To Your Health: A time for resilience

“Waiting for a call from someone in authority, waiting for any sign of hope…” Do these words describe the distress of a fisherman’s spouse or do they describe the distress of a husband whose wife is in the ICU with COVID-19? They could describe either; they could describe both.

Fishing families have experienced the pain of waiting before but that does not make the current situation easier. In the fishing industry there are hazards. Weather, for instance, can be unpredictable. It may difficult to find shelter in the lee of an island in time. It may be difficult to clear accumulating ice in the winter. It may be difficult to recover from a stern-chasing wave. With COVID-19, it may be difficult to escape from this virus when there is no shelter in terms of a vaccine, no evidence-based tool to knock it down in terms of a treatment, and nowhere to run from its presence.

Fishing families know that lives can be saved by using personal floatation devices while at sea. In this moment, lives can be saved by wearing masks when outside and by keeping a fathom apart. Fishing families and communities have shown over generations their capacity to recover from difficulties. We call this capacity, resilience. I like to think of resilience as buoyancy! At the individual level, resilience includes preparing ahead. In a very pragmatic sense, it is when the key players in a household know where the legal documents such as wills and mortgages are and know where the bank accounts, checkbooks, ATM pin numbers, credit cards, and safe deposit box keys are. Resilience for some families includes having back-up plans, such as life-insurance, savings, health care proxies, provision for the care of children, and clear communication about end-of-life wishes.

At the community level, resilience includes having first responders, supportive local government, active community organizations and a crisis response team that meets regularly and rehearses emergency scenarios. But in these COVID-19 days we have to think on a totally different scale. In addition to the first responders, we need a large number of competent health care professionals and increased hospital capacity. In addition to supportive local government, we need support at the state and national levels. In terms of organizations we need those which can scale-up quickly, such as food banks, counseling centers, and small business assistance programs. In terms of a crisis response team, we need a team that has done its homework and one that can adapt to the current exigencies.

Ann Backus is the Director of Outreach in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In the event of a fishing death, the economic impact is most likely at the level of the family. Now it includes the family and reaches beyond to the nation — 382 million people — and the world — 7.6 billion people. What does it take to be resilient now? Will this ship right itself?
I venture to say that all of us who have spent time in boats know that drifting with the wind and tide without propulsion or steerage can quickly send us out to sea or bring us upon rocky shores. Thus, to push this metaphor a little further, it seems we need to go back to thinking about the local level and engage with our networks and community organizations for the drive and direction they can provide. If they are nimble, they will adapt quickly.

Maine organizations have stepped forward. Here are a few examples: In downeast Maine, the Seacoast Mission has established Project ReachOut to enhance the social network of downeast communities – especially those on “unbridged” islands. They are accepting volunteers to make phone calls to families. Contact: www.seacoastmission.org. In midcoast Maine, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (www.coastalfisheries.org) has resource pages with information about unemployment, small business loans, and seafood marketing. In southern Maine, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (www.gmri.org) also has many resources including a very complete and helpful guide that explains how to go about direct sales titled “A Fisherman’s Guide to Selling Seafood in Maine.” The major source of assistance with direct sales marketing and retail seafood licensing is the Department of Marine Resources and Marine Patrol at https://www.maine.gov/dmr/marine-patrol/.

To keep up with what is happening at the state and federal levels, visit the websites of Senator Collins (www.collins.senate.gov), Senator King (www.king.senate.gov), Representative Pingree (www.pingree.house.gov) and Representative Golden (www.golden.house.gov). For an extensive list of resources for Maine and New Hampshire pertaining to legal and financial assistance, social services and mental health assistance, food pantries, and other organizations poised to help during this pandemic, please visit www.hsph.harvard.edu/erc/fishing-research-and-outreach/ and click on RESCUES: Maine and New Hampshire Responding to Emergencies at Sea and to Communities under Extreme Stress. Turn to the Community Profiles and Contact Information section (Appendix G).
In the words of the wife mentioned above who lost her husband when the F/V Misty Blue went down in December of 2017, “I don’t know how we will get through this.” Her son’s answer, “We will.”