With a limberness that defies his 69 years, Frank Mirarchi heaves himself over the edge of a concrete wharf and steps out onto a slack, downward sloping dock line bouncing 20 feet above the lapping waters near Scituate, Mass. He shimmies laterally along the pylons, steadying himself with a grip on some steel rigging, until he reaches the roof of the pilot house on his boat, a groundfish trawler called the Barbara L. Peters, after his mother-in-law.
He descends to the motor room and rubs a hand along a clean stretch of engine piping. "I'll be done painting in here soon," says Mirarchi, who has been harvesting cod, flounder and other quarry from the Gulf of Maine and, further out, from the lucrative shallows of Georges Bank for the better part of five decades. "Then I'll move outside."
Painting is about all the action Mirarchi's boat has seen lately. Facing massive cuts in government-proscribed limits to the groundfish species at the very heart of New England's commercial fishing economy, the Barbara L. Peters -- like the 30 or so other nominally active boats remaining in this New England sector, and dozens more boats up and down the Northeast coast -- has been locked hard against its pier, rising and falling with the tides but going nowhere.
"We're gonna lose a bunch of boats," Mirarchi says, referring to the high odds that some fishermen, perhaps even himself, will be forced to abandon the livelihood that has sustained them for decades. Mirarchi barely broke even last year, and with official catch allocations for some crucial species down by nearly 80 percent for the season that opened May 1, he expects that he will be forced to put the Barbara L. Peters -- only eight years old -- up for sale. "What else am I going to do? My entire life's résumé is running boats, and they aren't hiring these days.
"It's a beautiful boat," Mirarchi adds. "It just doesn't have any fish to catch."
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