A thunderous voice of the U.S. fishing industry has fallen silent. Richard Gaines was a reporter for the Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times who covered the fishing industry beat like no other journalist I've had the pleasure to follow.
Richard's wife, Nancy, rushed home after he failed to pick her up at the train station on Sunday, June 9. She found him in their pool, the victim of an apparent heart attack at age 69.
Richard saw his work at the Times as an opportunity to give fishermen a voice. But he was a journalist first and foremost and wanted to get the story right. He was not afraid to do a little digging so he could write the truth — the truth from which so many people hide: that fishermen are not hell-bent on emptying the sea, and sometimes the federal government does far more damage than good.
Richard held NOAA's feet to the flames on the Office of Law Enforcement scandal for four years. He covered the intricacies of malfeasance at the federal agency with ease. His skill for laying plain the complicated inner workings of a large government entity may well have been honed during his many years as a political writer. Despite two changes in NOAA leadership since the OLE scandal began, and national media coverage, nothing has yet been done to bring to justice the so-called leaders who perpetrated crimes against New England fishermen. However, many credit Richard in part with a Commerce Department inspector general investigation and $650,000 retribution to the fishermen who were improperly fined.
We met face to face only once, but we traded emails from time to time as we read each other's coverage of the Northeast groundfish industry's struggles. He was a kind soul who believed deeply in doing the right thing. And like the fisher folk he wrote about, Richard loved his work.
With every loss of a tireless advocate for fish-work, I find myself wondering what will be next. The options seem infinite. We can build our own fish (genetically modified), grow our own fish (finfish aquaculture) or sustain our wild fisheries (my personal preference). We can choose to push for a mythic perfect balance in the ecosystem or opt to balance carefully the priorities of maintaining small fishing communities and small-boat fleets with the obvious need for healthy fishing biomass.
We can choose to ignore the significant mismanagement of NOAA's OLE or work better to establish transparency at the federal level. The government expects fishing fleets to report fishing locations, catch, bycatch, gear, wages, boat maintenance and safety drills. And on top of that, many also carry the expense of observers. So where is the equivalent for managers at the top levels?
Richard Gaines was striving to hold the regulators accountable for their actions. In his honor, we should not let his torch fade. We must all do our part to pick it up and walk with it, slowly and steadily, to a clearer and brighter future for the nation's fisheries. In Richard's words, "We row as best we can against that tide."
— Jessica Hathaway