Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sea Change, Part II

With summer unofficially upon us, an entire catalog of my most cherished memories can be recollected from the foods I've eaten, most notably, from the sea.   Local striped bass begins to move up the East coast, and with it soft-shell crabs in search of warmer weather to shed their shells.  Hard-shell blue claw crabs begin to surface at roadside stands and seafood shops.  Fluke and flounder begin to make local appearances.  And, when the boisterous bluefish arrives, you know it's bbq season.

Food and memory is a common theme.  As I returned from the Jersey shore this weekend (in unprecedented traffic), the melancholic drive seemed a little softer as the smell of local barbecue pits and hibachis carried me home.  Detouring off the main roads, I found myself drunken with the sweet aroma of corn silk and honeysuckle. Passing through a small one-traffic light town with a winding creek, you take in the combination of freshly applied tar and salt water from the docks.  

The rite of crabbing is as pivotal an early life experience in the Mid-Atlantic as kickball or wiffleball tournaments on summer break.  Watching a gaggle of skinny, pale kids toss their lines into the murky water, I am instantly transformed to my days of tying slimy chicken necks to butcher's twine with fishing weights.  The one cooler you brought is for the crabs, and it sits empty.  Swatting green-head flies, you eat your sandwich early, for fear of what it may attract if left in the sun too long.    And, you're pretty certain if the sun gets any hotter, you'll be the first human to watch styrofoam turn into molten liquid.  Square and star-shaped traps can bring in the big haul, but it's the crafty crabber who shows their skills by detecting and successfully pulling a crustacean from the sea floor while scooping it up with the nearby net. 

Whether deep sea fishing, surf fishing, wading in shallow water for sunnies or pulling up a trap of blue claws, catching and eating our own seafood along the coast is part of our DNA.  Surely, our lives would be much different without it. 

So, then what if it's not just for recreation, but your way of life?  What if you rely on the uninterrupted cycle of nature in the nation's waterways to make a living?  In my last post, I referenced the dramatic effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is at this very moment gushing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  In today's New York Times, it is reported that in Louisiana, "the oil slick is wreaking havoc on the fishing industry here, which brings about $2.4 billion a year to the state, the state’s seafood marketing board says. At least 27,000 jobs depend directly on the fisheries."  

The more insidious story under-reported is the one where BP has hired away almost all the idle fishing boats to assist with clean up and dispersement. Seafood processors say in many cases, "the biggest hindrance right now is not oil, but a lack of fishermen to haul in the catch in the areas still open to fishing."   

Imagine that:  fisherman who make a living from bringing in their catch are now hamstrung from going out and fishing by the very people who put them out of business because they are strapped for cash.  CNN just broke a story about a fisherman's wife who is going on the record about the dozens of fisherman who are coincidentally sick, presumably from a combination of the oil vapors and the dispersants in use. BP's theory?  "Food poisoning is clearly a big issue...It's something we've got to be very mindful of."  Starting to feel insulted?  Imagine you're a fisherman.  "People don't want to talk. They're scared," one wife says, of repercussions and consequences from BP. "Our financial situation lays in the palm of their hands."

This colossal twist of irony is compounded by the fact that Louisiana's "official biologists" have found that as of right now, there is no indication of contaminated seafood from the spill.  That, will undoubtedly change, but what they face, however, is what the Times described as a "public relations nightmare".  Who wants seafood from a region they see on the news every night with glopped up sea birds and glooped up jetties?  

Here's an example:  would you eat Louisiana redfish if I offered to make it for you tomorrow night for dinner?  Answer honestly.  Most of you would say "no", because of what you've seen and what you've heard.  The reality is that red snapper (and tuna) is caught at much deeper depths than where the spill is located and will spread.  

"'Only 6 of 10 tuna boats are going out now', he said, but 'the ones that are going are banging them up,” slang for a large catch.  Despite the plentiful fish, many boat captains cannot find enough deckhands. 'They are getting paid by BP to not go to work,' he noted."

President Obama was quoted in a Larry King interview today as saying he "is furious" over the spill, but that's "it's his job to fix things...not just yell at people."  Well, let me know when the yelling begins on his behalf.  It'd be a nice change from the Vulcan persona we see all the time.  BP is compounding this national tragedy by throwing money (a perverted form of hush money, at that) at the problem to minimize their own public relations nightmare and make themselves appear to be compassionate.  

So, maybe you knew this, maybe you didn't, but let's recap:  BP has hired away frightened gulf fisherman to perform what they believe is a good cause in cleaning up BP's mess (someone must, right?) and could actually be jeopardizing their health in doing so.  While in reality, the cache of seafood that awaits catch, to date, is uncontaminated; yet there aren't enough deck hands and fisherman to bring the seafood to shore.  Got it?  Imagine the happy scenario at the beginning and tell me, "Now who's furious?"

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