Coronavirus: The country is shutting down. Shutdown NOAA’s Fisheries Observer Program, nationally.

I am writing this editorial today as a responsible, conscientious American fishermen and citizen, in complete disbelief of the irresponsibility of a U.S. government agency during the current international coronavirus crisis. While the nation is in national emergency mode, states are closing public spaces, schools, universities, daycares, restaurants, encouraging social distancing, putting people in quarantine, outlawing large gatherings, and taking unprecedented emergency measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, NOAA Fisheries is pursuing the complete opposite when it comes to the fishing industry and ignoring all public safety precautions.

As I was driving home after picking up my daughter (whose college classes for the rest of the year had just been canceled due to COVID-19) from the airport on March 18, I received a call from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Observer Program, informing me that I was being selected to take a government observer on my next fishing trip the following day. This is insanity. I cannot believe that anyone would even have the audacity to ask such a thing at this point in time. This observer is a stranger to me; I have no idea who they are or where they have been or whom they have been in contact with. I am not putting myself, my family, my crew and their families at risk of contracting COVID-19 from an observer I don’t even know. I fish out of Montauk, NY. The state of New York is one of the hotbeds of coronavirus in the United States. Why would a government agency be mandating close contact between strangers, who will be sharing quarters on a fishing vessel, during a worldwide pandemic in one of the highest risk areas of the nation? And literally requiring people to put their lives in danger, at the same time that the rest of the federal government is telling people to quarantine themselves to prevent risk or spread of the disease? My vessel had already been tied to the dock for five days because of the coronavirus- we were unable to even get grub to go out fishing!

I am not going to be responsible for putting my family, my crew, or their families in danger by taking a potentially infected stranger on my fishing vessel during this time of declared national emergency. Their lives take precedence over an irresponsible government agency, and over any collection of fishery statistics. I am not taking this risk until the pandemic is over and the disease is cured, however long that might be. The people of the United States need food during this crisis, and it is my job to provide that. If there is any question of who should be shut down during this crisis there is no doubt that it should be the irresponsible government agency and observer program, not the commercial fishing industry that is trying to put food on people’s tables as they are quarantined at home.

Hank Lackner
F/V Jason and Danielle