Written by Jen Finn
April 22, 2013
Dragging it out
A day boat plugs away in a troubled New England groundfish fishery
By Melissa Wood
A day on a day boat starts early. I am a couple minutes behind our 4:30 a.m. departure time, but at least I am not the one holding up the boat.
I get a little lost finding the marina. Located on New Hampshire's tiny 18-mile coastline, Hampton is a resort town, drawing crowds to its beach, boulevard and boardwalk. The streets are empty on a mid-December morning.
In any season, signs of commercial fishing are tucked away from the main drag. Skipper David Goethel's wife, Ellen, told me that the road to the marina would be hard to find because it begins in a parking lot. Despite this warning, I still pass it the first time, which means I also cross over the bridge to Salisbury Beach, Mass., turn around and get looped onto the one-way beach boulevard. I cut back across a side street to finally reach the Ocean Wok.
I drive along the edge of its deserted parking lot to a narrow road that runs through thick clusters of townhouse condos and into the marina. Now I drive among the bulky forms of shrink-wrapped boats looming white and ghostly until I see the Ellen Diane below. She's the only boat with her lights on.
On my way to the boat I walk by crewman Mike Emerson, who says hi when I do but looks toward the road. At the boat Goethel tells me our second crewman, who's a friend of Emerson's, has not shown up. This has happened before.
Goethel decides not to wait any longer for the missing deck hand, and the Ellen Diane leaves in darkness, unseen and unnoticed. Onshore, the idea of a fishing community is long gone. As Goethel puts it, people are still in their beds when he leaves for the day and on their third cocktail when he comes back from the Gulf of Maine, where boats from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire share historic fishing grounds.
"That's a community on the water," Goethel says. "They all fish at the same time, but go home to three different states. On land, they don't even know I exist."
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