While the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population is getting healthier, the owners of Red Lobster and Olive Garden don't believe anglers should be given the opportunity to fish for them - despite a recent decision by NOAA Fisheries.
A week before reopening the season, federal regulators announced that the recreational season in federal waters for red snapper will be 17 to 34 days instead of 9 to 28 based on updated recreational landings data and new information from Louisiana and Texas according to a release from NOAA Fisheries. The recreational season is set to open on June 1 in federal waters, which begin 9 nautical miles off Florida and Texas and 3 nautical miles from the Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coasts.
NOAA Fisheries also raised the total allowed red snapper catch from 8 million to nearly 8.5 million pounds, with 51 percent allotted to the commercial sector and just 49 percent for recreational anglers. However, according to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), one national restaurant chain is not happy with that allocation between commercial and recreational red snapper fishermen, and has asked the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) to consider giving anglers less fish.
Darden Restaurants, the corporate owners of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Season 52 restaurant chains, has recommended "for consideration a review of the Gulf of Mexico recreational sector quota," which the corporation feels presently gives anglers too much of the overall red snapper quota at 49 percent. "This sector is allocated a very large portion of the red snapper quota, almost equal to that of the commercial sector; however, they do not have the same reporting requirements that the commercial sector."
In a recent Sun Sentinel article by Washington Bureau correspondent William Gibson, it was reported that Darden Restaurants supports stricter quotas on red snapper harvest in the Gulf of Mexico, evidenced by the 2012 letter to the Gulf Council in which Darden called for continuation of more restrictive red snapper quotas, while asking that "commercial fishers should be allotted more and recreational anglers less."
RFA was able to track down the official letter to the Gulf Council at a website run by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance, a group of individual fishing quota owners in the Gulf whose organization is heavily funded by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other organizations who support programs giving full ownership of coastal fish stocks to select groups and individuals. In their official letter, Darden Restaurants claims personal support for helping establish 'catch share' programs in the Gulf of Mexico, explaining how rigid time limits in place by law to rebuild fish stocks should actually be shortened to force recreational anglers to have fewer days to fish for iconic species like red snapper.
"Some stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, including red snapper, are not on target to be rebuilt in 10 years, as is mandated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act," the letter from Darden Restaurants reads, while also "calling for improved data collection and monitoring from recreational fishers and shorter rebuilding plans within 10 years" which they claim could lead to clearer benefits to the Gulf resource.
RFA said that greenwashing efforts of organizations like EDF and Pew Environment Group has influenced several major corporations to turn their back on the angling public. In response, RFA is encouraging U.S. saltwater anglers to respond with a less than subtle message - take your business elsewhere!
"If Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Capital Grille would like to deny anglers the opportunity to fish, then it's time to deny those restaurants the opportunity at our business," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "If Darden Restaurant chain thinks that if anglers are denied the right to fish, that we'll simply dine out more at Red Lobster or Olive Garden, then I hope anglers are willing to send the message that shows them just how wrong that is."
RFA recently called on a nationwide boycott of Wal-Mart because of similar corporate neglect for core customer values. "The Walton family uses their fortune to buy off friends who'll cover for their despicable business practices, whether it's corporate greenwashing with EDF, rebranding efforts through national trade association campaigns, or apparently by way of directed bribes to local officials in other countries," Donofrio said last August. "Don't just stop buying fishing tackle at Wal-Mart, stop supporting this company altogether and let's quit supporting complete buyouts and takeovers of local communities."
Through their contributions of over $36 million towards no-access marine reserves and catch share programs, RFA said the Walton family has turned their back on local fishing communities and even their own customers. "Shopping for fishing equipment at Wal-Mart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport, it's supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans," said Donofrio. In late May, Wal-Mart also pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act to the tune of over $110 million in federal fines.
RFA said that environmental organizations today function more like corporate public relations firms for major retail business outlets like Wal-Mart, Olive Garden and Red Lobster who are often criticized at the local level. However, EDF recently has created turmoil inside even its own environmental ranks by providing support for oil giants Chevron and Shell who are pushing for hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to extract oil and natural gas.
"The recent national headlines showing how EDF has ruined the environmental movement by carrying the financial load for major corporations should be red flag in Congress where efforts to protect our small business owners have stalled in recent years by the so-called green movement," Donofrio said. "Darden Restaurants, like Wal-Mart, sees big green only for its shareholders, certainly not for the local constituents."
RFA noted how New York Times originally reported last year how EDF "does not accept contributions from Wal-Mart or other corporations it works for," though when confronted on the fact that the $1.3 billion Walton Family Foundation (started in 1987 by Wal-Mart founders' Sam and Helen Walton) has been underwriting EDF's effort to replace the nation's owner-operated fishing businesses with a catch shares model designed to cap the number of active fishermen by trading away ownership of the resource to those with the deepest pockets, the reporter responsible for the story conceded that in a rush to meet deadlines she never considered the relationship between the Walton family and Wal-Mart.
"I didn't think to check the EDF board for Walton family members, or Walton Family Foundation donations," said reporter Stephanie Clifford, adding "None of the third parties I'd spoken to had mentioned that connection, which isn't an excuse - I should have thought of it myself, but didn't."
RFA said groups like Pew and EDF have been given a free pass by the mainstream press in recent years, but Donofrio hopes that the current climate with journalists appearing to fall under intense, unethical and perhaps even illegal government scrutiny may be the tipping point that fishermen have longed hoped for in terms of open and responsible reporting.
"Pew recently sponsored their own fish summit in Washington DC designed to influence Congress towards adding more restrictive measures to our federal fisheries law, while EDF appears to be carrying the water for oil giants and Wall Street investors," Donofrio said. "This isn't conspiracy, it's a transparent culture of treachery and deceit within the environmental business community."
"Saltwater anglers need to send a unified message to businesses like Wal-Mart, Red Lobster and Olive Garden, and turn your back on those who turn their back on us," Donofrio said.