Where’s Hercules when we really need him?

Hercules – or Heracles to you Greek scholars out there – had twelve labors to perform. The sixth was to clean out the stables of King Augeus, and to do it in a single day. The maintenance of those stables, home to a huge herd of cattle, had been sadly neglected by the King for years and, needless to say, they were sorely in need of cleaning. Using a combination of brain and brawn and two conveniently located rivers, Hercules cleaned the stables, won a tenth of the cattle in a side bet with the King, and went on to complete six more labors and live sort of happily ever after.

It’s not much of a stretch to compare the challenges faced by Hercules with those that the commercial fishing industry is facing. And like Hercules, one of our most important challenges involves significant amounts of bovine manure, though he had to deal with the actual stuff while ours is of a much more symbolic nature.

Ours, which comes to light in technical journals, in trade publications, on television and in the press, is in the form of overblown, inaccurate, sensationalized and one-sided misrepresentations of what’s going on in the oceans, presenting commercial fishermen as uncaring vandals and commercial fishing as the scourge of the seas.

So what do we do about it? We could sit back and take it. That’s a strategy we’re pretty good at, but up ‘til now it hasn’t proven too successful. We could take a page from King Augeus’ book, and wait for a modern day Hercules to do the job, but we’re going to have a long wait, ‘cause there aren’t a lot of superheroes out there any more.

Or we could do it ourselves.

Heresy, you’re probably thinking right now. It’s my job to feed the public, not to keep the public thinking straight. Well, wake up and smell those stables.

If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. And if it doesn’t, in the not too distant future we’re going to have an industry that’s not very much like today’s.

What can you do? That’s easy. Whenever you read or see or hear something that’s wrong, something that can, and particularly something that appears as if it’s been designed to, damage the commercial fishing industry, get to the people responsible for airing or printing it and let them know.

You don’t have to be eloquent, sound scientific or spout a bunch of statistics. All you have to be is convincing, and who can be more convincing about fishing issues than someone who’s invested his life in the future of the commercial fishing industry. You’re out there on the water, or you’re talking with the folks who are, day after day. You communicate with other fishermen or other dealers or other suppliers, and you know what’s really going on.

Emphasize that what you know is based on first hand observations informed by years – or generations – of on-the-water experience, not on computer generated models based on third- or fourth- or fifth-hand data and manipulated by “scientists” who will accumulate less boat time in a career than you will in a season.

But don’t leave it at that, because that’s only half the job. Contact your elected officials or, probably more likely and just as effective, their staffers and set the record straight. Then get to your favorite bureaucrats, relate the specifics (where/when the article was published or the segment was aired) and ask them to “officially” respond to the inaccuracies. Then contact your Sea Grant guy or gal, the professors that you’ve had dealings with, your buddies, your customers, your suppliers and anyone else you can think of and get them involved as well.

The print and broadcast media today thrives on controversy, but that can work to our advantage. A researcher in Halifax or an activist in Washington is going to get coverage, because the deep pockets that support them are also supporting extensive media outreach programs. If a well-spoken and informed local businesswoman or man, one with roots in the community, can provide that spark of controversy, she or he stands a good chance of being contacted the next time a fishing issue comes up. To a large extent, it’s about cultivating relationships with the media. The other side is good at it and has been for years. We haven’t even started.

Hercules was adept at handling cattle droppings. Our only choice is to become equally adept.

reprinted by permission and written by Nils Stolpe

This was printed in National Fisherman back in July of 2007