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One Man's Opinion: Tsunami tragedy draws all together
February 01, 2005
Although it will have a minimal impact on our seafood supply, the awesome tsunami that roared across the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas has had a devastating effect on fishing communities in countries from Southeast Asia to Africa.
The loss of life, of course, is beyond comprehension. In some villages in Indonesia’s hard hit Aceh province, two thirds of the local fishermen were killed.
And many of the fishermen who were fortunate to survive have lost everything. In Sri Lanka, almost 20,000 fishing boats were destroyed, either sunk or deposited as much as a mile inland by the incredibly powerful series of waves.
The tsunami wiped out the infrastructure that supported the local fleets. Ice houses, harbors, shipyards, offloading docks, roads — all gone in a matter of minutes. In the areas where fishermen could venture out, they had a hard time selling their catch; rumors of fish feeding on corpses killed what little demand was left.
While fishermen have suffered, so have fish farmers. Although there are very few shrimp farms on the Thai coast along the Andaman Sea, Thailand has large numbers of hatcheries that sell larvae to shrimp farms along the Gulf of Siam.
These hatcheries are small-scale, family-run operations, and thousands of them were destroyed by the tsunami.
Cages full of high-value fish like grouper and snapper were ripped apart. In many cases, an entire family’s net worth may have been swimming in a cage. Now many fish and cages are gone.
In the best of times, it’s often a struggle just to make a living in this part of the world. Now tens of thousands of families in these industries have literally nothing but the clothes on their back.
That’s why the outpouring of help from the world seafood community has been particularly heartening. Within days of the disaster, people in the fish business were on the phone raising funds.
In the United States, the National Fisheries Institute set up a coordinated effort to collect funds. A Seattle importer who markets seafood under the Tsunami brand promised to donate a portion of its sales to the effort (see Newsline, page 1).
In Alaska, the state’s Marine Safety Education Association immediately started raising money, which it funneled directly to a fishermen’s organization in Sri Lanka.
In Newfoundland, the provincial fishermen’s union quickly organized a fund-raising campaign and contacted fishermen’s groups in Iceland and Norway to coordinate efforts.
In addition to money, the groups planned to send members to the affected countries to help rebuild fleets. In Norway, one fishermen’s group announced it would start building boats for the ravaged fleets in Thailand.
While the tsunami devastation is beyond tragic, the response from the global seafood industry is empowering.
This incredibly diverse group has banded together and shown its true character.