Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Friday, 24 July 2009
I've been chatting with a West Coast friend this week about different perspectives on the Gloucester (Mass.) Seafood Display Auction case. (Find daily updates on our Top News page.)
As a West Coaster and a former Alaska commercial fisherman, this friend has a radically different view of fisheries, management and the industry in general than the average East Coaster.
His primary point, which I think is a reasonable one, is that the auction should not be allowed to act outside the law. Fair enough. The law is the law, and when people cheat, the whole industry feels the wrath.
However, after a lot of back and forth, he came to the conclusion that whatever happens, the punishment should fall on the auction and its owners — not on the fishermen.
This, I believe, is at the root of the protests against the action NMFS has taken against the Gloucester auction.
I don't think folks around here would say they have a right to break the law. But they would ask that the punishment fit the crime.
A mislabeled tote of cod does not seem to warrant a 120-day closure. After all, who gets hurt most by the closure? The fishermen.
But the biggest problem here is cultural.
First, you have hundreds of years of fishing history and heritage that are being eroded year in and year out with more stringent management. It seems the only way to solve the problem of the cod not returning is to shut down the fishery altogether.
That may or may not solve the managers' problems of biomass. But shutting down is not managing. In fact, it's the opposite.
What's more, if you shut down the fishery altogether for the sake of one species in an otherwise healthy multispecies fishery, then you are missing the opportunity to sustain these centuries-old fishing communities and families on healthy stocks.
Many opponents will also say that trawling is inherently bad for the ecosystem, which is why the cod are so few and far between. If it's bad for the fish, then how come other fish in this same environment are so healthy?
I think New Englanders have come to accept that there was a time when gear and boats outstripped the cod fishery's ability to reproduce. But that time is long past. The fishermen who remain just want to pay for their boats, their homes and their kids' education.
What's left at the end of the day is a glimmer of hope that they might be able to pass down this tradition just as it has been passed down through so many generations since the founding of this country.
On the East Coast, the people, the culture and the fish must be considered in concert. They cannot be separated after hundreds of years of symbiosis.
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