Economy

Rough Waters: Port Clyde

By Rachel Gotbaum   |   Friday, August 27, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

 

More Rough Waters:
Part One: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin explores the history of Federal regulation of fishing.
 
Part Two: Rough Waters
Rachel Gotbaum examines the transition from "Days at Sea" to "Sectors."

Part Three: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin looks at the alarming decline in local fish populations.

Part Five: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin reports on how new conservation rules are affecting the lives of those in the local fishing industry.

Phillip Martin and Rachel Gotbaum on The Emily Rooney Show

Working Waterfront Festival
Celebrating Commercial Fishing, America's Oldest Industry
September 25 & 26, 2010
Port of New Bedford

Over the years dwindling fish stocks and strict federal regulations have taken a toll on Maine’s ground fishing industry. Now there are only three ports left in the state where commercial fisherman can catch haddock, cod, flounder and other species of ground fish in local waters. Port Clyde is one of the ports that remain.  It’s also where a determined group of fishermen have formed some unusual alliances to try to rebuild their fishery and revive their traditional way of life.

Port Clyde is a small village where almost everyone is a fisherman or related to one.  Dougie Anderson has been fishing there since he first went out with his grandfather when he was five years old. He says that when Port Clyde’s waters were teeming with fish, “we fished on them primarily when they were spawning because that was when they were thickest. They were easy to catch and vulnerable and you could get 10 thousand in a small boat.  We caught them when they were spawning and that was wrong. There’s been a lot of mistakes in the fishing business.”

One of those mistakes says Anderson is that by the 1970s the government began paying people to fish so Americans could compete with the large international foreign fishing fleets.  “All of sudden we got a brand new fleet coming here with more horse power and technology.  Virtually the fish had no place to hide.”

In those days Port Clyde had several large fish processing plants, three general stores and businesses were thriving. But that’s gone now.  Years of over fishing and increased federal regulation took a toll on Maine fishermen and most of the ground fish ports in the state went out of business. Fishermen in Port Clyde managed to hang on until a few years ago when the government cut down the days they were allowed to fish once again and at the same fuel prices skyrocketed.

Port Clyde fisherman Gary Libby. Photo: Raviya Ismail and Earthjustice

“When the fuel price spiked that was almost the last straw right there,” recalls Glenn Libby, a 40-year Port Clyde fisherman. “You weren’t making much money, you getting behind on your bills.  It was easy to think about giving up.  The few fishermen that remained are stuck with these boats that are now pretty much worthless because nobody wants them.

At this time stakeholders in the New England fishing industry were meeting to determine how fishermen were going to comply with new federal mandates to create a sustainable fishery.  It was in those meetings with other fishermen, policy makers and environmentalists that Glenn Libby and the fishermen from Port Clyde began to come up with new ideas. One idea was to do their own processing and also market their fish directly to the public so they would get a better price.  Libby recalls a lot of resistance, including his own.  “We were like, ‘are you kidding me? Marketing and processing we don’t know anything about that! That’s going to be too much work. We won’t be able to go fishing.’"
 

Larry Wood fillets a freshly caught fish at the Port Clyde fish prodcessing co-op. Photo: Raviya Ismail and Earthjustice

But the idea stuck. The Port Clyde fishermen formed a coop and like their farming neighbors who delivered quantities of fresh produce to customers each week they began to deliver freshly caught seafood to be picked up by those who signed up and paid for it in advance. It was a humble beginning.

“We started out with shrimp,” says Libby. “We had 30 people signed up for a five pound bag of shrimp each week.  That was more money than they would pay on the side of the road but they knew they were supporting the local fleet.  And you started to realize that there’s a lot of people that want this local food.”

Last year the Port Clyde cooperative opened their own fish processing plant.  A few men stand around a table and fillet cod. When they are done they vacuum pack the fish and send it out to farmer’s markets, health food stores and restaurants along the east coast.  Libby helps run the operation, which has grown from two to 23 employees since it opened a year ago.
 

Crab meat from Port Clyde Fresh Catch has grown in popularity with local chefs like the Liberty Hotel's Joseph Margate, who uses it to make Jonah Crab Salad. Photo: Liberty Hotel

Most of the sales so far come from selling weekly shares of fish delivered to the public at farmer’s markets. But Port Clyde Fresh Catch –as it is now known—is also attractive to a growing number of chefs who are responding to the demand for local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients.   In the kitchen at the liberty hotel in Boston Chef Joseph Margate is tasting the crab cake mixture.  He says, “It’s the sweetest crab I’ve ever had.”

Margate bought the crab from the Port Clyde fishermen and says he orders fish from them whenever he can. It’s better quality, its good for business, and “it’s boat to table.”  “To put that your fish comes from Port Clyde is a better story than just ‘Atlantic halibut,” says Margate. “It’s a better story between the guest and the server. ”

So far Port Clyde Fresh Catch is not making much of a profit but business is growing.  John Sackton, the editor of Seafood News, says because of greater restrictions on fishing, what is happening in Port Clyde may work as a model for many small boat fishermen struggling to stay in the industry.  “The fishermen don’t have the ability to make up their business by way of volume, which is the old mentality,” says Sackton. “That’s what’s leading some of the fishermen to think about adding value, handling the fish better.  By making it a more valuable product it allows them to stay on the water and stay in the business.”

The fishermen in Port Clyde have created a new business model and part of that model includes changing the way they fish. The goal is to fish sustainably and help restore the fishery.

Back at the Port Clyde harbor Glenn Libby’s brother Gary Libby shows off his new environmentally conscious “Seven inch cod end” fishing net.  “It’s the very end of the net where the fish end up,” he explains.  “It’s larger than the legal size mesh to let smaller fish out. It will hopefully be more sustainable and rebuild the fish stocks at a faster rate and recover fishing so that we’re not the last fishermen in Port Clyde.”

Gary Libby and the fishermen in Port Clyde have teamed up with environmental groups that historically have been at odds with them. But they all have found they share a common goal—they want to restore the fishery. Peter Baker of Pew Environment Group is helping to fund the effort of fishermen he has “known inPort Clyde for a couple of years now.”  He notes, “they have a real commitment for trying something new.  At every turn they are trying to figure out how to do things the right way.  It’s really a forward thinking way that built out of necessity.  The only way we are going to make it is fish smarter rather than fish harder.” 

The Fishermen in Port Clyde say they are starting to see greater numbers of fish in the waters here again but Glenn Libby says the changes they are making now will take generations.  “I’ve got a 15-year-old grandson and all he wants to do is go fishing and if we don’t have a viable business he is not going to be able to do it.   If there’s enough of us doing things like this we can turn the tide but its gonna take a lot of us.”

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Five


Rough Waters: The Ongoing Fight Over Regulating New England Fisheries" is a multi-part series produced by 89.7 WGBH Radio.
 

Phillip Martin – senior investigative reporter
Rachel Gotbaum – reporter
Steve Young – editor and executive producer
Katie Broida – photographer and researcher
Nic Campos – researcher
Alan Mattes - engineer

Rough Waters: Declining Fish Populations

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, August 27, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

More Rough Waters:
Part One: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin explores the history of Federal regulation of fishing.

Part Two: Rough Waters
Rachel Gotbaum examines the transition from "Days at Sea" to "Sectors."
Part Four: Rough Waters
Rachel Gotbaum profiles the historic fishing village of Port Clyde Maine--one of only three commercial groundfishing ports left in the state and where a group of fishermen are determined to save their fishery by trying some unorthodox ways of doing business.

Part Five: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin reports on how new conservation rules are affecting the lives of those in the local fishing industry.

Phillip Martin and Rachel Gotbaum on The Emily Rooney Show

Working Waterfront Festival
Celebrating Commercial Fishing, America's Oldest Industry
September 25 & 26, 2010
Port of New Bedford

A report released this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, shows that New England fishermen have brought in 10 percent less fish than they did a year ago. However, revenues are up by 17 percent since new fishing rules went into effect on May 1st. Under the new regulations, fishemen work in groups to land a maximum amount of groundfish, like haddock and flounder. Despite this revenue increase, commercial anglers up and down the east coast complain that the rules are putting a good number of them out of business. Development of the new system is part of an ongoing effort to conserve North Atlantic fish stocks and is based in part on the findings of scientists. Those conclusions have often led to conflict with fishermen and their supporters who question the validity of the data, research, and methodology

The question, “How many fish are in the sea?” never quite rang with the same profundity as questions like, “who are we?” or “where do we come from?” But fish population numbers have long intrigued marine biology scientists, and fishermen whose futures are determined by the answers to this query. That question took on special urgency in the 1980s and early 90s with the expansion of the American fishing fleet in the Atlantic and the invention of new technologies. It wasn’t long before environmentalists, scientists, and fishermen all noticed a dramatic decline in fish stocks.

Fisherman Glen Libby has been fishing off the coast of Maine for 40 years, and with a device called a video sounder, he could actually see the fish beneath the waves. He noticed that they were coming closer and closer to shore. Libby says, “people started to figure out that we can start catching fish year round. What was happening was these fish had sort of sanctuary and they would make a spawning run. That’s when we were catching them, which was not the best idea, but they would come close to shore. This way, it became apparent that you could fish year round.”

Libby explains that the consequences of year round fishing were huge. He says, “it cleaned up the fish offshore, and if you cleaned those up in the winter time then there was nothing left in the spring and the whole spawning cycle is broken. The fish declined. They stop coming inshore. We would steam 12 to 15 miles in March to start out fishing. Guys will stay out in March right now, steam 100 miles and catch less in three or four days than what they caught in one day [back then].”

Researchers in Woods Hole, Massachusetts came to a similar conclusion. Their findings influenced policy makers to institute a number of regulations to halt overfishing in the Atlantic. These regulations included ones like Days at Sea, which restricted the number of days fishermen could work, and the most recent rule changes called “sectors”.

Underlying all their research is the question “how many fish are in the sea?” The answer comes about in a series of steps. Dr. Russell Brown, the lead scientist for the ecosystem survey program at NOAA’s North East Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, explains the general approach. He says, “In essence what we’re trying to do is really to measure trends in abundance, biomass, geographical distribution, and also the size and age composition of populations in an unbiased way.”

Scientists Brown and Burnett
Scientists Russell Brown (left) and Jay Burnett. Photo: WGBH

Brown works with a team of scientist that also includes Jay Burnett, the leader of the fishery biology program. Burnett says, “99% of the work that my group does is the aging of fish. We take parts of fish, like bones and organs, and prepare them for age determination. From the age compositions you can begin to estimate mortality rates, for example.” Dr. Christopher Legault works alongside them in the population dynamics Center. He says that, “What we do is conduct the stock assessments, which pull together the data from Russell's group, the observer group, Jay's group, plus all the catch info from the fishermen, and combine them in computer models that try and relate all these different pieces to estimate how many fish are out in the sea.”

Another way to look at it, says Dr. Russell Brown, is to think of fish surveying as a political poll. He explains that, “You'll see the political poll will say that we sampled a thousand adults, and we’re going to infer from there how 350 million people are going to vote. We do it similarly [with the fish], and then we randomly sample within each of those areas.” That poll, according to statistics supplied by the New England Fishery Management Council, today shows 11 species of groundfish to be overfished, including witch flounder and ocean pout.

As in politics, not everyone agrees with how the fish population poll was conducted. Tim Barrett is the captain of the Odessa and has been fishing commercially for more than 20 years. Barrett, who studied marine biology at the University of Rhode Island, says fishermen often have a better knowledge of the sea and a clearer idea of what is overfished or underfished than many government scientists. He believes that “a vast number of the people out here [fishing] today are college graduates that have degrees in history and business and science. So when you get some of these scientists, it’s not too hard for these people to decipher what they’re talking about or they can come up with better ways of doing it.”

Dr. Russell Brown at Woods Hole says they work cooperatively with fishermen but, “the reality is fishermen and scientists have different objectives in terms of why we're out there. That's why we're fishing in areas sometimes where fishermen don't think fish are. We're aware of that, but we need to be sure of where they are and where they aren’t.” To create a sustainable fish food supply, marine scientists say it is also essential to understand what fishermen are hauling in from the ocean and what they’re throwing back into its depths.

Discarded fish brings up the role of the “observer.” Jason Dean is a tall, lanky self-effacing guy. His young career has consisted of hopping on and off fishing boats here in New Bedford over the past ten years. Despite his experience, he is not exactly welcomed with open arms by many ship crews and their captains, who often see observers as a nuisance aboard already crowded ships. Jason Dean supervises observers for a private contractor that works with NOAA. He sees his own role as essential in monitoring catch levels on behalf of science. Dean says his job is “when the net comes up, after being drug along the ocean for however long they choose, maybe one hour maybe a few hours, they bring the net back up and empty all the catch out. The crew takes out kept stuff and I sort all the discards. Anything they don’t want from crabs to small cod or haddock, I weigh it, length it, and get rid of it. Jason Dean believes that observers play an important function in helping to replenish the Atlantic. But many along this dock see observers as the eyes and ears of government regulators.

Dr. Brian Rothschild, however, is viewed quite differently. Rothschild is a noted Professor of Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth and a self-described “friend of fishermen.” He says his disagreement with scientific colleagues is largely over how some fish are counted, and he cites cod as an example, “The fact of the matter is that over the past several years we’ve tagged perhaps 30,000 cod. We have several thousand recoveries. And so the cod swim back and forth between the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, between Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and the Scotian Shelf, Georges Bank and the Bay of Fundy, so it’s not clear that there are separate populations of cod. So if it’s not clear that there are separate populations of cod, then any stock assessment could be overestimating or underestimating the cod populations and so the cod population may not be overfished right now.”

Government scientists, whose work often forms the inertia for fisheries policies, admit that there is always an element of uncertainty in some findings. Writer Paul Greenberg in his new book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, blames scientists for playing a major role in overfishing cod by promoting the idea that there was an infinite number of fish in the sea. Now, some critics believe government scientists have gone 180 degrees in an assessment that laments the massive depletion of Atlantic groundfish stocks.

For his part, Dr. Russell Brown says his team of scientists in Woods Hole work hard to deliver unbiased information that reflects hard facts, empirical evidence and data that is tested and tested and tested again. He says that when his team puts out positive information that argues for lifting restrictions on fishermen, no one really questions the science. Dr. Brown cites the example of “the Bottom Trawl Survey, [which] in the autumn of 2003 found the largest haddock year class in 30 years on Georges Bank. When we put out that information based on one survey, there was a great deal of uncertainty. Nobody questioned this because it was very good news.”

Gloucester fisherman at work
Gloucester fisheman at work. Photo: WGBH

New Bedford fisherman, Antonio Pereira, is one person who does give credit to government scientists for the work they do. He blames neither them nor observers for the new federal regulations that he says have kept his boat, the Blue Seas II, tied up at the dock since April. He says, “They are doing the best job that they can and they are trying to collect as much data as they can, and I guess we will show what we’re doing out there and what is right and what is wrong.” What is wrong, says Pereira, is that massive tons of fish are being thrown back into the sea. Pereira says from the point of view of fishing families, it seems like a waste. And, he believes, it also seems to make no sense scientifically, “That fish could be brought in. It’s one of the things they have to work on more harder than they’re working on so far.”

Some fishermen say they are doing better under sectors than they did with the Days at Sea system. Peter Libro fishes in Gloucester. He says under sectors he is getting paid more for his fish and the new rules are more flexible and more economical. He can now catch more fish per trip. He explains, "it has made us more efficient because under the Days at Sea trip limits you could go out and catch 800 pounds of fish and that was it, but it would cost $200 worth of fuel. Now with the same $200 worth of fuel, you can catch 2,000 pounds."

Supporter of sectors say it has worked in other parts of the country. John Sackton is editor of Seafood News, and he points out that "if you look at salmon, for example, in Alaska, one of the first things they put in their state constitution was to put strict limits on salmon fishing. Today, they have the biggest salmon runs that they’ve had in a hundred years." However, even fans of the new regulations say they could lead to the further demise of the small boat fishing fleet unless protections are put in place.

Gloucester fisherman Peter Libro worries about his future, but he says he is going to try to hang on. He explains, "the reason I am optimistic is because I think the stocks are going to get better and stronger in this system. I think it will be tough for a few years, but I think once things get stronger our allocation will come up. I think it will be more viable again to be a fisherman." While Libro and other New England fishermen try to adapt to their new way of life, Massachusetts lawmakers have asked the Obama administration for $150 million in immediate aid to help those fishermen hurt by the new regulations.


Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Part Five


"Rough Waters: The Ongoing Fight Over Regulating New England Fisheries" is a multi-part series produced by 89.7 WGBH Radio.

Phillip Martin – senior investigative reporter
Rachel Gotbaum – reporter
Steve Young – editor and executive producer
Katie Broida – researcher
Nic Campos – researcher
Robin Moore - engineer

Rough Waters: From "Days at Sea" to "Sectors"

By Rachel Gotbaum   |   Friday, August 27, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

Gloucester Ships
Commercial fishing boats in Gloucester, MA. Fishermen here are under new federal regulations known as sectors. Photo: WGBH

On May 1st, New England’s fishermen faced a major overhaul in federal regulations. To comply with a congressional mandate to restore US fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2014, quotas were set in New England for the first time on all species of groundfish. For many of the region’s fishermen who have witnessed the downsizing of the fishing fleet and who have already endured federal cutbacks on fishing over the years, the new system is another attempt by the government to put them out of business. However, supporters say these new rules may be the only chance for the region’s embattled and historic fishing industry to survive.

At the Rocky Neck pier in Gloucester, a fishing boat called the Captain Novello has come to shore to unload silver hake. Sam Frontiero comes to greet his son Marc, the boat’s captain. Frontiero is 63 years old and grew up in Gloucester. He began fishing here when he was 13 years old because that is what his father and grandfather did. Frontiero remembers that "[his] grandfather had a string of boats. There were eight brothers and seven sisters, and every one of those brothers was a skipper or an engineer. It was just watching him. It was just a family thing."

More Rough Waters:
Part One: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin explores the history of Federal regulation of fishing.

Part Three: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin looks at the alarming decline in local fish populations.

Part Four: Rough Waters

Rachel Gotbaum profiles the historic fishing village of Port Clyde Maine--one of only three commercial groundfishing ports left in the state and where a group of fishermen are determined to save their fishery by trying some unorthodox ways of doing business.

Part Five: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin reports on how new conservation rules are affecting the lives of those in the local fishing industry.

Phillip Martin and Rachel Gotbaum on The Emily Rooney Show

Working Waterfront Festival
Celebrating Commercial Fishing, America's Oldest Industry
September 25 & 26, 2010
Port of New Bedford

Sam Frontiero says for much of his life Gloucester was a boomtown.Back then, “anybody could go down to the wharf and get a fish. The coffee shops were full, main street was full. They used to say Gloucester-ites didn’t even have to go over the bridge, which we didn’t. If you came from Gloucester, you never had to over the 128 bridge because we had everything here. It was just a good time in life to be a fisherman." Later, as fishing became subject to more regulations, Frontiero says he started to feel like a criminal.

At first the government closed certain prime fishing areas and began to restrict the size of fishing nets, then, says Frontiero, the coast guard began inspecting boats. Frontiero remembers that "there was young kid coming down from the coast guard carrier with a rifle telling us all to get up on deck. They were looking for drugs, they were looking for illegal mesh size. It’s crazy." A little over ten years ago Frontiero left fishing entirely because he says the regulations became too oppressive and it became harder to make a living.

Across town is City Hall, an old brick building not far from Gloucester's harbor. Carolyn Kirk is the city's mayor, and she says that since the mid-1990s, Gloucester has lost 70 percent of its fishing fleet. “Gloucester fishermen have been fishing out of this seaport for over 400 years and that is significant." She explains, "It's part of the DNA of the community, so to see the fleet shrink by that magnitude really altered the landscape of the city in many ways."

A new fishing regulatory system called Days at Sea was put in place. It reduced the number of calendar days fishermen could fish and imposed daily limits on threatened stocks. The goal was to help the region’s overfished species make a rebound.

The problem was those rebuilding goals came at a cost. "The damage done by Days at Sea can never be undone," says Peter Baker of the Pew Environment Group. He believes, "Days at Sea was a stunning failure. We saw participation in the fishery drop by more than 50 percent. We saw revenues drop by more than 50 percent, and we saw whole scale communities that were taken out of the fishery."

Under Days at Sea, fishermen were fined if they brought in fish beyond their daily limit. This meant that if the fishermen caught too much of the threatened stocks, they would often throw the excess fish overboard. This was called fish-and-pitch, says Baker, "You heard fishermen say it for years that the system was forcing them to pitch perfectly good fish overboard, and not a just a few fish, but sometimes thousands and thousands of pounds being thrown overboard dead."

This year federal officials put in place a new regulation system reflecting stricter mandates from Congress calling for all US fish stocks to be sustainable by 2014. Under the new system, groundfish fishermen in New England have formed fishing cooperative called sectors. Each sector is allocated a total yearly quota for each species. Within each sector a fishermen has his own quota, which he can sell or trade.

Peter Baker used to fish on cape cod, which is where he helped create the first sectors that are now the model for New England. He says, "with a sector they know how much fish they are going to catch of each species within a given year. They are working within a cooperative, so if they need to buy, sell, trade, within their cooperative…they can get the opportunity to catch the fish that is available to them. They can work on economies of scale if they want to, and it creates a lot more flexibility for their business while staying in the limits."
 

Antonio Pereira
New Bedford fisherman Antonio Pereira in front of his boat the Blue Seas II. Photo: WGBH

A lot of fishermen in Gloucester and New Bedford don't share that view. Many have stopped fishing under the new rules because they say they don’t have enough allocated fish. At the New Bedford Pier, Antonio Pereira is standing in front of his boat the Blue Seas Two. Pereira came here from Portugal 34 years ago. He says because of the new fishing regulations, he had to sell his quota and tie up his boat. He explains that "when the rules went into effect on May 1, I see there is no way to make a living on a boat going fishing for the catch they allowed me. It was not enough to keep this boat running, … so I tied it up." Pereira says he cannot afford to buy any more quota and even if he could afford it, it's hard to find anyone willing to sell the species in highest demand.

"We do worry that where we are today is the end of the line for the Gloucester fishermen," says mayor Carolyn Kirk. She and the mayor of New Bedford are suing the federal government to try put a halt to the new fishing regulations in New England. They say the allocations are too low and the system has been improperly implemented. Mayor Kirk says, "It just doesn't make sense to me that we would have national policies that leads to the erosion of our coastal communities. We're taking the battle to the White House. We're not going to stop until we have president Obama's attention on this."

Some fishermen say they are doing better under sectors than they did with the Days at Sea system. Peter Libro fishes in Gloucester. He says under sectors he is getting paid more for his fish and the new rules are more flexible and more economical. He can now catch more fish per trip. He explains, "it has made us more efficient because under the Days at Sea trip limits you could go out and catch 800 pounds of fish and that was it, but it would cost $200 worth of fuel. Now with the same $200 worth of fuel, you can catch 2,000 pounds."

Supporter of sectors say it has worked in other parts of the country. John Sackton is editor of Seafood News, and he points out that "if you look at salmon, for example, in Alaska, one of the first things they put in their state constitution was to put strict limits on salmon fishing. Today, they have the biggest salmon runs that they’ve had in a hundred years." However, even fans of the new regulations say they could lead to the further demise of the small boat fishing fleet unless protections are put in place.

Gloucester fisherman Peter Libro worries about his future, but he says he is going to try to hang on. He explains, "the reason I am optimistic is because I think the stocks are going to get better and stronger in this system. I think it will be tough for a few years, but I think once things get stronger our allocation will come up. I think it will be more viable again to be a fisherman." While Libro and other New England fishermen try to adapt to their new way of life, Massachusetts lawmakers have asked the Obama administration for $150 million in immediate aid to help those fishermen hurt by the new regulations.

Part One | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

 


"Rough Waters: The Ongoing Fight Over Regulating New England Fisheries" is a multi-part series produced by 89.7 WGBH Radio.

Phillip Martin – senior investigative reporter
Rachel Gotbaum – reporter
Steve Young – editor and executive producer
Katie Broida – researcher
Nic Campos – researcher
Alan Mattes - engineer

Rough Waters: History of Fishing Regulation

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, August 27, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

Fishing Boats
Commercial fishing boats in Gloucester, MA. Since the 1970s, regulations in commercial fishing off the coast of Massachusetts have limited the number of days fisherman can spend at sea. Photo: WGBH

BOSTON -- Environmentalists and marine scientists have long argued that the stock of common food fish such as cod and flounder are in danger of being harvested to the point of extinction. In the 1970s, the federal government began a regulatory system to restrict commercial fishing off the nation’s coasts in an attempt to save and replenish these endangered fish stocks. This regulatory scheme evolved into an oversight program known as Days at Sea. Anglers who were used to catching fish 300 days out of the calendar year were suddenly reduced to half or less of that number, and the effects on fishing communities were disastrous.
 

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk. Photo: WGBH

The stakeholders in this on-going controversy of course include the fishermen and the fishermen's wives. Then there are marine researchers and other top scientists with decidedly different points of view. Policy experts and environmentalists are major players in the debate over the future of the Northeast fish industry, and so too are the leaders of fishing communities, such as Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk and New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. All of these people are passionate about New England fisheries, but not all of them can agree whether the fish stocks are depleted. To understand why groundfish stocks in the Northeast were overfished and how that led to the crisis in the fishing industry today, we have to go back in New England's past.

"Do you have any cod on the menu?" It’s a dark, orange twilight evening on the terrace of Harvard Square’s best known fish restaurant, and I’m scouring the dinner menu for cod. My waiter informs me that no cod is available, but they do have plenty of haddock. So how did cod—once a food as easy to come by as hamburger and as cheap as chicken —become so unavailable?

The answer lies in the way cod and other groundfish have been harvested in the past and, quite a few would argue, the way that resulting fish management polices have been carried out. Many would also say that the polices themselves devised by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , better known as NOAA, are the reason for cod's disappearance. As far back as the 19th century, fishermen began noticing that some fish stocks were shrinking, but most observers—including government scientists— believed that there was an infinite supply of cod, pollock, hake, flounder and other species of groundfish.
 

Ed Barrett
South Shore fisherman Ed Barrett. Photo: WGBH

In the 1970s, US fishermen faced massive competition from foreign fleets from as far away as Italy, France and the United Kingdom. According to Reidar Bendiksen, "We had a lot of Russians. They were the biggest bunch that came here." Bendiksen’s father and grandfather were fishermen in Norway. He continued that tradition when he moved to New Bedford to explore new fishing grounds in the Northeast Atlantic. When Bendiksen arrived, he found that he was not alone, " I see Russians in the 60’s and then they kind of spilled over into the 70’s. Once you saw the fleet and you tried to fish with that fleet, the fish would disappear, quickly, but there was a lot of fish out there at the time. They didn’t clean up the fish, but they did a good dent in it, let’s put it that way. They really reduced the numbers quite a bit." They took so much fish that fishermen began lobbying the federal government for protections from foreign fleets. The result was the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act passed in 1976, which expanded American jurisdiction of fisheries from a 12-mile limit to 200 miles offshore. Suddenly, the industry exploded with activity. Individuals who maybe a year before had been driving cabs for a living or were even practicing law became fishermen. Guys who had been fishing all their lives jokingly viewed these newcomers as fly-by-nighters. One such fisherman is like Ed Barrett from the South Shore. He says, "There was a lot of growth in the early 80’s. There were a lot of boats being built." Too many, in the view of both environmentalists and fishermen—one of the few points on which they seem to agree.

More Rough Waters:
Part Two: Rough Waters
Rachel Gotbaum examines the transition from "Days at Sea" to "Sectors."

Part Three: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin looks at the alarming decline in local fish populations.
Part Four: Rough Waters
Rachel Gotbaum profiles the historic fishing village of Port Clyde Maine--one of only three commercial groundfishing ports left in the state and where a group of fishermen are determined to save their fishery by trying some unorthodox ways of doing business.

Part Five: Rough Waters
Phillip Martin reports on how new conservation rules are affecting the lives of those in the local fishing industry.

Phillip Martin and Rachel Gotbaum on The Emily Rooney Show

Working Waterfront Festival
Celebrating Commercial Fishing, America's Oldest Industry
September 25 & 26, 2010
Port of New Bedford

Shortly after the US Presidency transferred from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, the government began offering low interest loans to speed the “Americanization” of the fleet. Suddenly, from the coast to 200 miles out at sea, bigger steel boats with better technology appeared on the horizon. American corporate factory ships using enormous bottom dragging nets were capturing anything in their paths. Haddock, perch, red snapper, wolf fish, skate and other ground species were scooped up in massive quantities without much consideration given to the question: just how many fish are there in the sea? According to Ed Barrett, "By the early 1990s, a lot of fishermen were already saying something’s wrong here. We need management."

The program that was institutionalized in direct response to dwindling fish stocks was Days at Sea. Angela Sanfilippo says to many people, the cure was worse than the disease, "Before then fishermen were free to fish. With the passage of the act, rules and regulations came to be which made life difficult. We’ve had ups and downs through the years. Things got much worse in ’94. By one estimate, 6,400 fishermen lost their livelihoods during the time the program was in place." Yet Ed Barrett says there were objective benefits to Days at Sea. He says, "We made tremendous gains with the stock populations when we started to do these things. And we saw dividends. The problem came as we interpreted the sustainable fisheries act in very strict senses. And that came about through the lawsuits from the environmental industry."

Several lawsuits by key environmental organizations were filed between 1996 and 2006. They were intended to stop overfishing and to strengthen the Days at Sea program. Environmentalists argue that the failure of Days at Sea was the result of mismanagement, not its objectives. Peter Baker is a top researcher with the Pew Environment Group and a northeast fisheries specialist. He says, "the Days at Sea system just got too ridiculous and got to the point where guys had 23 days at sea. With 365 days in a year, that's 342 days you are not going out to do your job. The fisherman that wanted to make a living fishing had to go out and buy another permit. All of sudden you have fishermen who are carrying half a million or a million dollars in debt and they have to borrow against their house. They’re only a bad trip or a blown motor from going bankrupt."
 

Scott Lang
New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. Photo: WGBH

Tom Warren, a policy analyst for NOAA in Gloucester, doesn't agree Days at Sea was a failure. He contends that "Days at Sea is a tool that has been used and some still prefer it, so we're in a period of evolution. The environmentalists are concerned we're not acting quickly enough, achieving our objectives quickly enough, whereas the fishing industry is concerned that we are acting too quickly and need to slow down the pace at which we reduce fishing effort. Overall it's been successful at reducing fishing mortality from historic levels and at rebuilding many stocks."

Indeed, fish stocks —with the exception of several species of cod, wolfish and hake— have made a dramatic rebound since the 1990s. Even so, fishermen argue that if federal policies and regulations were carried out correctly, the government could have saved both the fish and the families that rely on catching them for a living. The federal government has acknowledged that the livelihoods of thousands of families have been adversely affected by the Days at Sea policy. However, some fishermen and their supporters say that the government's new regulatory policy to replace Days at Sea may be far worse in terms of negative impact.This stance has led to a major lawsuit against NOAA. New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang believes that NOAA has overstepped its authority in their management of the New England fisheries. He argues that, "This agency in their mind has become bigger than the law, bigger than the people that they’re accountable too."

The lawsuit is spearheaded by the mayors of America’s tenth largest and largest fishing communities, Gloucester and New Bedford. Mayor Lang explains, "what this [lawsuit] is all about is bringing [NOAA] back to a level that is appropriate and within the check and balance of federal, local, and state systems. If they don’t clean it up, Congress will, and if Congress doesn’t, a judge will, but one way or another, this has to change."

The blame and counter blame for the impoverishment of many fishermen who no longer make a living from the sea continues to the present day. but not all fishermen agree that the latest government policy option—called sectors—is a bad idea. Some are even embracing it as a way to save their fast dying industry.

Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five


"Rough Waters: The Ongoing Fight Over Regulating New England Fisheries" is a multi-part series produced by 89.7 WGBH Radio.

 

Phillip Martin – senior investigative reporter
Rachel Gotbaum – reporter
Steve Young – editor and executive producer
Katie Broida – photographer and researcher
Nic Campos – researcher
Robin Moore - engineer

As Goes Janesville

Monday, October 8, 2012
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Encore: New Digs for the Workplace

By Kara Miller   |   Friday, July 6, 2012
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Part 1:

Part 2: 

 

Today, we look at the changing workplace. Are we looking at a future of telecommuting, skyping, and emailing from home? Will employers increasingly move the workplace to the home?

At Google's offices in Zurich, employees work in hanging chairs. (andrewarchy via Flickr)

Or will offices become more like those of Google and Facebook — with free food, games, and quirky decorations — all of which might encourage you to spend just a little more time at work?

A panel of experts joins us to take a peek at the future. We'll explore the kinds of labor increasingly being rewarded and accommodated and who will have trouble making it in the new workplace.

Guests:

The Gig Economy

A common setup for a gig-worker: The coffee-shop desk. (librarianby day via Flickr)

We all know that musicians, models, and actors often have lives filled with unpredictable, one-time gigs. But what if, along with hip-hop bands, wedding photographers, and freelance writers, we’re all being enveloped by the gig economy?

WGBH reporter and host Ibby Caputo introduces us to a scap-hauling, satire-writing nanny; and a world where cobbling together jobs isn't unusual.

Guests:

About the Authors
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

Podcast: iTunes | XML

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