Over many years of watching and seeing the goings on within our fisheries management system it never ceases to amaze me how our fishermen adapt to adversity and the burden of over regulation.
This adaptation however is not lost on the regulatory industry. I am convinced they are using information which they make us provide through vessel trip reports, on-board observers, and a host of overlapping reporting requirements that have been placed upon all aspects of industry. As we have adapted over the years and pursued different species of fish that were not so overburdened by regulation, so to have the regulators kept their boots on our collective throats. It’s simple really. Just see what they were surviving on and then create regulations that no longer make that particular fishery a viable alternative. Or simply take it away from them all together. Years ago we were just plain fishermen. If you had the courage to strike out into a different fishery, you were free to do so. This was always a gamble. Also very expensive! Re rigging a boat with different types of gear is not for the faint of heart. Not so today. You need to have a license for every fishery you pursue. There are all kinds of factors and costs associated with these permits that in most cases make them unattainable. A full time scallop permit for instance would cost you up to several million dollars. If you could find one.
Years ago if you were to go to the waterfront and watch the boats come and go what you would see would be boats coming and going in all different directions. The reason for this was they were pursuing a host of many different fisheries. This in turn supplied our markets with a wide variety of different species of fish that satisfied the broad based consumer demand for different types of fish. This also kept us from having a glut of one species into the markets.
We deal with a supply and demand market in the strictest sense of the word. This fact has not been lost on the regulators. What they have done over the years has made whats left of our domestic fishing fleet pursue the same fishery at the same time. Most of our fisheries have been cut back so far that it is not viable for an offshore fishing vessel to pursue the pittance which they are allowed to catch. The smaller inshore boats with their lower operating costs are able in some cases make it work. This adds yet another dimension to the equation. Divide and conquer. Many of the small boats see an opportunity to eliminate some of their competition. Sad but true. Fisherman against fisherman.
Anyway if you were to go to the same docks today what you would find first and foremost is a lot less boats. This has been part of a natural culling process over the years as older fishermen have retired. Some boats are lost due to sinking’s, old age, fire and the usual calamities involved with this unforgiving business. Truthfully, this was to be expected, as it is my opinion that the domestic fleet at one point probably was overcapitalized. However the root of this overcapitaliztion was government programs implemented back in the early eighties such as investment credit and accelerated depreciation that started the outside investor boom into fishing vessels. Doctors, lawyers and other people with no previous connection to fishing started building boats and hiring captains to run them. I myself worked on one of these “investor boats.” This system was a major factor into why there were to many boats chasing to few fish. That was then. Now however the fleet has shrunken dramatically with well over half of the boats today than we had in the hay day of investor boats and the big promotion of fishing investment by our government.
Today when you watch what is left of the fleet you will often see the boats all going in the same direction chasing the same species of fish because there is little or no choice. Here in Southern New England a lot of effort has been directed at the loligo squid fishery which supplies domestic and export calamari demands. Fortunately the value of this product has risen enough to keep our heads above water when they are catchable. Many would have not survived without this important fishery.
Again the regulators see that this is what we are surviving on. However their data says this resource is not over fished and is sustainable. So how do they get the squid away from us? Simple, create a crisis that does not exist and use it to pull the rug out from underneath us.
The crisis dujour is a small little known species called butterfish. The regulators claim the squid fleet is decimating this species of fish. This in spite of the fact that butterfish account for the second highest abundance of fish caught in the government trawl surveys. The highest is dogfish. Which is still closed to commercial harvest in any appreciable number.
And on and on it goes. These folks have an agenda and they certainly know their way around any roadblocks that are thrown up in front of them. This is just one tidbit of the nonsense fishermen deal with today. I could type till my wrist seize up telling about the foolishness we have dealt with over the years.