Dying to Catch Lobster: Another Industry Secret


Image: Warriors of Atlantis

If you're a scuba diver, you know there's a limit to how many times a day you can dive, how long to wait in between dives, etc. The "bends" is not something you want to fool with. But in Nicaragua, where a lot of the lobster eaten in the U.S. and Canada comes from, some fishermen do not get that training.

Consider this more reason to know where your food comes from, at least if you eat seafood. Your lobster could be coming from a life-threatening industry in central America. Many fishermen die due to old or inadequate equipment or poor training; many do not. Take Edgard Walters as an example, from a story reported this week by IPS. He has been in a wheelchair since 2003:

It was not until he was paralysed from the waist down that the 32-year-old Miskito Indian found out that divers shouldn't make more than four dives a day, or go deeper than 18 metres. Only then did he learn that he should have been using equipment like a wet suit, pressure and depth gauges, and a watch, and that he had to make decompression stops on his way up.

According to the instructions he received from the dive master on the fishing boat where he worked, he could do more than 10 dives a day, up to a depth of 100 arm strokes, equivalent to 100 metres in the method of measurement used by the Miskito divers off the Caribbean coast in northeast Nicaragua.

Worse, the horrid conditions these fishermen work in are not new; they've been documented for years, yet are allowed to continue. Utne reported a few years ago:

According to a 1999 World Bank report, "Close to 100 percent of [Miskito] divers show symptoms of neurological damage." A study sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank, based in Washington, D.C., found that there are roughly 4,200 divers living with injuries--nearly half the entire Miskito diving population. It's estimated that at least 50 divers die from the bends each year.

Lobster makes up a $45 million industry in Nicaragua, more than 11 percent of the nation's total exports. About 90 percent of that harvest, much of it too small to meet the legal limit, ends up on U.S. and Canadian plates. The biggest customers are Sysco and Red Lobster parent company, Darden Restaurants.

The IPS story includes a glimmer of hope in the form of new safety legislation that will go into effect in Nicaragua in February. But, it adds: "even if diving for lobster is banned, local residents will continue to dive, Mora said. And, he added, foreign boats will continue to defy the rules, by fishing in closed season for example."

More on the environmental impact of lobster and other seafood
New Research Suggests "Screaming Lobsters" in Boiling Pot, Might Really be Screaming!
Shrimp On Your Plate? Think Twice (Your Liver, Endangered Mangroves, And Poorly Paid Workers Will Thank You)
A Deforestation-Based Diet: Seven Foods That Are Destroying the World's Forests

Tags: Fish | Fishing | Nicaragua