An open letter to people who live on the coast or eat lobster or like seafood or don’t know much about fishing or love the ocean or enjoy beautiful water views or maybe who aren’t paying attention at all:
You need to know something.
Me, and a lot of other people that depend on the ocean and fishing for their livelihoods, are wicked scared right now. Perhaps that sounds dramatic but, honestly, I’m not sure how else to describe it. Every day something new comes at the fishing industry, threatening to alter it in such a way that it hints at a quickening towards extinction. Look, it’s probably not going to go anywhere. Fisherman ingenuity is a thing and if anyone knows how to adapt to a changing environment and complex regulations, it’s fishermen. But that doesn’t make it any less scary and it doesn’t erase the reality that there are some fishermen that might not be fishing this time next year, and it won’t be because they don’t want to be fishing.
It’s discouraging and disheartening and a little bit hurtful when it feels like you’re being doubted or singled-out, regardless of what you do for a living. Sweeping generalizations about an industry whether it’s loggers, oil-riggers, police officers, chefs, construction workers, plumbers, or teachers, ain’t right. Many of the people that work in these industries are abiding by rules, regulations, and practices that were created by other people and have been in place for a long time. No, that doesn’t necessarily make everything OK or right, but it does mean that it’s uncool to point a finger at a group and say, “This is all your fault.” It’s also insincere and delusional to think that shifting blame to a vanquished group rather than taking responsibility or identifying the real problem will make any kind of real or lasting change.
Commercial fishing is a tragedy of the commons for which we are all responsible, not just fishermen. The oceans and fish stocks are impacted by far more than just fishing, but fishermen are on the front-lines of the impact and penance. The overworked air conditioner on full blast, while the door opens and closes in a retail store, contributes to climate change. Excessive traffic adds to rising ocean temperatures. Overeating and diets with too much red meat hasten the bleaching of the coral reefs. Buying cheap clothes from fast fashion companies that require massive container ships to travel across the ocean push endangered species closer to extinction. That luxury hotel on the waterfront not only restricts a beautiful view to those that can afford it, but it also contributes to pH reduction in the intertidal. Summer homes in coastal communities that are buoyed by the fishing industry replace family homes with kids working hard to get their traps ready for summer fishing.
Things like metal straws are a mediocre solution that satiates our desire to do good when there are a plethora of bigger more severe problems that need urgent and severe change. But it’s easier to drink cold brew coffee from a metal-tubed band-aid than it is to break habits like cheap clothes, cheap food, and convenient everything.
So, yeah, I’m scared. I’m worried that cheap shrimp rings from Thailand will continue to be one of the number one sold seafood products in U.S. grocery stores rather than domestic fish. I’m afraid that fancy houses and expensive hotels are going to replace lobster buoys and gillnets. I’m uncertain whether my kids will have the opportunity to go fishing, or even raise their kids in a coastal community. I’m petrified that some American fishermen are going to have to put their boat on the mooring for the last time because they are unable to afford to go fishing, or because they are no longer permitted to harvest seafood due to circumstances outside of their control. I’m devastated to think about the United States without fishermen in its coastal communities adding character, inhabiting family values, volunteering at the fire department, using their pickup truck to help a friend move, and drinking coffee at the general store early in the morning.
I’m telling you this because I don’t think you know. I think it’s easier to place blame and manipulate a smaller population, like fishermen, than it is to try and make a change at a more corporate level, even if it does have more impact. Ship strikes, fast-fashion companies, and industrialized red meat have far more severe consequences but we won’t ever see those businesses change because people need millennial-pink shirts with holes in it for $10, bros need those hamburgers from McDonald’s after a night of binge drinking, and can you imagine a world where Apple doesn’t update its products on the reg? We live in a world where being busy, sleep-deprived, rich, and beautifully adorned in the latest fashion is, not just a goal, but what drives many people through their days. It’s trendy to be environmentally friendly but only in ways that are trendy. This is called conspicuous conservation, and it’s a thing.
Eating more seafood is good for you and your body and your mental health and the planet. But we aren’t going to be able to eat local and seasonal seafood if we don’t have fishermen to harvest it. It’s a bit of a paradox, ya know what I mean? Eating seafood is one of the best things that you can do — but we punish fishermen with over-regulation and burdensome fishing costs to the point where they might not be able to fish anymore. Worse, we blame and vilify fishermen for circumstances that are outside of their control; situations where they are often following rules set in place to protect their environment. Fishermen have continued to adapt their businesses to be better stewards and have less impact, guys, we’re the ones that aren’t doing our part.
So, here I am, a fisherman’s wife and mom of two kids who love to go fishing with their dad; as someone who works for some pretty amazing fishermen; who likes to eat fish; and, a lover of the ocean, asking you to do your part.
This was originally published on Aragosta Mama. It has been edited for publishing on Heated.