National Fisherman

Cover Story Excerpt: Some call it opportunity

Louisiana's cleanup fleet has grown with spill

By John DeSantis

In the beginning there were 12 boats, and shortly thereafter 25.

An armada of shrimping vessels, 60- and 70-foot double riggers, their future uncertain, set out to perform tasks they and their captains had never dreamed of doing.

Now there are hundreds, a virtual navy of fishing boats keeping back the waves of oil gushing for months from the Deepwater Horizon spill site in the Gulf of Mexico and performing other tasks vital to survival of and recovery from the disaster.

They are components of the Vessels of Opportunity program developed by BP. It was designed to keep fishermen working while the spill kept them from fishing, and minimizing the impact of oil that threatened nurseries for shrimp and other sea life.

Creation of a program to use fishing community resources as a means of cleaning, and thereby aiding the damaged fishery, is part of the nation's pollution response plan. Under the current scenario BP is heading the Vessels of Opportunity program, although the Coast Guard has authority to mandate changes if necessary.

Since the program began, captains and crews have weathered storms and heavy seas, maddening spates of inactivity and boredom, personality conflicts and unexplained illness, as well as the overall anxiety that comes from dealing with the unfamiliar and the unknown.

When the nightmarish tale of what took place in the gulf finally writes its own ending, many fishermen doing the cleanup work say their role as saviors of their own environment will be clear for all to see.

Inside the Industry

NMFS recently released a draft action plan for fish discard and release mortality science, creating a list of actions that they hope can better inform fisheries.

We know that fishermen have to deal with bycatch by discarding or releasing unwanted catch overboard, but there is a data gap regarding how those fish survive.


A new study has identified a set of features common to all ocean ecosystems that provide a visual diagnosis of the health of the underwater environment coastal communities rely on.

Together, the features detail cumulative effects of threats -- such as overfishing, pollution, and invasive species,  allowing responders to act faster to increase ocean resiliency and sustainability.

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