By Alyssa Vinson, Angela Collins, and David Outerbridge


Fishing for a living is a careful negotiation of knowledge, understanding and awareness that coincides with a little bit of luck. It is a puzzle each day as a pattern of processes and ideas form the potential of a bountiful haul from Poseidon’s den.

These individuals that venture forth each day to the open ocean are incredibly hard-working, careful and respectful of nature and the fine balance of harvest to future. At the best of times, it is a challenging way to make a living but following a hurricane, there are some significant impacts to the fishing industry, the greatest of which might be the preservation of the working waterfronts vital to the processing, distribution and sale of seafood products.

1. Jesse Baughman and her fiancé, Matthew Sexton, rode bring their catch in to Island Seafood Market in Matlacha before Hurricane Ian. Credit: Courtesy, Jesse Baughman and Mathew Sexton

Tucked into the margins, hugging coastlines in the spaces long held in obeisance to the tides, the working waterfront connects us to the primordial. A sensorial playground, the smack of a wave against a wooden pier, the tang of brine, a cacophony of sea birds waiting for a scrap, or the muttering of the net mender all greet you, invite you.

A place to hear the news, to learn about the weather, to bargain and strike a deal. These are the places that those from further inland can access the story and the bounty of the sea. A congregation to see what the day has brought forth from the depths. It can nurture fascination and respect for the ocean ecosystems and the many forms of life that inhabit these blue murky reaches.

The threats to working waterfronts following a hurricane are largely due the value of the land that they occupy. The pressure of development or reimagining these spaces when those that utilize them are put into flux.

As alluded to earlier, fishing is very much a lifestyle as well as a vocation and is extraordinarily labor intensive. The financial margins of fishing for a living are tight, and a hurricane such as Ian places further stressors due to damage to property and because it shifts dynamics of where fishing vessels process and distribute their catch.

According to fishwatch, 75% of the seafood consumed in the United States comes from abroad. The best way to support local seafood during these times is to purchase it, ask our restaurants and stores to prioritize local seafood and produce and express to local policy makers the importance of these valuable working waterfronts to creating community. So go down to the local waterfront with all its din and whirr and leave with fresh seafood, and perhaps a little more such as stories of the sea and a perspective on life above the murky blue.

2. The Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Fleet in December 2021 Courtesy of Mike Sipos

The importance of protecting and preserving what little working waterfront we have left is paramount even if it means rebuilding docks and fish houses on land that would fetch a higher price for residential or another commercial use. Florida’s coastal history and traditions were built on working waterfronts, but there are only a handful of them that remain today. Including places in Charlotte Harbor like Pine Island and Fort Myers impacted by Hurricane Ian.

When storms disrupt local economies and encourage outside buyers to purchase this valuable coastal land for development (into something that is not a working waterfront) we forever lose them. Fishermen need space to unload their catch that is close to the waters that they fish and to the infrastructure that they need to operate efficiently (processing, markets, repair services). We can help protect working waterfronts by engaging with them and embracing their value as places that industry, food security, and community. For more information, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office, or Florida Sea Grant.

Here are some resources:

by David Outerbridge

Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert

Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.


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