A landlocked Colorado chef is probably the last person you’d expect to be at the forefront of a marine conservation battle. But as a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s (MBA) sustainability-focused Blue Ribbon Task Force, Sheila Lucero of Jax Fish House is helping to lead the charge in advocating for healthy oceans. In fact, she spent the first half of this week—Capitol Hill’s Ocean Week—in Washington D.C. meeting with members of Congress to share her perspective. Flanked by two of MBA’s scientists and policy writers, as well as chefs Susan Feniger of California (co-founder of the now-closed Border Grill and Blue Window) and Steve Phelps of Florida (Indigenous Restaurant), Lucero was effectively representing the importance of sustainable seafood in both Colorado and Missouri (where Jax has a Kansas City location).
The goal of the mission, in Lucero’s words, was to urge lawmakers to keep a “science-based focus on fisheries management.” MBA is currently on the offensive to protect the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a crucial piece of legislation that helps keep fisheries at healthy levels. Representative Don Young of Alaska recently introduced H.B. 200, or the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.” But according to Lucero, the proposed changes in that act would weaken the standards of Magnuson-Stevens and could have potentially disastrous consequences on ocean health worldwide.
To make her case to the scores of senators (including Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, both Jax fans) and representatives Lucero met with this week, she focused her talking points on economics. “Jax Fish House is an established, go-to restaurant, and sustainable seafood is a huge part of our brand that’s vital to our business,” she says. “Our consumers want to know where their food is coming from, and even in a landlocked state, we care about coastal communities. It’s important to us that fisheries in the U.S. continue to be the best in the world.”
This was the first time MBA has brought chefs to Capitol Hill, and the trip was considered a success—although there’s still plenty of work to be done. Utilizing chefs as advocates is further proof that they have powerful voices in society and can influence real change. “We have an advantage because everyone loves to eat,” Lucero says.