COMMERCIAL FISHING POLICY NEWS
Today’s Catch is devoted to the commercial fishing industry, the marine ecosystems it depends on, and the catch shares and catch quota policies being put in place to protect both. As fisheries collapse commercial fishermen, particularly draggers, get blamed for damage to ocean floor ecosystems. The fishermen blame the science behind the policies and we try to represent both on this page.
The Real Battle over Catch Shares
Save Tradition or the Future? 08.24.13
Scratching around for something to write about at the end of July, NBN’s thoughts drifted to a party boat cod fishing trip we took July 30 to a place called Jeffries Ledge. We spent about $300 for $50 worth of fish and it was worth every penny. Particularly when you think that a full-day of fishing fun 25 miles out in the Atlantic was had as well. Then we got thinking about the fish we were catching and how we were catching them: by hook and line shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of other refined fellows from places like New Hampshire. That got us thinking: wouldn’t it be wonderful if party boats using hook-and-line and New Hampshirites could replace the ecologically disastrous commercial fishing industry known as bottom trawling?
Bottom trawlers on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico target the same delicious sorts of species being brought aboard the boat NBN went out on: the slow-growing, flaky white meat varieties collectively known as bottom fish. The sorts of species that, very regrettably, birthed fishcakes and fishsticks, turning the best eating fish in the ocean into low-budget menu items enjoyed by kings and clowns alike. We say very regrettably, because to meet the mass demand for fish they created, the bottom-trawling industry literally clear-cuts the ocean floor with weighted nets and tons of gear. These things are like underwater lawn mowers with dull blades. NBN has always felt that the bottom trawling industry should convert these great boats they have to taking hook-and-line fishermen out. But, we’ve written about all that before.
Trawler in Action
Then we got to thinking about Gloucester Times reporter Richard Gaines. NBN was viciously critical of Gaines a few years back, because he relentlessly pleaded the plight of the bottom trawlers from Gloucester, who faced losing their livelihoods to a federal commercial fishing regulation called Catch Shares. Now that Catch Shares have been the law of the land for 2.5 years, NBN thought a good column might come out of determining if the ichthyologic Armageddon Gaines ranted about in the GT for three years ever came about. Nope. The only news to report about Catch Shares and Richard Gaines, is that the former is alive and well and the latter is not. Gaines died in June at age 69.
PLEASE VISIT OUR SPONSORS
Every one has a story to tell, now you can tell yours. The Story of Your Life, is the affordable, professional way to leave your loved ones a legacy. Email us to learn more: LIfestory@comcast.net
2010 Commercial Fishing Policy News Archive
More Commercial Fishing Policy News
Ocean floor before trawlers rake over them.
So now NBN is supposed to say nice things about Gaines, as did every other newspaper in the region upon word of his death. That’s not easy after NBN wrote so many nasty things about his coverage of a subject much dearer to us than the profession we once shared with Gaines. Yet, it is hard not to applaud anyone who, according to the many odes by other reporters, dedicated his life to fighting for the underdog, and Gloucester’s bottom trawlers were the clear underdogs in the battle over Catch Shares. But there is an even bigger underdog that Gaines fought against in what turned out to be his last battle, which NBN can’t look past. Look at the video alongside the paragraph below. Then consider Gaines was recognized as the “Friend of the Fisherman” in 2010. True journalists are not supposed to be applauded by any side in a story they are covering. But then, we also have to consider that Gaines dogged journalism uncovered some incredible abuses by federal fisheries agencies and administrators that leave little doubt the commercial fishermen in New England suffered from some degree of government persecution.Gaines' coverage of tis persecution is a hall mark of great journalism. As usual, it's not black-and-white.
Sorry folks, NBN advocates for the environment and Gaines fought for the rights of poor fishermen at the expense of even poorer ocean-floor ecosystems. Week in and week out, while the Catch Share policy was under debate, Gaines coverage in the GT was so slanted as to be advocacy. He didn’t even pay lip-service the ever-growing mountain of evidence that bottom trawling ruins the ocean-floor ecosystems that the fish being caught depend on for sustenance. Never a word, and Gaines wrote reams of copy every day. That’s an embarrassment to journalism. Despite Gainers disgustingly biased coverage, Catch Shares went into effect and now we’re hearing about the return of the once scarce Atlantic halibut and we’re hearing little about the policy’s effect on the commercial fishing fleet.
Small boats were hurt bad by Catch Shares
You have to be a real bastard to not be sympathetic to the cause Gaines championed. These mom-and-pop bottom fishing boats, already reeling from ever increasing limitations on their catch, have been crippled by catch shares. They are being forced to sell their “shares” of the catch they were allocated under the new policy to corporate-owned mega trawlers. Those corporate trawlers are every bit as destructive as the smaller boats, only more so. However, the corporate boats are less vulnerable to often dramatic annual changes in fishing regulations and that makes them much easier to regulate. That’s the real, if unspoken, reason Catch Shares was adopted. The regulatory agencies are no longer as vulnerable to the anguished cries of small-boat fishermen losing their livelihoods and family traditions to strangling regulations implemented by unfeeling government agencies. A tradition may be lost but a future is being saved.
Record Atlantic halibut: 2013
More important, perhaps crucial, is Catch Shares opens the door to dramatically cutting back, or even shutting down, the bottom trawling industry as a whole. This industry has got to go, folks. The oceans can no longer withstand it and it’s not just the trawlers’ fault. It is a sad coincidence of technology and opportunity that created the bottom trawling industry 100 years ago. It's an even sadder coincidence that world demand for fish is growing at the same time pollution and global warming are throwing ocean ecosystems into upheaval. Now that the inability of those ecosystems to keep pace with all these pressures is swiftly becoming painfully apparent, something has to give and it has to be the nation's bottom trawling fleet. Trawlers cause too much damage for too little return and fixing the other problems will take decades and incomprehensible amounts of cash. Two things this country’s environmental efforts have in very short supply.
You can catch a lot of fish with rod and reel
Gaines fought vehemently against these sad eventualities and that was dangerously irresponsible for a journalist. So forgive NBN for being less than sad at the clearly sad death of someone who defended the little guy against big government ineptness and corporate greed. Yes, it is possible Gaines fought the good fight all the rest of his journalism life, NBN just doesn't know. We do know what he did in Gloucester, and that is indefensible. As more and more human pressure is brought to bear on natural resources those resources must be protected, even when it comes at the expense of hard-working Americans. Yet, it appears that in taking up his last fight Gaines got blinded by the romance of the story and forgot who the real little guy in this war is. Fishermen are not the only ones losing their jobs to the dramatic changes sweeping every facet of life these days. A lot of industries have had to reinvent themselves. Journalism for one. Why can’t commercial fishing? After all, there is more than one way to catch a fish.
Please click here to add your two cents. Or two bits.
How to Save Commercial Fishing
Use Ancient Fishing Methods to Modernize Fleet 10.9.12
Use Ancient Fishing Methods to Modernize Fleet 10.9.12
The Good Ship Cod Crazy. Yes, that’s a beer
For the uninitiated, losing half a night’s sleep for the chance to challenge your breakfast with six-foot swells and the omnipresent stench of decaying clams may sounds like an awful waste of 20 hours and $220. For the 30 or so “real fishermen” who piled onto this party boat at 8 pm one drizzly September evening, it’s Heaven on the high seas. Such folks think there are few pastimes quite as pleasant as holding down lousy coffee and sugary, lard-laden supermarket pastries while slapping greening clams parts on a hook as the horizon does calisthenics before your eyes. Accordingly, this boat was full as it pulled from the dock and headed for some anonymous point 75 miles offshore. Sorry, we’re not revealing anything about the identity of this trip for reasons about to become apparent.
Jugs of ice. As important as bait on this boat.
About 5 hours later the boat stopped at a spot distinguished only by the promise of more cod, haddock and pollack than if the boat stopped four hours earlier. The day that followed was every fishermen’s stinky, slimy, action-packed dream come true. Most everyone aboard was outfitted with $500 or more worth of fishing equipment which helped them catch between 30 and 100 fish each. While one needed to look hard to find anything of visual beauty on that boat, for true fans of fresh fish one thing came close. Every fish caught had its gills cut before being placed in a tub of water to drain the blood. Then they were promptly put on ice in huge coolers and kept there until the crew started sharpening its fillet knives. On those boats that stop hours closer to shore, the fish caught are often dumped into burlap bags and left to bake in the sun, ruining what are arguably the best tasting fish in the ocean. In other words, the fishermen on this boat truly appreciated their catch.
That’s not to say these fellows were environmentalists by any stretch. The fish were so plentiful that huge blue sharks—called blue dogs—patrolled the surrounding waters all day long ripping fish from hooks while some maniac with a pistol took pot shots to discourage them. When one hapless 150-pound porbeagle shark—which is very good eating—ventured too close to the surface, the crew sank three gaffs into it and dragged it on board thrashing about like, well, a very pissed off shark. In short, it was a day of fishing unlike any other in the recent memory of most those onboard, and these were experienced fishermen. However, there was one fellow, who was clearly among the better fishermen on the boat, who said this was how fishing was every day 10 years ago. That got NBN thinking about how good were “the good old days of fishing” that old-timers so often speak of?
We have all sorts of scientific charts saying fish populations are crashing but then we have just as many commercial fishermen saying the charts are wrong. Does anyone really know how many fish there were for the millennia before the modern age of high-impact fishing got everyone paying such close attention? The remarks of that fishermen aboard the party boat, and the few lingering examples of how bounteous the ocean can be has NBN siding with the scientists. Which begs the question: could fishing ever again be like “the good old days” and if so, what’s stopping it?
The first question has no easy answer while the second has many. Road runoff, sewage plants, farming, acid rain, global warming, and the modern age of fishing can all be blamed for killing fish. Still NBN, and many others, think an easy fix that will have the greatest impact is to end destructive commercial fishing practices like bottom trawlers. Bottom trawlers drag weighted nets along the ocean floor scooping up most everything they encounter. They literally plow the ocean floor obliterating the ecosystems that host the crabs, clams, worms and small fish that are a vital food source for the bottom fish populations that are now crashing. But then what about all the fishermen and the wonderful fish they catch?
Why can’t they go into the party boat business, or some toned down version of it. The folks in the first picture paid $220 each to go out and catch cod. Image how popular these boats would be if the captains paid folks to come aboard and catch cod? The trawler captains would have an army of retirees with $700 fishing gearing lining up at their docks like day laborers outside a California Home Depot and the catch per fishermen should go way up. Rod and reel fishing is much less destructive to the ocean floor ecosystem. Such a ban would spell the end of fish sticks, the filet-o-fish sandwich and Long John Silvers: all depend on fish caught by bottom trawlers. And it would clearly put a lot of draggers out of work. But wouldn’t such a plan also mean more jobs for folks making fishing equipment. Couldn’t all those draggers outfit their boats to take hook-and-line fishermen out? Wouldn’t those hook-and-line fishermen catch a lot more fish as the ocean floor ecosystem started to heal? It would certainly be a lot more fun.
Do We Want Fish or Fishermen?
Increasingly, it appears we can't have both in the numbers we'd like 11.01.11
Senators Kerry (left) and Brown
In hearings two weeks back elected officials of every stripe piled on NOAA head Jane Lubchenco saying her feeble command of the facts is costing Northeast commercial fishing communities their heritage and jobs. They say she’s a know-nothing mouth piece for the environmental movement whose disastrous catch share policy has cripple an industry and cost jobs in one of the worst economies in recent history. We particularly love this quote by Democratic U.S. Senator John Kerry who said regarding catch shares: “This clearly threatens the future of small boat fishing in Massachusetts.”
We’d like to ask Mr. Kerry what’s more threatening to small fishing boats, the disappearance of fish from overfishing or government regulations like catch shares designed to correct that overfishing? Kerry, and all the New England politicians that agree with him, don’t seem to realize catch shares was a desperate measure to end over fishing that has cost a lot more fishermen their jobs than the government regulation ever could, particularly in the north Atlantic.
The chart above shows the fleet was cut nearly in half between 1992 and 2008. Catch shares went into effect in 2010.
It’s in the north Atlantic that catch shares is crippling the bottom fishing industry known as trawling. Trawling, on the other hand is in large part to blame, according to many of the scientists in Lubchenco’s agency, for the overfishing. Stocks of bottom fish like cod, haddock and pollock, struggle mightily year in and year out to keep pace with the nets that are dragged year in and year out over their habitat. If you destroy the habitat you destroy the ecosystem these bottom fish stocks depend on. It’s that destruction that, NBN believes, is a second but unstated reason for the catch shares policy Lubchenco is being accused of being clueless about.
Day Boats in Gloucester, they catch the freshest fish.
Is it unreasonable then to think Lubchenco's policies are deliberately designed by her NOAA scientists to shrink the ground fishing fleet in places like the north Atlantic? Fewer large boats are going to be easier to manage than many smaller ones. It’s only when the fleet is dramatically consolidated that science can hope to catch up with and more effectively monitor the damage that fleet is doing. Here’s a more interesting question. Is it possible the table pounding politicians are in on it? Folks like Kerry talk to the scientists behind closed doors. They get the straight skinny without the emotional appeals of the damage being done to fishermen’s families and an iconic American tradition. NBN can’t help but get the feeling someone like Kerry is a hellova lot more powerful than Lubchenco. If he wanted catch-shared ended it would be.
Lubchenco, taking it on the chin in Gloucester
While Lubchenco may or may not be clueless, the scientists she keeps deferring to in hearings like the one mentioned above, know exactly what they are doing: they are trying to cripple an industry that has crippled North Atlantic ocean floor ecosystems that support the bottom fish these fishermen depend on for their livelihood. No doubt there was a time when the boundless North Atlantic could support the armada of bottom trawlers that raked over the soft corals and rocky bottoms that host these fragile ecosystems, ecosystems that take centuries to establish themselves. Not anymore. There are too many boats taking too many fish. As the same time there are too many unknowns about the long term damage they are doing.