Fishing Clean

Last week, the New Bedford Standard-Times published an article exploring the possibility of mandatory drug testing on commercial fishing boats.

Boats tied up in New Bedford. Jerry Fraser photo.The article revolves mainly around an interview with New Bedford veteran scallop captain Rick Lynch, a former alcoholic and heroin user in long-term recovery. Lynch was 16 when he started working for fishing boats in the late ’80s when he says, “There was cocaine running around, there was heroin everywhere… All we did was drink.” The reporter writes that “Lynch has been around long enough to fall into a few bottles, or needles, and climb back out again.”

I think it’s really important to recognize that Lynch is lucky to have recovered from these bad habits. He says he’s 15 years sober and has been a captain for 14. A lot of people aren’t able to do that. A lot of people aren’t that lucky.

The interview took place in October, but surfaced at the Standard-Times in March after drug raids aboard New Bedford fishing vessels that led to eight arrests.

Lynch floated the idea of mandatory drug testing in the interview.

The arguments against it came rolling in. It’d be too expensive. Fishermen don’t need more regulations. It’s an invasion of privacy. Fishermen come and go too often. “I believe we would lose 100% in our small fleet,” wrote one reader when the story was shared on National Fisherman’s Facebook page.

This is obviously a complicated issue, but the argument comes down to one thing: Drug testing for maritime workers can save lives.

We all know commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous professions in the world. While I don’t have any stats or studies in front of me, I think it’s safe to say that it becomes more dangerous the more hard drugs there are onboard.

I don’t think testing has to be state or federally required. Fishing boat owners and captains could take it upon themselves to do what they can to fight the drug epidemic on the waterfront. They’d be saving lives onboard.

One source in the article notes that the drug arrests and deaths also tarnish the reputation of the fleet as a whole. While public image isn’t exactly the frontrunner in this argument, they have a point. Turning a blind eye to a rampant drug problem doesn’t reflect well on your sustainable, fresh, local product.

Doing a little research into the Standard-Times reporting on this, I came across an article on heroin and AIDS ravaging a generation of fishermen in New Bedford in 1996.

1996.

Do we really want to go back to that?

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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