Louisiana fishers want to know the short-term impacts of Mississippi River diversions

Shrimpers and dock workers unload and measure shrimp at Ditcharo Jr. Seafoods in Buras, Thursday, May 18, 2017 and placed on a flatbed trailer. (Photo by Ted Jackson - NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

I’ve been fishing and shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico since I was 15 years old–for over forty years now. As my father and grandfather would say, it’s in our family’s blood.

For many of us here in Venice, Louisiana, fishing is not just a family tradition, it’s in the fabric of our community. Our local economy relies on sustainable fishing, and when fishermen can’t make ends meet, our whole town feels it. Recently, restaurants have seen fewer customers, and several have closed. Even grocery stores are struggling.

Lately, fishermen and our communities have faced even greater challenges. Hurricanes are damaging equipment and destroying coastal communities. Pollution is expanding ‘dead zones’ where fish can’t live. Cheap, imported seafood is driving down prices so that many fishermen make less money now than we did in the ‘80s. In past years, fishermen could make a good living and save up for winter, but with today’s prices, we have to do double the work.

Now the federal government could make it even harder for us. The Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward approving an offshore fish farming facility by Kampachi Farms in waters off Sarasota, Florida. This operation could hurt the ecosystem and economy in Florida and set a dangerous precedent for development across the Gulf. As the only project of its kind in federal waters, it would pave the way for more industrial-scale aquaculture.

Farming finfish may sound fine, but this type of project poses real dangers to the ecosystem I depend on. The nets in the facilities can break, releasing farmed fish and allowing diseases and parasites to spread to wild fish. Antibiotics and chemicals from these facilities can flow into surrounding waters, treating our Gulf like a dumping ground.

These impacts will be felt throughout the Gulf, because the entire ecosystem is interconnected. As fishermen, we understand the need to protect the Gulf as a whole. We’re looking for more sustainable ways to fish, like using new bycatch reduction devices. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of corporations bringing industrial fish farms to the Gulf.

Rather than supporting these harmful facilities, the EPA should protect the Gulf’s natural resources and communities. Congress can put the EPA back on track by passing legislation like the Keep Fin Fish Free Act to prohibit commercial permits in federal waters.

Now may be our last chance to stop offshore aquaculture in the Gulf. I urge the EPA to hold public hearings on this permit, and I call on Louisianans, Floridians, and all who are concerned with the health of our Gulf to reach out to their Congressional representatives to demand these hearings. To protect coastal communities and wildlife, we must oppose this construction.

Acy Cooper

president, Louisiana Shrimp Association