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Oct 09, 2017 | Paulette E. Martin

Episcopalian Speaks in World Renowned Conference on Fishing Industry Struggles Post Harvey

Calhoun County Agent Rhonda Cummins is presented a plaque by Doreen M. Badeaux, Secretary General at the XXIV World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea Conference in Taiwan.

It was an invitation that Rhonda Cummins, Calhoun County Extension Agent for Coastal & Marine Resources did not ever expect to receive. Just five days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the Gulf of Mexico, Cummins received an e-mail from the XXIV World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, asking her to give a presentation in Kaohsiung, Taiwan about the impact Harvey caused on fishermen.

“It was very surreal,” Cummins said. “It's practically unheard of and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's very humbling, exciting, and overwhelming. When I was first asked to consider going, I didn't feel qualified but said I would prayerfully consider the possibility.”

More than 250 participants from 52 countries confirmed their attendance at the gathering, including two Cardinals, 17 Archbishops and Bishops, 67 priests and eight deacons, all of whom work as part of AoS’ global network for the Catholic Church.

Cummins was asked to participate in a panel presentation about good practices in fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. She has been working with fisherman for nearly ten years. Her role now for the Coastal & Marine Resources is to work with local stakeholders to meet the needs of the community.

The focus of the weeklong conference in October is on fishermen, who are often called the ‘forgotten seafarers’. Carrying the theme ‘Caught in the Net’, the Congress will explore how the Church, through the work of AoS port chaplains and volunteers in ports and harbors globally, can further enhance its support for fishermen.

According to the Houston Chronicle, in a normal year, commercial fishing and seafood processing in the bay would account for more than $66 million in direct income. But this year, trillions of gallons of freshwater runoff pushed shrimp, fish, and crab populations further out in the Gulf and wiped out the prolific local oyster crop.

“We have fishing communities in Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, and Rockport that were devastated by 140-mile eye-wall winds, 7-foot storm surge damage in Port Lavaca, and flooding in Galveston Bay to Sabine Lake,” Cummins said.

Harvey not only affected the coastal ecosystems, but also vessels and fishing equipment.

“From a boating standpoint, you have floating or partially submerged objects making navigation dangerous and for shrimping, these items get tangled in the nets and can destroy a fisherman's gear,” Cummins said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services temporarily closed the bay to commercial fishing, leaving many unemployed for the past month. There is no word on when it will reopen.

According to Cummins, the economic impact Harvey has left behind will act as domino effect, affecting many businesses and tourism in the area.

“Some businesses will never return. The bait stands have suffered the greatest losses thus far. And this has a multiplier effect. If your local bait stand is out of business, so is the fisherman that catches the bait, and the fishing guide that buys the bait,” Cummins explained.

While Cummins continues to assess the damages, and asks for donations to help the fishing community, she remains a faithful Episcopalian.

Although Cummins works in Port Lavaca, she has strong connections with Grace Episcopal Church in Galveston. She started her membership at Grace when she was in the process of completing her Master of Marine Resource Management from Texas A&M University at Galveston. She was the director of the altar guild there and served on the Diocesan Altar Guild for six years. She maintains her membership and returns when she can. She also attends St. John’s, Palacios with her mother.

To learn more about the work Cummins is doing, visit: