I hope everybody had a good chuckle over the April Fools edition of yesterday's newsletter. Certainly the folks in the historic but troubled Northeast groundfish fishery could use a laugh. But with massive cuts to Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod harvest quotas taking hold next month, I'm guessing that right now, nothing really seems funny to them.
Who can blame them? For more than two decades they've endured increasingly strict regulations that aimed to rebuild groundfish populations to federally determined healthy levels. Fishing areas were closed. Vessel buybacks occurred. Days at sea were whittled down. And the sector management catch share system was implemented.
The fishermen have seen their ranks continually thin with each round of new regulations. Repeatedly fishermen were told, "The sacrifices you make today will produce benefits down the road."
The remaining harvesters are still waiting to reap those benefits. For despite fishermen's sacrifices, stubborn species like cod and yellowtail flounder haven't paid heed to the government's stock rebuilding deadlines.
Perhaps what's been most disheartening to see over the years has been Washington's utter disregard for the fishermen. Democrats and Republicans point fingers at each other and rail that the other side is to blame for the industry's woes.
Occasionally, the two parties show glimmers that they can work together. Congress has passed a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would set aside relief funds in the fiscal year 2014 budget for fisheries disasters in New England, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska declared in 2012. But that’s an anomaly with this particular Congress.
The two parties can play the blame game all they like. But the health of Northeast groundfish stocks has been a problem for years, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans have ruled the White House or Congress.
Perhaps one day our elected representatives will be more concerned with serving We the People instead of their political parties. Maybe then they'll actually work together to solve problems like preserving the groundfish fleet and the coastal businesses and communities that depend on the industry.