SAFA News   |    The South Atlantic Fishermen's Association

Tough Weather: Tough Job

September 13, 2011

By: Jack Cox of Morehead City, North Carolina

Hurricane Irene put a scare in a number of North Carolina fishermen.  We hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.  I had to tie up everything and hope I wouldn't be out of the water for too long.  Luckily, I was back fishing within the week.  That wasn't the case for every fisherman in the South Atlantic and with more than six weeks left in Hurricane season, I'll continue to hope for clear weather.  The physical damages from hurricanes, like Irene, can be devastating, but it the concerns about your business and the economic impact after the storm can be just as scary, especially for fishermen. 

When you're limited to short seasons, as we are in the South Atlantic, a few weeks or days off the water can have huge impacts on your bottom line.  While we were tied up in North Carolina during Hurricane Irene, vermillion fishermen in the rest of the South Atlantic were able to fish and make money.  The quota inched further toward its cap and those fishermen forced off the water lost money.   

Had "Irene" hit during the Black Sea Bass season there's no telling what some fishermen would have risked to make it through the season.  Fishing is a dangerous job and it's made even more dangerous by the derby-style fishing required under current fishery management systems.  When your chance to fish is limited to a matter of weeks (as in some cases), losing even the smallest amount of time on the water can be economically devastating. 

The race to fish makes a dangerous job even more dangerous.  Last month, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics released its list of most dangerous jobs:  Commercial fishermen faced the greatest risk of death compared any other profession in nation last year. 

It doesn't have to be this way.  If fisheries were allowed to explore other management options like catch shares, fishermen would work against their own quota instead of a racing against each other.  Catch shares would allow fishermen to fish year-round and avoid limiting seasons.

Not only could fishermen avoid fishing in harsh weather, but they could avoid the other traps of derby-style fishing.  The price of fish could stabilize year-round, rather than drop during the season as fishermen glut the market.  The costs of ice, gasoline and boat-repair wouldn't increase just in time for a season.  Fishermen could have a more stable and consistent business for themselves and future generations. 

As hurricane season continues here in the Atlantic, more and more tough decisions will have to be made and it doesn't have to be that way.   

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