It’s Time Louisiana Stops Joking About Its Vital Coastal Choices

coastal choices

Illustration by Kenneth Harrison

When speaking to non-Louisianians about the causes and possible solutions to my state’s coastal crisis I usually end up facing some embarrassing questions. Such as:

Why do residents in the area most threatened by climate change elect politicians who fight against the carbon regulations that could help save them?

And why are some fishermen fighting against the state’s plans to rebuild the wetlands that produce their fish?

Since humor can sometimes ease the pain of self-criticism, I often find myself falling back on two classic jokes as a segue to the answers. The first involves a duck hunter who ignores limits, the other is about a farmer who has a pig with a peg leg.

I’ll start with the hunters’ story.

Bob and Sam were in their duck blind having a good outing when they both reached the limit. But when Sam stopped shooting, Bob continued to kill ducks.

Outraged, Sam yelled at his partner, “Hey, man, save a few for the next guy!”

But Bob, who kept shooting, replied, “The heck with the next guy. No one saved me any buffalo!”

That story comes to mind when I’m asked about the continued, dogged opposition some fishers have to the river sediment diversions at the heart of the state’s Coastal Master Plan, our last-gasp effort to save some of the current coastal zone. Research shows these diversions — allowing the river to carry its sediment into the sinking basins — are the only affordable long-term way of keeping some areas above current projections of sea level rise.

Some commercial fishers of all stripes (shrimpers, oystermen and guides) oppose diversions because they would convert the marsh from its current brackish/salt mix to the fresh/brackish regime that existed before levees blocked the river’s annual floods. This change would likely relocate some species and eliminate others. Fishers would have to travel longer distances or change locations.

Diversion opponents would rather see the state pump or barge in mud from other areas to rebuild the crumbling marshes, a process that would have little effect on the salinity levels and likely leave their targets pretty much where they are today.

But subsidence and sea level rise will not stop, so that expensive process would have to be repeated every 20 years or so. And that cost would be prohibitive.

The irony here is that the marshes are the engine that drives all these fisheries. They are the reason Louisiana fisheries far outproduce every other state in the Gulf of Mexico. But as the marshes sink and drown and the water becomes ever more salty, production will begin to collapse. And we’ll have fishing like Texas and Florida – which is only a shadow of our resources.

So those fishers fighting diversions are, whether they realize it or not, also fighting to prevent future generations from enjoying the fishing they have today. Yes, diversions will require sacrifices, but their grandchildren might be wondering why no one saved them any speckled trout and redfish.

Which brings us to that Cajun farmer with a pig that had a peg leg. Here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Read the rest of the article at The Times-Picayune.