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.
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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?
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2010 Commercial Fishing Policy News Archive
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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.
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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.