Capt. Gary Jarvis says the best way he can describe the current state of the Gulf Coast fishermen and the plight they are facing is “levels of uncertainty.”
“That is just how it is right now,” he told The Log recently. “That’s the situation.”
Jarvis, who recently met with President Obama at a roundtable discussion in Panama City Beach, has become somewhat of a spokesman for the local fishing community.
He told The Log that between being activated by BP and then being deactivated, the negative effects of the oil spill, fighting for compensation, and an uneasiness about the future, he understands why area residents feel down on their luck.
Mental health issues are something that haven’t been talked about much, Jarvis said, as he remembered a fellow friend and boat captain in Orange Beach, Ala., who had committed suicide during the oil spill.
“When you have a lot of uncertainty, it causes a strain in your life,” he said. “When your resources are threatened, it adds to your level of stress.”
And while the gushing well has been plugged after leaking an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil from the wellhead, the latest concern comes from a variety of reports that have been issued by researchers at The University of South Florida and Georgia Sea Grant.
The Sea Grant report challenges an Aug. 2 report released by the National Incident Command that suggests 75 percent of the oil is “gone,” and that only 25 percent remains in Gulf waters.
When asked about the report, Jarvis said “he doesn’t believe it.”
“It’s hard for me to swallow that all the oil I saw in June is gone,” he added. “At the same time you have to face the facts, maybe its not a cover up, maybe they are just blowing the call.”
The Sea Grant report says that independent scientists are “interpreting the findings differently,” with some suggesting that less than 10 percent is “gone” and up to 90 percent remains caught underwater and represents “a threat to the ecosystem.”
The South Florida report shows evidence of oil deposited in the sea bottom near the edges of the DeSoto Canyon, which lies about 40 miles southwest of Panama City. The canyon is an important mixing area for cold, nutrient-laden water and warm surface water, in addition to being a key area for currents and fisheries.
When asked about the studies that have been performed, Mayor Sam Seevers told The Log “if the studies were true, then it was very disturbing.”
Her main concern was the long-term effects of this disaster. She said they are just now coming back with a complete picture of the impact from the Exxon Valdez spill, which happened in 1989.
“We just don’t really know what the long-term effects are going to be,” she said. “Not only for our fishermen, but for our community and our environment.”
While Jarvis isn’t sure about the entire impact either, he said there are plenty of groups around the local area that are performing their own tests, and “other groups are saying the same things” as the researcher’s from Georgia Sea Grant. Jarvis said University of West Florida Associate Professor of Biology Will Patterson is working on a study, in addition to studies being conducted by faculty from The University of South Alabama and Southern Mississippi.
Although there haven’t been any reports of tainted fish, the fear factor is just as devastating. Jarvis compared it to the impact the area saw in the tourism numbers when reports of tar balls on the beaches came in.
“The entire area was directly impacted, whether there were actually tar balls on the beaches or not,” he said. “These reports will continue to perpetuate the same problem.”
When Jarvis chose at an early age to become a charter boat captain, he said he did so because he liked the idea of “trying to conquer our portion of the world,” referring to the sea. His worst nightmare would become a reality if testing reveals now, or even three years down the road that the local fisheries have been tainted.
“If someone gets sick from eating our seafood, we are done,” he said. “That would be hard for us to overcome.”
And while the area will continue to move forward amid the uncertainty, Jarvis said “all we can do is keep our fingers crossed.”