish that are out there, I think, are proof of that. But of course, everybody wants to get into them because they're out there. And I think there's a way to do it, bring everybody to the table, everybody gets their share of that fish or that resource, and that it's managed in a sustainable way for the future."
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