No one on the Gulf Coast so personifies this new American fishing ethic as Lance Nacio. Born and bred in the Louisiana bayou, Nacio has a background the polar opposite of Pearce's. His father worked intermittently on oil rigs and as a hunter who raised his family in an off-the-grid trapping community that could only be reached by boat.
Nacio never graduated from high school and has been a shrimper most of his life. By 2000 he had saved up enough money to build a 55-foot bay skimmer called the Anna Marie and went into business for himself during a time of unprecedented high prices for shrimp. Then everything fell apart.
"In 2000, I built the boat and the prices were phenomenal. In 2001, I mean, they just crashed and we went on a 10-year spell where we just didn't get any price. So I started doing my own marketing and selling my own product," he says in a soft-spoken growl.
He says imports, many from countries where laws and enforcement lag far behind those in the US, drove domestic shrimp from $4 per pound in 2000 to as low as $1, while fuel prices went mostly in the opposite direction. Nacio's nascent business was dissolving like breadcrumbs in his hands. So he went to a local grocery chain called Rouses and sold his shrimp in front of the store.
Nacio doesn't immediately strike one as a salesman. He has a hulking frame with huge arms, deep-set unblinking eyes and a forest of a goatee. On his arm is a large, blurry tattoo of a wizard that he says he got when he was young and foolish. But as soon as he starts talking, his quiet, gentle demeanor could charm an angry dog. The grocery store's seafood buyer noticed him and struck up a conversation.
Nacio's business would never be the same. He began selling directly to the stores and soon realized that he didn't need middlemen if his product was good enough.
But there was more. Nacio also started using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and other bycatch reduction devices, which allow some of the unintended catch to escape before the net is hauled in. While the federal government does require the use of TEDs, the state of Louisiana was not actively enforcing it. (That's slowly starting to change.) Nacio supports TEDs both as an environmental measure and because they make his work—and that of other fishers—more efficient. In some cases, unwanted catch in shrimp boats can be about 90% of what's hauled in; modern devices can get that down to around 60%.
He quickly became an expert on TEDs, honing his fishing technique and tools to the point where he regularly gets just 10% bycatch. This allows him to sell his shrimp as turtle-safe, though the nets save far more than just turtles. So where other fishers might get $3 per pound, Nacio says, his legally caught, turtle-safe white shrimp command $6 or more—an economic incentive that adds even more value to honoring the rule of law.
After a feast of fresh shrimp, Nacio is walking around his yard in a T-shirt that says "Slow Fish," talking about shrimping—and about his daughter, who's studying to be a doctor. Noticing solar panels lining his roof, I tease him by calling him a hippie. He smiles.
"It's just being sensible," he says. "I don't know if I would call myself an environmentalist. I just try to do what's right."