The trucking jubilee

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This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around. —“Life During Wartime,” Talking Heads


The Mobile Bay Jubilee is something I had never heard of until we spent some time with L.A. Rookie. Of all the wild and wonderful stories he told, this one sounded most unlikely to be absolutely true. So I googled it, and I’ll be danged if it isn’t.

JubileeAccounts of the Mobile Bay Jubilee date back as far as 1860, however oral histories have cited it since before European civilization was in the area. It generally takes place once a year, although there have been years when it happens more than once, and a year without one at all is rare.

During a jubilee, large numbers of crab, shrimp, flounder and eels will leave deep water and swarm to a very specific shallow area in the bay. The behavior of the animals during this time can be described as odd, to say the least. They almost act as if they’re dead, and filling the back of a pickup truck with flounder is not unheard of.

Marine Biologist Harold Loesch did some of the first and most comprehensive research on the jubilee in 1960. He found that accumulated organic material on the floor of the ocean, under a certain set of conditions, caused a rapid depletion of oxygen in the water, causing the fish and crustaceans to flee to shallow water to seek oxygen.

Edwin May did more comprehensive studies in the ’70s, and discovered that a jubilee can happen pretty fast. If wind direction, surface temperature, salinity and tidal variation all interact in a certain way, it can be whipped up in a matter of hours. Of the animals that are not harvested, about half survive, re-oxygenate themselves and take off for deep water again.

In summary, when the crap gets too deep on the ocean floor, all the brain food is depleted from the water and the fish go to places they wouldn’t normally go to breathe.

I’m struck by the parallels I see here with the trucking industry. The FMCSA and the industry partisans (e.g., ATA on speed limiters and more, the “Alliance” on insurance) pushing many of its initiatives are the doo-doo on our ocean floor, which keeps piling up, depleting the oxygen in the industry, driving the seasoned professionals to areas they wouldn’t normally go – like anywhere but behind the wheel of a truck. This allows the giant fleets to easily scoop anything they want off the top, regardless of the quality, and plop it right down in the same seats vacated by the pros. And they present this as safety, while they effectively kill off half or more of the people who actually know what they’re doing out here.

It ain’t no party for the fish involved, and it ain’t no disco for the drivers, but the fat cats eat well, and fill their coffers with easily caught fish, who are addled and unsure of their surroundings. And according to them, we’re safer because of it.