Lobster Divers In Deep Trouble

That's the title of an IPS News article about lobster divers on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. The article offers a specific example of what happens with unsafe conditions and goes on to talk about new legislation about to go into effect.

In 2005, a government study estimated that more than 1,250 Miskito Indians under 35 (all of the divers are young) had suffered debilitating effects of decompression illness, or "the bends", which is caused when a diver surfaces too quickly after diving at a depth, without making decompression stops on the way up.

The new law addresses this.

The law on protection and safety for divers, which was approved in February 2007 and will fully go into effect on Feb. 7, 2011, will ban free diving and scuba diving for lobster, allowing only fishing by traps and nets.

But, there are questions:

  1. Will the implementation be postponed?
  2. Will there be real enforcement?
  3. Will the result be increased unemployment, higher lobster prices or both?

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New Documentary Film Reveals the Truth of Lobster Diving

A new documentary film entitled "MY VILLAGE, MY LOBSTER" reveals the truth of commercial lobster diving.

To find out more about the project and to watch the film's newly released trailer, go here: http://kck.st/ob2LV5

MY VILLAGE, MY LOBSTER is the powerful and harrowing story of the indigenous Miskito lobster divers along Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast who risk their lives diving for the region's most lucrative resource – the Caribbean spiny lobster. Over the past 20 years, thousands of Miskito divers have become paralyzed and hundreds more have died from decompression sickness, a diving-related condition commonly known as the bends. Through the voices of Miskito lobster divers and their families, as well as boat owners, captains, and doctors, MY VILLAGE, MY LOBSTER tells the story of an industry and a community in crisis.

MY VILLAGE, MY LOBSTER features exclusive testimony from a cast of compelling central characters: lobster divers who have been injured from the bends while diving; boat owners who are responsible for their divers' safety; a hyperbaric medicine specialist who treats injured divers; and diving boat crew members who have witnessed divers die from the bends firsthand. In addition, this film includes exclusive, never-before-obtained footage from aboard a commercial lobster diving vessel as well as stunning verite footage from the remote Miskito Keys – the fabled turtle hunting grounds of the Miskito Indians.

Shooting in verite style, MY VILLAGE, MY LOBSTER chronicles life aboard The Spanish Lady, a commercial lobster diving vessel based out of Puerto Cabezas. Like most commercial diving vessels, The Spanish Lady fishes for lobster with a crew of around sixty to seventy men – twenty-five divers, twenty-five canoe assistants and twelve or more additional crew members – as well as canoes and hundreds of battered SCUBA tanks. Living conditions aboard commercial diving boats are notoriously atrocious, and enforcement of safety regulations is essentially non-existent. Until now, no video footage has existed of life aboard these ships due to resistance from boat owners to prevent film crews from documenting the abuses that take place out at sea.

In recent years, overfishing has depleted lobster populations close to shore, forcing commercial diving boats like The Spanish Lady farther out to sea and divers deeper in search of the declining resource. In order to find lobster, commercial diving vessels must now travel more than fifty miles off-shore and spend twelve days at sea, and divers must dive to perilous depths of over 100 feet, ten to fifteen times a day, with inadequate training and without essential SCUBA safety gear such as depth or air guages. The human consequence of the industry's widespread institutional neglect has been an increasing trend in divers injured from decompression sickness. Decompression sickness results when a diver ascends too rapidly from the depths of the ocean or fails to make decompression stops during the ascent, causing a rapid decrease in pressure. In severe cases, divers can lose consciousness, experience immediate paralysis, fall into a coma or even die.

In June of 2009, divers in Puerto Cabezas protested an industry-mandated 30% wage cut by uniting in the streets, taking the town's mayor hostage and seizing the docks. The government called in additional riot police to protect industry assets from the mob, and boat owners anchored their boats off-shore to protect them from damage. For an entire month, commercial diving boats remained idle and the regional economy stagnant while boat owners, processing plant owners, the police and government agencies searched for a solution. After a month of resistance, necessity forced divers to reluctantly accept a new wage of $2.50/pound of lobster tail—the lowest price since commercial diving was introduced into Nicaragua 20 years ago.

In order to prevent further abuses and unnecessary diving injuries, the Nicaraguan government recently passed a law that would have banned commercial lobster diving with compressed air beginning in 2011. However, industry stakeholders in the region failed to prepare for the economic and social consequences of the industry reform, and were unable to offer any viable alternatives to diving. Just days before the law was set to take effect in February of 2011, Nicaragua's General Assembly approved an extension, and the law is now set to take effect in 2013.

It is the goal of the film to bring the complex social and economic issues facing the Miskito Coast to the attention of a larger audience and foment targeted change that will lead to fewer injuries from a better-regulated lobster industry and assistance for the thousands of men who live paralyzed along the Miskito Coast.

Money

Perhaps these lobsters are destined for another port or purchaser, but this article is one of the few per the Miskitos that does not single out the “Red Lobster” restaurant chain - which is apparently the main purchaser of lobsters caught by Honduran Miskitos (maybe the supply line is now different, but to use a bad analogy, for decades illegal lobster was laundered via Honduran ports; pirateers paid more than the local rate). There is no shortage of “bad press” tied to the chain and the lobster dive practice (how much of this is deserved isn’t always so obvious, given that the restaraunt chain has funded educational programs per this problem and has since claimed it does not to buy dived lobsters). It is common to see article and bulletin board posts along the lines of “Red Blood for Red Lobster”, “Red Lobster Has Bloody Hands”, “The High Cost of Low Cost Red Lobster…”, etc. The law may fail for the reasons you imply, and there hasn’t been much success in this area, regardless of the country; Honduran Lobster Divers: Risking it All in the Hunt for 'Red Gold'. The money, culture, and isolation do not exactly assist in the setup of education or law enforcement programs; Death Looms Over Miskito Lobster Divers. There was a Dutch guy starting a documentary film in November, 2010. He was in Nicaragua in September & October and around Trujillo and out past Limon in November (not a good time to study the market as the greater Tocoa area roads were all shut down for political reasons, as were outland ports, etc.). Not sure the nature of the film though he was interviewing injured divers and those who used to work the black market, etc. This is different than a late 2010 DAN (Divers Alert Network) project that examined divers on Northcoast Honduras: National Geographic: Miskito divers risk injury and death to feed seafood markets . If the law were successful or if piracy was eliminated or if chains just stopped buying Nicaraguan-caught lobster, the result might be the same per the Miskito - not to menion the fact that elaborate trapped systems for lobster are not thought of favorably by those who care about the environment long-term (trap systems destroy reefs, etc.)