Where it all ends, I can’t fathom my friends
Been thinking a lot lately about my customers, from commercial fishermen and lobstermen to the rivermen towboaters, the near shore operators, the oil patch workers and those who sail the deep blue sea. I'll lay out some thoughts about our men and women to take to the sea, work the rivers and harbors.
Down Louisiana ways, these good ole boys have it tough. Throughout the summer shrimping season, I watched many all across the GOM discuss the absolutely awful price they were getting for shrimp. The per pound price was some of the lowest in years, on top of on that fuel costs and well hell, there ain’t no winners. I’ll be honest to tell you I am not an economic analyst but the price wholesalers were offering are mainly dependent on demand and what shoppers are willing to pay. How can the commercial fishermen compete, when you can walk into any grocery store and buy farm raised crap from the Far East, or India. Most consumers really don’t know the difference in quality or taste between farm raised or wild caught. They only care about the price. Now fuel is another story, making operating costs rise and rise, but for those working the oil patch well its opposite. The oil production industry and their offshore support industry is solely dependent on what the worldwide market is currently producing and how much will it cost to take the black gold out of the ground, refine it and sell it. Add on top of this are these offshore operating companies who in my opinion only exist to grow their portfolio of contracts with the plan to sell their company to some larger international holding company.
Going up the western rivers, we got those towboaters. Seems to me they have it pretty good, I mean the river trade volume keeps them busy, but what is their main concern? Finding men and women who have a work ethic who can adapt to the demands of boat and the mighty river. I think there is great opportunities for young men and women to begin at an entry level position and quite possibly before 30 years old, be making great money as a Captain or Pilot but only through hard work and commitment. Yet still, there is a threat to their survival, climate change. This year the upper rivers are the lowest in 100 years, will this continue? Who the hell knows. I can tell you one thing these record droughts are happening all around the world. I don’t know how this transportation system plans to adapt, but if the weather is changing the river systems, the agricultural “system” is already affected. I don't know if this market is afforded some the protection of the Jones Act, but I am sure the wolves wanting till kill the Jones Act, if successful, will look at the western rivermen and women as their next meal.
How about some Lobster? Dam, go up to our beautiful New England coast and these Lobstermen and Commercial fishermen are also fighting for their livelihood. Goodness, with the big fight to protect the Right Whale, placing restrictions and additional trap requirements, to closure of certain fishing grounds, (also due to wind farms) the struggle to survive is getting harder and harder. On top of that again, there are these big hedge funds and conglomerates, not only controlling the price they pay the fishermen for their catch but also buying up permit blocks, slowly strangling the men and women who take to the sea for a living. At the same time, around the world other international fishing consortiums are breaking treaties, fishing for whatever they want, wherever they want. The wind farms support vessel companies are making every attempt to use foreign labor. And oh by the way, once again, warmer sea temperatures are pushing the lobsters further and further north.
Up in Alaska the fight is on there too! Warmer waters are affecting fish and crab populations causing restrictions to be enacted in an attempt to save certain species and of course, there are the notable fights between natives, the public, commercial fishermen and the mining / logging industries regarding their potential to ruin the salmon industry.
Tugboat Men (and women) have a chance in my view. If our economy continues to grow (with some up and down times of course), there will always be international trade and they will always be vessel support required. The potential to by threatened by the loss of the Jones Act is very real.
Off into the deep blue… Yeah, we know, there are fewer and fewer ships, they are fewer and fewer good contracts and almost certainly, few if any politicians which have rebuilding the United States Merchant Marine on their list of things to do. I got to thank the existing unions now because without them at the battle forefront for jobs and ships, the entire American maritime industry would have been sunk by now.
Thinking of the NSMV vessels, I’m really wondering where it all ends. These ships with the newest technology will be used to train maritime professionals to work on some of the oldest vessels in any international maritime fleet. How many actual seagoing graduates will leave the industry after 5, 10 years? Will those same educated / now experienced professionals who have gone ashore work for the same companies that are trying to kill our industry?
In the end the contracts are worth 1.5 billion dollars. Imagine 50 different organizations and maritime companies receiving 30 million each. Don't get me wrong, I am all for the ships and academies, the quality of education the students receive is highly respected across the maritime related industries, but we need to directly invest in the maritime industry.
We don’t need more regulation and requirements, we need the support and consensus of our politicians and government bodies combined with American business interests that truly believe a strong Merchant Marine is in our best national interest.