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Discarded fishing gear poses risk to marine life

GALVESTON

It’s common to see loose fishing line and discarded fishing gear along Galveston beaches and the Texas City Dike.

Trash left from fishing is more than unsightly. It’s also dangerous, often killing or maiming marine life, wildlife advocates warn.

“Fishing gear is a huge concern,” said Joanie Steinhaus, Gulf program director for the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

More than 100 million pounds of plastic pollution from lost fishing gear goes into the ocean every year, according to a study by The Nature Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Barbara, published May in Fish and Fisheries.

It was the first study looking at a global estimate of plastic pollution from industrial fisheries. Because it focused on larger fisheries and gear lost during use, the actual loss is likely higher, researchers said.

“It’s definitely gotten worse in the time that I’ve been working in this part of the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 years now,” said G.P. Schmahl, superintendent of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. “It definitely seems more prevalent than when I first started.”

THE PROBLEM

Gear from both industrial and recreational fishing can be lost in multiple ways. Sometimes, it gets caught on the seafloor, Schmahl said. This can happen when fishing lines or nets drag along the bottom, he said.

“You have to be really, really aware of where you are and what the bottom is like in those areas,” he said.

Storms also can cause lost gear. And so can the transportation of gear after it has been thrown away, Steinhaus said.

Often, the loss is accidental because most anglers and commercial harvesters prefer not to lose their equipment, Schmahl said. Although he has occasionally seen people throw old fishing line into the water, he said.

As the fishing industry has grown and the use of more durable materials for fishing gear increased, the hazards posed by discarded gear also have risen, according to the study.

THE HAZARDS

Lost gear from industrial fishing and anglers presents numerous safety hazards to animals, Steinhaus said. The first concern is ingestion, with many animals eating the brightly colored gear, she said.

“As you’re casting your line, the birds might go after the bait,” she said. “Or they might just be attracted to the multicolors.”

The risk of ingestion is especially high for microplastics, tiny fragments frequently created when larger plastics decay in the water, Schmahl said. Although intact fishing gear is dangerous, it eventually breaks down into microplastics that continue to pose a risk, he said.

“Every fish can handle a certain amount of non-food items they eat,” he said. “But when it becomes really concentrated, that can really be a big problem.”

There also is the risk of animals such as sea turtles getting hooked, Steinhaus said. Swallowing a hook can be deadly, and hooks also can catch turtles in other areas such as a fin or near the eye, she said.

Finally, there’s the risk of entanglement from fishing lines, which can lead to drowning, Steinhaus said.

“They’re not able to surface, they get exhausted, or they actually get entangled,” she said.

Discarded fishing gear also damages coral, Schmahl said. Although discarded gear in the Flower Garden Banks, which are 80 to 125 miles off the coast, is somewhat rare, especially in areas that have been protected for years, Schmahl has heard of discarded gear damaging coral.

“There have been situations where some line has been caught up in the coral,” he said.

PREVENTING DAMAGE

To prevent such damage, white tubes designed to hold discarded fishing line were installed on the area’s beaches and piers, Steinhaus said. Volunteers collect and clean the lines before sending them to the Texas Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program with the Texas Sea Grant College Program, where the line is weighed.

Since 2004, more than 3,385 pounds of fishing line have been collected, according to the group’s website.

There are more than 250 collection bins throughout Texas, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network Gulf Program always is accepting donations to install more tubes in the area, Steinhaus said.

In addition to allowing the group to measure how much fishing line is discarded in the area, the tubes also provide a place to discard fishing gear other than the trash can, Steinhaus said. Although trash cans might seem like a good place to discard old or broken fishing line, it can be lost during transport to a landfill, she said.

“If they think they put it in a trash can, it could somehow end up on the beach or in the water,” she said.

RAISING AWARENESS

One of the best ways to prevent lost gear from becoming a problem is to ensure people know how much trouble it can cause, Schmahl said.

“People just need to be aware of the impact that it has,” he said.

Another component is teaching people what to do if they find or injure an animal, Steinhaus said. That means not just cutting the line off a hooked turtle, she said. Instead, people should call the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5 or other groups that are equipped to help.

“Put the numbers in your phone so that if you have an interaction, you’re able to call someone,” she said.

The community in Galveston has been receptive to efforts to mitigate the damage caused by discarded or lost fishing gear, Steinhaus said.

“I think there is a raised level of awareness,” she said. “But there’s always room for improvement.”


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Galveston cruise lines likely will sail past Abbott's vaccine order

GALVESTON

Cruise lines operating from the Port of Galveston appear poised to continue with strict vaccine requirements, despite a new executive order banning private entities in Texas from requiring employees and consumers to be inoculated against COVID-19.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued an executive order prohibiting any “entity” in Texas from compelling anybody to be vaccinated, including an employee or consumer.

The executive order came about a month after President Joe Biden announced a plan to broadly require either vaccination or frequent testing of about 100 million U.S. workers.

Biden ordered the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make rules mandating all employers of more than 100 people require workers to either be inoculated or be tested for COVID weekly.

A CHANGE OF STANCE

Abbott previously had supported allowing businesses to create their own vaccination rules. The governor recently had been taking criticism over that stance from Republican primary challengers, including former state Sen. Don Huffines, however.

In Galveston, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises have required nearly all of their employees and most of their customers to be vaccinated since they returned to business in early July. Disney Cruise Line is planning to return to Galveston on Nov. 19 and similarly is telling passengers they will be required to be vaccinated.

None of the companies responded to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Port of Galveston, however, said it had no reason to think the new executive order applied to the cruise lines.

“We have no information indicating any intent to change current cruise operations, which the governor’s office approved prior to the restart of passenger cruise operations in July,” said Tony Brown, the port’s attorney. “Cruise operations are continuing to grow back as a major economic driver for our community, our region and our state.”

There had been no communications between the governor’s office and the port as of Tuesday afternoon, Brown said.

‘NO ENTITY’

An Abbott spokeswoman in a statement responded to questions about whether the new mandate applied to cruise ships by pointing to the first part of the executive order — “no entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual.”

Abbott’s aim was to protect people from losing their jobs to federal overreach.

“The Biden Administration has left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID vaccine because of their religious belief, medical condition or personal conscience,” Renae Eze, press secretary for Abbott, said.

“They have left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees. The governor’s executive order will help protect Texans from having to make that choice.”

Abbott threatens $1,000 fines for violations of the executive order. He also asked the legislators to pass a law banning mandates among private businesses.

Huffines, who is running in next year’s Republican primary as a more conservative alternative to Abbott, said a law should have been proposed earlier this year.

“If I were governor, we would have already banned vaccine mandates in the regular session,” Huffines said. “Any businesses, including cruise lines, who attempted to defy the law would be prosecuted accordingly. I will always be a vigilant defender of Texans’ liberties.”

HISTORY OF EXCEPTIONS

Abbott and lawmakers previously had carved out exceptions to COVID orders and laws that applied to cruise lines and other businesses.

Abbott in April issued an order stating government entities were banned from requiring vaccine passports but said that didn’t apply to the cruise lines operating out of the public port.

In June, he signed a stricter law prohibiting private businesses from requiring vaccine passports. But the law included exceptions for companies that required vaccine passports because of federal mandate.

At the time, cruise companies were required to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued mandates, including a vaccine requirement. In July, however, a federal judge in Florida issued an injunction against the CDC, stopping it from enforcing its rules.

The judge’s ruling was part of a lawsuit filed by the state of Florida against the CDC. Texas joined that lawsuit in May, making the argument the agency’s rules were harmful to the Texas economy.

Since July, the CDC has said its rules are considered voluntary and non-binding. Still, the companies have continued to mandate vaccines from most of their customers. Last week, Carnival announced it would extend its vaccine requirements into at least February 2022.

THE CONSEQUENCES

It’s unclear whether Abbott, his opponents or others will take much notice of or have much concern about flouting of the new mandate.

Businesses generally seem to like some definite direction from the government about what its rules should be regarding vaccines, said Steve Werner, the chairman of the department of management and leadership at the University of Houston’s Bauer College. Having an anti-mandate mandate at least gives human resources departments cover for making their own decisions, he said.

For cruise companies, there might be a greater incentive to keep the vaccine mandate, especially if the companies feel their businesses are put at greater risk if an outbreak occurs on a ship. The benefit of requiring vaccinations might, for now, outweigh any punishment the state creates, Werner said.

“Everybody knows this is all in flux,” Werner said. “It’s really not clear what the legalities are. With every new law that’s passed there are lawsuits, and then it goes through the system. Until the Supreme Court rules on something, it’s never a done deal.

“I think the bottom line is that organizations will say, ‘If we want to, we’ll follow’, but I don’t think they’re entirely fearful that there’s going to be great consequences right away.”


A house rolls along Seawall Boulevard near 10th Street in Galveston on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, as crews move the house to a new location in the 2600 block of Avenue M 1/2.


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AP
Americans quit their jobs at a record pace in August

WASHINGTON

One reason America’s employers are having trouble filling jobs was starkly illustrated in a report Tuesday: Americans are quitting in droves.

The U.S. Labor Department said that quits jumped to 4.3 million in August, the highest on records dating back to December 2000, and up from 4 million in July. That’s equivalent to nearly 3 percent of the workforce. Hiring also slowed in August, the report showed, and the number of jobs available fell to 10.4 million, from a record high of 11.1 million the previous month.

The data helps fill in a puzzle that is looming over the job market: Hiring slowed sharply in August and September, even as the number of posted jobs was near record levels. In the past year, open jobs have increased 62 percent. Yet overall hiring, as measured by Tuesday’s report, has actually declined slightly during that time.

The jump in quits strongly suggests that fear of the delta variant is partly responsible for the shortfall in workers. In addition to driving quits, fear of the disease probably caused plenty of those out of work to not look for, or take, jobs.

As COVID-19 cases surged in August, quits soared in restaurants and hotels from the previous month and rose in other public-facing jobs, such as retail and education. Nearly 900,000 people left jobs at restaurants, bars and hotels in August, up 21 percent from July. Quits by retail workers rose 6 percent.

Yet in industries such as manufacturing, construction and transportation and warehousing, quits barely increased. In professional and business services, which includes fields such as law, engineering and architecture, where most employees can work from home, quitting was largely flat.

Other factors also likely contributed to the jump in quits. With many employers desperate for workers and wages rising at a healthy pace, workers have a much greater ability to demand higher pay, or go elsewhere to find it.

The data from August is probably too early to reflect the impact of vaccine mandates. President Joe Biden’s mandate was not announced until Sept. 9. United Airlines announced its mandate in early August, but it was one of the first companies to do so. And layoffs were unchanged in August, the report found.

The government said Friday that job gains were weak for a second straight month in September, with only 194,000 jobs added, though the unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent from 5.2 percent. Friday’s hiring figure is a net total, after quits, retirements and layoffs are taken into account. Tuesday’s report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, includes raw figures and showed that total hiring in August fell sharply, to 6.3 million from 6.8 million in July.

The data is “highlighting the immense problems businesses are dealing with,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, in an email. “Not enough people. Not enough equipment and/or parts. Meantime, customers are waiting for their orders, or waiting to place their orders. What a strange world this is.”

Quits also rose the most in the South and Midwest, the government said, the two regions with the worst COVID outbreaks in August.

When workers quit, it is typically seen as a good sign for the job market, because people usually leave jobs when they already have other positions or are confident they can find one. The large increase in August probably does reflect some of that confidence among workers.



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Galveston's Broadway drainage project to finish this year

GALVESTON

A two-year project to improve drainage along one of the island’s biggest thoroughfares is drawing to a close.

Crews expect to finish work on Broadway by the end of the year. City officials and the Texas Department of Transportation said the work would alleviate chronic flooding during major rain storms.

During the $11.2 million project, crews have been working for two years to shave down Broadway pavement and replace aging drainage boxes with new equipment.

The department of transportation expects work will wrap up by the end of the year, spokesman Danny Perez said.

“The work the contractor has left includes some waterline work, final asphalt overlay, striping and some additional punch list items,” Perez said.

Broadway, the major east-west thoroughfare bisecting Galveston, is maintained by the department of transportation.

A main job for the state-hired crews was to mill off layers of asphalt that had formed a hump in the middle of the road, blocking water and causing flooding along roads on the south part of Broadway.

Crews also replaced drainage culverts, many of which were so old they were made of wood. The new concrete culverts would allow water to drain faster, officials have said.

Some Broadway business operators already have noticed improvement.

The street doesn’t seem to pond up as often has it had before, said Dion Watson, a manager at Famous Steve’s Warehouse Tires, 5019 Broadway.

“The last big rain that they had, it didn’t flood like it usually does,” Watson said. “The other day when it rained, it was a little flooded, but nothing like it used to be.”

Residents will be happy with the results of the project when it’s completed, Perez said.

“We know this work has impacted the community at times and we appreciate everyone’s patience during construction,” Perez said.

The late-December completion date is dependent on any weather delays crews may encounter, he said.

Although this project is nearing completion, residents should brace for another major and likely more disruptive project in 2023.

The department of transportation plans to construct a flyover at 61st Street that would allow people leaving the island to bypass the light at the intersection with Broadway and zip straight onto northbound Interstate 45.

The flyover would be part of a $115 million section of the I-45 expansion project that’s been ongoing for years on the mainland.

City officials have said they hope the project will alleviate congestion, especially during the summer when 61st Street can clog for hours with beachgoers trying to drive north at the same time.


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