The historical record makes it clear that the current New England groundfish fishery disaster is but one of many disasters that have threatened the industry over its 400-year history ("Our View: Complex fisheries need the best minds," Dec. 22). The fishery has endured chronic crises since at least 1789, when a delegation of vessel owners from Marblehead asked Congress for financial assistance to counteract the losses being suffered by the industry. At the time, Marblehead was the top fishing port in North America, but the number of boats had declined dramatically as profits fell. That request led to the "cod bounty," a subsidy to the groundfish fishery that remained in place until 1864. The repeal of the cod bounty is cited by historians as one cause of the "complete collapse" of the Maine fishing industry by 1890.
Many of us who began our careers in the fishing industry in the 1960s recall the dire straits that the groundfish industry was in at that time. A 1961 report on the health of the groundfish fishery concluded that: "The severity of the crisis in the groundfish industry has been manifested by many indicators. Declines in employment and earnings, lengthening average age of men and ships, and a drastic loss in the domestic industry's share of the United States groundfish fillet market are compelling signals that this industry is rapidly losing its competitive vitality."
The problems facing the groundfish fishery in the 1950s and '60s were compounded by an influx of foreign fishing vessels that could fish within 12 miles of U.S. shores. It was the industry pressure for a 200-mile fishing limit that also gave us the regional fishery management councils and the federal authority to regulate U.S. fisheries outside state waters.