Riding out another storm
Thursday,30 August,2012 11:31:02
Seven years from the day Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Isaac is back to test the fortified levees in and around New Orleans.
So far, flood waters are breaching 18 miles of levees in Plaquemines Parish, where many oyster boats were hurrying to return to port ahead of the storm earlier this week. Local schools have been closed since Monday, which also marked the start of an evacuation order for the East Bank and lower West Bank of the parish. Isaac is churning over Louisiana, moving very slowly and threatening to cause deep flooding.
The fall shrimp season opened on 13 August in Louisiana’s inshore waters and will likely run through December. It has been predicted to be a strong season for shrimpers, on the heels of two weak seasons, and it's also the time to catch more valuable white shrimp.
A successful season is critical to many fishermen on the Gulf Coast right now.
Our hearts go out to the families in this region, who are still recovering from Katrina and the gulf oil spill. We can only hope and pray that when the skies clear, the damage will be minimal and surmountable.
Get your tail in gear
Friday,24 August,2012 08:50:14
You know you’re invested when a story comes on the radio and you stop everything you’re doing to listen and then raise your arms and cheer when a voice you trust comes over the airwaves.
If you guessed that I'm talking about this election season, then you must live in a different country than I do.
That was the scene in my kitchen yesterday morning when I heard coverage of the latest deadliest catch — Northeast groundfish — and heard the voice of one Jennifer Lincoln.
Of course, I was disappointed because the story was clipped for morning air time and primarily talked about the lack of safety compliance in the fishing industry being a result of the “cowboy culture” in commercial fishing. (You can read the full story here.)
I think that’s certainly a component. But what I don’t like is the go-to solution to the problem being to A) cut NIOSH funding for a national fishing safety program (led by Lincoln and her remarkable staff) that has proven their research saves lives in this industry and B) to promote mandatory vessel inspections by the Coast Guard that will dole out penalties for any boat not carrying the appropriate safety gear.
This is not a Coast Guard bashing session. Those folks often risk their lives to save fishermen (among others). They deserve props for dedicating their careers to public service.
But what so many regulators are completely missing is the fact that you can’t change the culture first. You have to figure out ways to work with the culture as it is in order to effect change the fastest and most effectively.
One of the reasons fishing is so deadly is because fishermen don’t wear PFDs on deck. Regulators often take the approach of closing this gap by fining people who don’t comply. The NIOSH Alaska Field Team took the approach of reaching out to the fishing community to find out why they don’t wear safety gear.
The answer, almost overwhelmingly? Because it impedes with the work they’re doing. No kidding. Have you ever worn a life jacket? It’s not comfortable. I would not want to work an exhausting physical job fighting my uniform.
Step two was to pass this information on to manufacturers of safety gear. Lo and behold, today there are many more options for life jackets and man-overboard alarms that fit the fishing lifestyle.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s how you get it done. That’s how you save lives and make the deadliest catch less deadly.
If we focused primarily on improving gear and making sure fishermen got trained on how to don and employ that gear, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about vessel checks because safety gear would become part of the culture rather than a new regulation you have to follow or else.
Thursday,16 August,2012 14:56:44
In my morning headline perusal, the confluence of two stories got me thinking. First was about the Midwestern chain of grocery stores promoting Gulf of Mexico shrimp and then I saw a headline about a new jackpot lotto winner in Michigan. It got me fantasizing about winning the lottery — and selling fish.
What would I do if I won? The first thing I thought of was not a trip to the Mediterranean (though that would make the short list). I’d bankroll the National Seafood Marketing Coalition.
I went to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago hoping to find some U.S. shrimp to go with a grilled Caesar salad. We had used spot prawns a couple of weeks before and were itching to replicate the experience.
Got to the seafood case, and not a single shrimp or prawn was from this hemisphere (North or West), and forget wild of any sort. I know, it’s the grocery store, so what should I expect? But this happens to be a store that takes pains to label local seafood with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Responsibly Harvested label. So why doesn’t their “mission” extend to other types of seafood?
The easy answers are that A) consumers don’t demand it and B) no one is working with the store’s corporate headquarters to make that happen. Those are the problems a national marketing initiative could solve.
We put a lot of pressure on consumers to know enough about seafood to support their local fishermen. Meanwhile, the most accessible “guides” are full of political claptrap that no one could possibly wade through without hours of research. And that’s not the point of a guide.
How easy would it be to work with supermarket chains across the country to devote a section to Wild American Seafood? Make it easy for the consumer, and give the retailer an opportunity to sell premium products (often at premium prices). I would have walked right up to that section and purchased expensive shrimp instead of the premium chicken I ended up with.
Alas, don’t get your hopes up. Did I mention I don’t play the lotto?
Friday,3 August,2012 16:10:20
The Northeast groundfish fleet is on its knees and looking at a final, fatal blow in the form of severe cuts to key species and the possibility of closures relating to Endangered Species Act protections for some populations of Atlantic sturgeon.
It doesn't seem possible that the agency responsible for the management of the fishery would allow it to go down in flames like this. But it just might happen, and much sooner than many of us thought.
The standard response from people outside of the fishery is that the fishermen did it to themselves. They overfished and are now paying the price. It's true that cod was overfished after the federal government offered loan guarantees to build new boats, so people who had never considered fishing before grabbed the chance to make some money on the iconic and seemingly infallible species. We could never take too many, right?
And now the government, which spurred the fleet's unmanageable growth, is making it painfully hard for the remaining dedicated groundfish fleet to stay afloat, despite fishermen's efforts to allow the cod to rebuild and a survey in 2008 that showed significant progress toward that goal. What do we do for farmers when drought destroys their corn crops? We prop them up. And we may do something similar for fishermen by declaring a federal disaster.
But fishermen don't want to live on welfare. They want to work, and their reports indicate that cod is healthier than the most recent surveys show. The federal government should invest money at the top of the chain with research and data instead of declaring a disaster and throwing money at the bottom.
The New England Fishery Management Council will vote on the cuts in November for the 2013 season that starts on May 1. Fishermen can cross their fingers for a break, but their better hope may lie in Senate hearings this fall that will focus on allowing more flexibility in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.