Over the Bar

Feb 21, 2018 | Over the Bar

Photo courtesy of Christopher Seufert Photography

By John Pappalardo

My work with our fleet, with government officials who regulate our fleet, with people who care about our fleet and want it to survive and thrive, can easily get bogged down in details. Sometimes I end a day and head home realizing that my conversations have been full of talk about acronym-filled rules and stock assessments, complicated quota equations or economic impacts of monitoring. And then I take a deep breath and remember what we’re in this for, why it matters:

A future that includes a vital, independent fishing fleet, which of course requires and celebrates a vital, healthy ocean.

And so I’ll swing by the waterfront on the way home, park where I can see the horizon, and imagine what that would look like:

I conjure up a diverse fleet fishing hard and well. I conjure up an ocean in which stocks have rebounded and habitat recovered. I conjure up sons and daughters of people I know (and don’t know) stepping into the wheelhouse, handling the winch, sorting the catch.

Here’s something I don’t conjure up:

Oil and gas rigs.

I’m not old enough to remember the Argo Merchant oil spill off Nantucket in 1976, but some of the reporting in this month’s e-mag reminds me how disastrous it was, and how much worse it could have been. I am old enough to remember the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, the much smaller Bouchard spill in Buzzards Bay, and of course the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. I know what such events would mean for our community and coast. So I wonder why we should allow our public resource, fish and habitat, to be exposed to it.

Evolution didn’t encourage us humans to weigh a tiny, tiny risk, something that might happen one in ten million times, against catastrophic damage that would change our lives forever if it did happen. We analyze risk and benefit in more immediate, tangible ways — it is worth driving through that yellow traffic light? — so we tend to live day to day.

But push to shove, who really benefits from offshore exploration and development anyway? It’s hard to avoid a conclusion that it’s mainly oil companies who might provide some local jobs but generally hire from elsewhere, whose profits are big enough to justify spending billions for what scientists say equals only about a decade – if that – worth of oil for our country.

Speaking of science, it also now seems clear that the technology used just to search for oil and gas deep within the seabed creates major damage to things that live on or near the bottom, from spawning groundfish to scallops. That’s something we didn’t know decades ago.

This is a bad bargain, one I thought we had put to rest.

I suppose it gets back to sitting at the pier, imagining a future. When members of a diverse, productive fishing fleet reach shore, I imagine them driving home past rooftops layered with solar panels, checking a battery in the basement rather than a furnace, maybe worrying about how an offshore wind farm might affect fishing rather than a multi-million-gallon oil spill.

People who know me know that I’m a pragmatist, I like to get things done and I don’t mind slogging through meetings and bureaucracy to get there. But remembering why it matters, and where we want to be a generation from now, is what makes it all worthwhile. Offshore oil and gas has no place in my big picture.

(John Pappalardo is the CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)


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