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SEAWORTHY NEWS — Issue 2, February 8, 2006
This issue of Today’s Catch is dedicated to the memory of Bill Crowe (right), publisher and editor of Fishermen’s Voice newspaper who died Saturday, January 28, 2006 following a three-year battle with cancer of the appendix. All of us at Clean Catch express our deepest condolences to Bill’s family and global circle of friends. His friendship, presence, words and work are deeply missed.
I met Bill Crowe 10 years ago at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum. He had just begun publishing Fishermen’s Voice — a monthly newspaper dedicated to issues affecting small-scale coastal fishing communities.
That encounter began a decade of personal friendship and professional comradery.
Over the years, Bill provided wanna-be writers like me an outlet with abundant freedom to explore, learn and bring innovative and often controversial issues to fishing communities.
Bill’s battle with cancer and his subsequent death rekindled my frustration with the resistance to rein in the use of cancer-causing chemicals.
Using political leverage and antiquated risk assessment formulas that claim quantifiable financial benefits outweigh human health and environmental costs, chemical industry representatives such as the American Chemistry Council and the International Council of Chemical Associations continue to fight efforts to eliminate Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). By disrupting hormones, POPs break the communication channels of the body sending mixed or incorrect signals that could result in cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems and immune problems.
Failure to prevent the creation of these cancer-causing chemicals is literally killing us. Bill’s voice is the latest silenced by this disease and what killed him could be compromising the health of the very oceans he wrote about.
What Does All This Have To Do with Fish?
We know persistent bio-accumulative chemicals are present in the oceans. In fact, the impacts of POPs were first identified in wildlife.
Early studies of POPs suggested these chemicals impair the hormone and reproductive systems of seals, birds and other marine life. From bald eagles to belugas, POPs have been incriminated in a host of diseases and reproductive problems associated with wildlife.
For decades, concerns about the impact of such chemicals on wildlife were ignored until they were implicated in human health issues.
“As crude a weapon as a cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life”
— Rachel Carson
In short, the same chemicals contributing to cancer in humans — and killing many of us — could do the same to fish, whales, seabirds and other animals.
Government agencies responsible for managing marine species have, unfortunately, taken little or no action to protect fish or other marine animals from persistent pollutants.
Every fishery rebuilding plan should be calling for and supporting efforts to curb sources of organic pollutants being dumped by industrial sources such as chlorine bleaching pulp and paper mills or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) factories. Supporting emissions’ curbs to reduce mercury from fossil fuel burning/using plants or chlorine using industrial facilities should be a no-brainer for those whose responsibility it is to protect commercially-valuable fish such as tuna.
Post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding provides the perfect opportunity to rethink the dominance of the petrochemical industry in that region for the sake of the region’s marine ecosystem which Gulf Coast fishing communities rely on.
Texas shrimper Diane Wilson’s work demanding zero discharge along the Gulf Coast was sparked by her concern for a fellow fisherman with multiple cancers. Later, when she learned more about the toxic discharges from industries along San Antonio Bay — particularly Formosa plastics — her fears deepened when she realized her future catch of shrimp was just as vulnerable as the fisherman she’d met.
Considering the money and time invested in rebuilding fish, whale, dolphin and other marine animal populations, to ignore the impact of toxicants on these animals is a clear oversight. Neglecting the role these pollutants play on the recovery and health of endangered, threatened or over fished marine animals undermines conservation efforts by fishermen working to restore many of these species.
It’s Time to Advocate for Safer Alternatives
First, let’s be clear: I am grateful for cancer treatments and cures. However, when it comes to the cancer epidemic, the time has come to look for prevention and the smoking guns. Bill was one of 17 people among my circle of friends and family diagnosed with cancer since my own diagnosis in 2000. He was the ninth to die of the disease in the same period.
To me, POPs are nothing more than snipers hidden in plain view, pointing guns at humans and wildlife alike.
It’s time to stop the killing spree.
Efforts are underway on local, national and global levels to eliminate POPs. Much of the work is focused on replacing these chemicals — or products — with safer substitutes. Safer alternatives and processes that don’t use or create POPs exist today. Some large chemical processes are already using safer alternatives.
Supporting this work is crucial not just to save human life and the marine environment, but to help small-scale fishing economies affected by the various boycott campaigns against certain seafood products due to the presence of persistent pollutants in the seafood. Neglecting to do so undermines the sacrifices of small-scale, ecologically minded fishermen working on rebuilding depleted commercially valuable fish stocks. Their pocketbooks – and lives – are directly affected if the oceans aren’t healthy.
We must take action to stop contaminants from entering the marine environment and by extension, our food chain.
It’s time to stand up to the industries that think they can hold us back.
I know Bill would.
–Niaz Dorry, at cleancatch.org