Boatmen who make a living off the Gulf compete to protect it
Professional boatmen love and depend upon Gulf waters to support their commercial fishing and charter businesses. In recent years, they’ve hauled in more and more plastic trash washed out to sea and are particularly concerned about the deflated balloons they continue to find floating on the water’s surface.
“People release big bundles of balloons at graduations, birthday parties and weddings all the way up to Houston, and they end up in the Gulf,” said Scott Hickman, a charter boat captain out of the Galveston Yacht Basin. “It’s particularly bad in the spring when there are a lot of weddings.”
The balloons, when ingested, are fatal to the Gulf’s sea turtles.
This year, the Galveston Professional Boatmen’s Association plans to bring awareness to the problem by staging a balloon roundup rodeo. Commercial and charter fishing operations began July 1 collecting balloons from the Gulf, noting where and how many. They bring them in, and the crews that haul in the most by the end of October will win cash prizes at a special event.
The association is a nonprofit collective of charter fishing businesses, commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and other seafood or tourism-related businesses dedicated to representing and engaging professional fishermen in ensuring sustainable fisheries and enhancing the professional fishing heritage of Galveston, according to its Facebook page.
“We throw multiple fishing tournaments each year,” Hickman said. “This year, we want to promote sustainable fisheries and conservation by making the public aware that by letting balloons go, they go out into the Gulf, sea turtles think they’re jellyfish, eat them and die. It’s a serious problem for these turtles that people love.”
Sponsors of the rodeo are Galveston’s Turtle Island Restoration Network; Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, of which Hickman is a board member; Ocean Conservancy; Moody Gardens Aquarium; and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“This is our first year and we want this thing to grow,” Hickman said. “We make a good living off the ocean and this is something we can give back.”