Thursday, March 28, 2013

Small time fishermen fight for their survival

Just as big eat the little fish in the sea, Cape Cod’s fishing fleet is being swallowed by larger pockets that are buying the available quota of cod and other catch. Can the small family-owned boats survive or will the remaining fishermen wind up as sharecroppers for someone else’s fleet?

“It would be nice to think if we wanted to go fishing we didn’t have to work for anybody else but with consolidation it doesn’t seem to be going that way,” said Jason Amaru, who fishes ground fish put of Chatham. “Who Fishes Matters” held a forum at Cape Cod Community College Tuesday to grapple with the problem. “This is a family industry,” observed 26-year-old Nick Chaparales, who has been fishing since he went tuna fishing with his father Bill in fourth grade. “I see father and son teams. The industry was always about family and tradition. We’d go off Chatham and come back with two or three thousand pounds of fish. But looking to the next generation – is there going to be a next generation?”

He recalled a friend set 2,000 hooks and caught just one codfish. “For the first time in decades you can’t go out in the winter and make a living,” Chaparales said. “This Amendment 18 is really our last stand – our last chance to push the big boats (back) offshore. To me Amendment 18 is a chance for us to have a future. I want what you guys have done – I want to be able to make a living for my family catching fish.”

In 2010 fisheries management shifted from a soup of days-at-sea, trip limits, gear restrictions, rolling open blocks, etc. – to a sector system where rather than government micromanaging each boat – catch shares were allotted to sectors made up of fishermen and they determined their own approach to hitting the quota.

But bigger boats and companies started with bigger quotas and they’ve been able to lock up more from fishermen who are quitting or find it isn’t worth their while to go out for a few hundred pounds of fish. Since they no longer encumbered by trip limits they’re spending more time fishing inshore, where the small boats used to thrive. One New Bedford fisherman, “The CodFather,” had as many as 20 boats before the overall cod quota was cut by 77-percent in the Gulf of Maine in December.

“The independent small scale fisherman is at a disadvantage,” explained Brett Tolley of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. Amendment 18, “The Fleet Diversity Amendment,” a rule proposed by the New England Fisheries Management Council, seeks to remedy this and prevent excessive consolidation. It would accomplish this by limiting the quota any one person/corporation could accumulate, setting aside a portion for small boats; promoting owner-operated boats and separating the inshore and offshore fisheries.

“Big boats can go where the little boats go but little boats can’t go where the big boats go,” reflected Dave Dutra of Truro, whose own boat is nearly 90-years old. “My fleet (in Provincetown) was 60 boats. Now there is one old man left (ground fishing). They’re all scalloping today. Catch shares were created to fail.”

Steve Lozinak of Wellfleet suggested the entire fisheries service was unconstitutional. “They took our right to fish and made it a privilege,” he declared. “We have to get something for what they took. It’s overregulation, overregulation, overregulation – that’s what it is. It’s time for [the National Marine Fisheries Service] to go out of business.”

“I’ve seen how small boats fishing the Gulf of Maine made big sacrifices, down to 30-pounds a trip and brought it back to 800-pounds a trip,” Bill Chaparales recalled. “Then sectors started and the big boats came in and I said these guys are going to wipe us out. And it was wiped out in two years (from 2010 to 2012).” He suggested the needed to go back to 800-pound-trip limits for cod – and keep bigger boats offshore. Tolley noted the managers are only vaguely aware of how concentrated quotas are but already in some fisheries just three ‘entities’ control almost half.

Several fishermen noted it’s hard to know what managers see as the end goal. “It’s shadow boxing. We’re part of the process but still left out,” he observed. Fisheries service folks were at the workshop, taking notes. “What I don’t see is young faces. Since fish stock has become a commodity it’s been extremely difficult for any younger recruits to come into the fishery,” lamented Chatham weir fisherman Ernie Eldredge. “Unless safeguards are put in permits will be sold to the highest bidder.”

Someone suggested it should be illegal to transfer permits from smaller to bigger boats. “We had the solution three years ago; no 80-, 90-, 100-foot boats inshore because it was not worth it for 800 pounds a day,” Nick Chaparales pointed out. “Is there anyone in the room who would not rather have it like it was three years ago?” “They never looked at the social impact it would have in coastal communities with small boats, they didn’t care,” Bill Chaparales added.

Dutra can reflect back on more than 50 years of fishing (read about it his wife Judy’s book “Nautical Twilight”). “If you don’t realize what we’ve lost you really haven’t been paying attention,” he told the audience. “Today I’ve got to buy a fish before I go out. I can’t grasp that.”

Source: Wiicked Local

Image courtesy of Panadolmomo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)