There’s something special about watching a net slowly come out of the water and roll up over the winch. Even for me, whose paycheck is not based on what finally appears in the bag, there’s a thrill of anticipation.
Last Saturday I spent the day on Jeffreys Ledge in the Gulf of Maine with David Goethel on his 44-foot dragger Ellen Diane. I made the trip for a story I’m writing about New England groundfishermen for an upcoming issue.
Being on the boat helped give me a sense of how thin the margins can be out there. Goethel, whose homeport is Hampton, N.H., has to decide where to go based on where he thinks the fish will be, but he also has to consider how much fuel he’s using. Paychecks can get pretty small if you go too far and don’t make up for it with your catch. That’s why each haul up matters so much. Here’s a video clip of our second of three tows that day:
As you can hear Goethel say at the end of the clip, it’s an entirely different mix from our first tow, which had much more lobster (he’s allowed to keep 100 legal lobsters per trip). Unfortunately much of the cod wasn’t big enough to keep. I watched crewman Mike Emerson quickly measure and toss the smaller ones so that they’d survive.
Goethel, a longtime fisherman and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council says he’s one of the last of the dinosaurs. He and other small boat fishermen out of New England are in danger of extinction as quotas for key groundfish species diminish. Other fisheries aren’t making up for it either. This winter he is still deciding whether or not to go after shrimp. The quota for it is also so low (cut by 75 percent from last year) that he’s unsure if processors will open for it.
I enjoyed going out with David not just because of his experience. He is fascinated with fish behavior. A good fisherman needs to think like a fish, and David, who is also a marine biologist, has some interesting theories, learned from 40 years on the water. Unfortunately it is this kind of expertise that will be most missed if this fishery keeps going in the direction it is headed.
Expect the story to appear in one of our spring issues (we are working on Febuary now). I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s Goethel (left) and Emerson sorting the catch.