Ocean Strategies Q&A w. MCFA's Monique Coombs
The following is an excerpt from the Ocean Strategies Spring 2022 Fisheries Policy Report
Ocean Strategies Senior Consultant, Hannah Heimbuch, recently chatted with Monique Coombs with the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association about health and wellness in U.S. fisheries — the challenges, the solutions, and the work she’s doing to bring mental health to the forefront of this conversation.
Monique Coombs is the Director of Community Programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, where she oversees the organization’s marine programs and fishing community engagement. She has been married to a fisherman for almost twenty years and has two kids, both of whom have their student lobster licenses. She and her family live on Orrs Island, Maine.
You can learn more about Monique and her work in fisheries at her website: aragostamama.com
Hannah: Thanks so much for joining us, Monique! We’re excited to dive into some important topics, but first things first – what is your favorite seafood, and how do you cook it?
Monique: I’m going to have to go with my OG – lobster. My favorite way to prepare it is to steam it. It’s a classic. I love when my kids are fishing in the summer and bring home pieces so I always have a pot of lobster in the fridge. You really can’t get any better than that. It’s such a good snack, high in protein, and delicious.
Hannah: Americans are eating more seafood than ever before. We’ve talked quite a bit about what keeps seafood resources strong and sustainable, so we can continue to supply America with healthy protein options. While we often focus on the ocean ecosystem, part of that story is a healthy, thriving workforce at every part of the supply chain. In the grocery store, along transportation routes, in processing and of course — out fishing. You and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association have put a focus on health and wellness for fishermen and their families over the past few years. Let’s talk about why and how you do that, and how those efforts support a strong seafood future.
What have you found are some of the leading health and wellness issues that fishermen struggle with — as individuals, as families, and as communities?
Monique: First of all, physical health. I’ve learned a new term in the past year: industrial athlete. This refers to when your occupation requires an element of both physical and mental health in order to carry out your work. Physical health issues could be overuse injuries like low back pain, or sprains, tears, and wounds. I think having terminology like “industrial athlete” helps because it’s easier to identify solutions. If you talk to fishermen like they’re athletes, then the importance of sleeping and eating well in order to fish harder will resonate.
Another term is “moral injury.” This was first used to describe soldiers that had done things during war time that went against their values but was part of their job. That’s actually pretty common in the fishing industry, too. When you’re just trying to go fishing and be on the water, and then you’re required to do things —- like modifications around bycatch or you’re feeling over-regulated, these are things that may go against your values. That leads to a sense of powerlessness. Moral injury can even lead to depression and anxiety.
As individuals, fishermen should be included in health and wellness conversations in a humanizing way because fishing is so intrinsically tied to a fisherman’s identity. Anything that impacts their business is going to impact them personally.
In communities, one issue is solastalgia, a term coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2008. It refers to the feeling of homesickness when you’re already at home. A lot of development in our coastal communities, like here in Maine, exploded during the pandemic. Most houses are going 10 to 15 percent over asking price. So this community development is changing in such a way that is inflicting homesickness, grief and sadness, despite these fishermen being in the same place they always have been.
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