Oh that these lyrics from a popular Rolling Stones song could become the mantra behind the commercial and recreational fishermen who share the inland and coastal waters of south Louisiana, the fate of which will soon be decided in the House vote for the 2012 State Master Plan for Coastal Restoration and Protection.
This plan represents the first of its kind in Louisiana and possibly the nation. Two years in the making and formulated by more than 150 scientists and experts in the fields of fisheries, oil and gas, navigation, and more, the Louisiana State Master Plan is a comprehensive plan to build, sustain and protect coastal wetlands in the state. Several focus groups met repeatedly studying the state’s wetland loss issues and solutions, using a scientific model to determine what types of projects in each of these areas would best serve the state over the next fifty years – a daunting task at the least. Also included in the formulation of the draft plan was the input and concerns of special interest groups and citizens from communities across the coast.
The $50 billion, 50-year plan includes projects that would create marsh, divert water and sediment from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, build levees, rebuild barrier islands, restore ridges and support hurricane and flood protection structures. So, with what seems as having covered every base, why is there still ardent disagreement over the final plan that was submitted to the Legislature and passed by a 34 – 0 vote in the Senate earlier this month? There appear to be some folks who still feel as though they were not heard or were left out of the decision-making process altogether.
After reading the entire draft plan and attending several meetings, I arrived at the conclusion that what is best for the entire cost, in a “comprehensive” plan, is never going to be what is best for every individual. Those who seem to be getting the most publicity post-final plan proposal are those saltwater fishermen, both commercial and recreational, who anticipate being negatively impacted by the introduction of freshwater sediment diversions off the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. These diversions are a necessary way to maintain new marsh creation, which depend on the freshwater sediment to sustain them. This brings about a few questions for these fishermen to ponder: What good is marsh creation without sustenance? What good is protecting those newly-created wetlands without offering them life-sustaining freshwater and sediment? Conversely, the fishermen have a valid concern: the influx of too much freshwater will reduce salinity levels to the point of killing oysters and also pushing the saltwater game fish to more saline waters. With these questions in mind, we must remember that everyone had the opportunity to express their concerns at public meetings and in writing via the Internet and mail. The time for complaining is over…the time for support and solidarity is here!
The citizens of Louisiana can no longer afford the luxury of being divided as to what will be best for their coast. The 2012 State Master Plan is fast becoming a reality, and as such, needs the backing of every fisherman in the state, whether commercial or recreational. Lest anyone think their opinion was not valuable, think again. Having watched the process before, during, and after the plan was finalized, I am confident that those involved in gathering the data to enter into the implementation model took into consideration every comment that was made. Based on that input, they made changes to the draft plan before it became the final plan, which is now waiting for the House vote. That final plan took into consideration hundreds of marsh creation, protection, and restoration projects, evaluating each in order to choose those that work together toward the common goal of gaining the most coastal wetlands for the least amount of money, sustainable over the longest period of time. And if in that plan some of us must make compromises in order for the entire coast to get what it needs for sustainability, then it’s not too much to ask for us as recreational fishermen to burn a little more gas to enjoy our sport – because if we are not willing to compromise and make concessions, then the day is rapidly approaching that our coastal wetland loss will pass the point of no return, past the point of being capable of being restored, and then none of us will enjoy an inland marsh fishing trip ever again! That, my friends, is a scenario to ponder while complaining that maybe we just weren’t heard.
Not to leave you with the feeling that this author is brow beating anyone for having a strong opinion, let me offer these words of encouragement to my fellow fishermen: we all have to give something for the greater good, and we can’t always have what we want – but if we try sometime, we just might find, that gaining nearly 900 square miles of wetlands and decreasing wetland loss over the next fifty years might be just what we need. Consider it a gift to your grandchildren.