WHAT WE LEARNED BY LISTENING
story by Amy Clipp, Louisiana’s Seafood Future
The Governor’s Charge
In 2018, Governor John Bel Edwards charged Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, LDWF and Louisiana Sea Grant to meet with members of the seafood industry. The governor told state representatives to reach out to fishers, processors, and dockworkers across the coast. The goal? To gain a better understanding of how the industry is innovating today and how the state might be able to support these innovations down the road.
Listening and Learning
Louisiana’s fishing industry is facing tough challenges; among them lost habitats, low commodity prices, and uncertainty about the effects of future restoration efforts. While these challenges are well known, it can still be hard for those outside the industry to understand just how change is affecting people inside the industry. To fill this gap, staff at LDWF, Sea Grant and CPRA joined together for an unusual outreach effort - one that was focused more on listening than talking.
Louisiana’s Seafood Future (LSF) is a State of Louisiana outreach effort designed to support the seafood industry’s proud tradition of innovation in the face of coastal change. Since beginning this outreach work in 2018, we have held 26 meetings with members of the seafood industry, collecting comments and ideas along the way. We also invited thousands of people to take part in surveys. By summer 2019, we had over 1,000 pages of survey results describing what the Louisiana seafood industry was thinking about, worried about, and planning for.
Louisiana’s Seafood Future Outreach Effort - Spring 2019
- 714: number of long form, mail-in surveys we received from commercial fishermen
- 68: number of online surveys we received from commercial fishermen
- 135: number of short form surveys people filled out at regional meetings
- 4,787: number of online surveys we received from recreational fishermen
What people Told Us
We asked over 30 questions in our surveys, which were customized for commercial shrimp, crab, oyster, finfish, and charter boat fishermen. A separate survey was offered to recreational fishermen. The surveys reflected plenty of diverse opinions as well as some common themes.
Survey Question: “How has your fishery been affected by changing coastal conditions?”
Short answer: “It’s gotten worse.” Not everyone was equally worried, however. Oyster fishermen and shrimpers were the most concerned, while some crabbers and finfishers were more inclined to say that conditions were somewhat worse, staying the same, or even, in rare cases, getting better.
Survey Question: “How will your fishery change in the future?”
Responses continued to reflect strong concern about the future. People were also unsure what kind of coastal conditions they would be facing and how their fishery would respond.
Survey Question: “Which new strategies are you most likely to consider?”
- Strategies that required fishermen to take more or fewer trips, change fishing areas, shift to fishing for other species, or in other ways alter their routines had the lowest response numbers and the most mixed results, both pro and con.
- Adding refrigeration equipment was much less popular than modifying boats to reduce fuel use.
- The options of fishing less or leaving the fishing industry altogether were consistently unpopular in our surveys.
- Strategies that involved state action, such as lifting or enacting a moratorium, providing financial help to make boat modifications, and providing marketing support drew more responses overall and tended to be more popular.
- Members of the Louisiana fishing industry strongly supported the idea of receiving training to develop a business plan that could help them gain funds to improve vessels, gear, and facilities.
Take-Home Message from Comments
Our surveys invited people to give us comments, and we received hundreds of them. Some messages were consistently loud and clear:
- “We are Struggling”: Coastal change is affecting fishermen in a big way, not just requiring constant adjustments in how they fish but also spurring deep concern about how they will cope going forward.
- Resilience: Many people spoke about their willingness to innovate when conditions change. However, commenters also told us that the magnitude of coming changes is such that they need more support to keep Louisiana’s fisheries productive.
- More Information Needed: Many commenters told us they needed more information about what to expect, so they could use their tradition of resilience most effectively. Commenters also said they had waited years for questions like these to be answered: How should they prepare? Can they get assistance to make changes? To what degree will this assistance be customized to their needs?
- River Diversions: The idea of river diversions spurs both anxiety about the future and a need for information. Comments about diversions at regional meetings and in comments often focused on the scale of change that these projects could impose. While they were not completely sure what to expect, many commenters didn’t think their industry could handle the spin-off effects.
- Sharing the Coast is Not Easy: Several comments mentioned the difficulty of oyster fishermen, crabbers, shrimpers, finfishers, recreational fishers, and charter boat operators all sharing inshore waters. We heard about PVC oyster bed markers placed across canals that create hazards and block waterways, abandoned crab traps that rip shrimp nets, and fishing practices that take too much of a shared resource. Several commenters told us such challenges would only increase with coming coastal changes.
How to Learn More
Every comment and survey result can be viewed on the LSF website, broken down by fishery and region, along with a summary report: www.laseafoodfuture.com/surveyresults.
To learn more about LSF or to let us know what ideas we may have missed, please get in touch: www.laseafoodfuture.com/input.
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