Why Fishermen Fail To Unite and Resist Being Swept Off of Our Historic Fishing Grounds

Why Fishermen Fail To Unite and Resist Being Swept Off of Our Historic Fishing Grounds

By Jon Johnson

As fishermen it often seems we are beset on all sides by so many issues that would disenfranchise us, derail our efforts to safeguard our industry, destroy our livelihoods and communities, and push us off of the historically wild and free ocean. Whether it is in the name of industrial power production or environmental protection, we are up against marine monuments, death by a thousand cuts regulation, forests of windmills, observers, cameras, and tracking systems watching us like an Orwellian nightmare, and grids of closure areas that threaten to push us onto fishing reservations like the Native Americans who once stood in the path of progress.

With our numbers dwindling and the biggest threats coming from outside our industry the big question is.. Why don’t we come together to defend our common interests now? The answer is both complicated and has a lot of underlying reasons. I will examine some (hopefully most) but not all of those here. Please feel free to add others in comments if I leave any out that are important to you.

1. Community fishing organizations-

Originally intended to advocate for fishermen and their communities, even the original creators of these organizations did not know what they would become. As more environmental donations poured into their coffers and less fishermen participated in them their nature began to change. The 2 most notable (The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and The Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association) both took money from the PEW Charitable Trusts to fund Conservation Law Foundation law suits against other fishermen and some of them have taken money to help fund their efforts to get other fisheries restricted or banned. The sad reality of these groups is that they are too dependent on environmental dollars and donations from the foundations of the wealthy to ever participate in a meaningfull fashion in any effort to protect fishermen from what really threatens them and are only good for the kind of divisive politics that keep fishermen at each other’s throats.

2. Quota Banks-

Most of these organizations were originally part of the community fishing organizations that owned them, but seperated and restructured due to some legal issues involving donations and possibly control of the fishing resource. Their stated intent is to preserve fishing communities by preventing corporations from buying up all of the quota (Apparently by doing the same thing themselves) but they are funded by environmental concerns, the foundations of the wealthy, and of course a little oil money. Quota Banks are a very effective tool to funnell donations and create fishermen who are dependent sharecroppers that will be unable to assert their own rights or represent themselves in opposition to the outside elements that are tearing our industry apart and dividing us against each other.

3. Individual Fishing Quotas

Of all the forms of effort control this one has been the most divisive and caused the most contraction of the fishing industry. The process of deciding who gets what has historically been very divisive with the winners touting how awesome the system is and the losers (who generally outnumber the winners by 500%) being pushed out or bought out and having nothing left to say in the matter. Even under the most ideal circumstances where the system has ended the race for fish and given all participants either a buy out or a more reliable income (due to extra quota leases) it still divides fishermen into Sealords sitting on the beach collecting rent and sharecroppers fishing isolated on a lonely sea with few friends to call in the event of distress.

4. Regional Management Councils

One could say we have the best councils money can buy. Our council process has been very divisive and according to some has been entirely co-opted by outside elements. Organizations like PEW have discovered that fishermen are a fractious group that are easily turned against each other and the council is a great place to start. Using the power of the internet to create a base of individuals that will email the council in support of any measure that promotes one group over another re-allocates resources or fishing area, or promotes harsher regulation for different gear types or other fishermen, even calling for ridiculous amounts of observer coverage all funded at the other guy’s expense are just a few of the ways that the council is used by fishermen and environmental organizations against other fishermen.

5. Reduction in Fish Stocks

Whether it is from global warming, predation, changes in the environment, cyclical food issues, fish migrating, or even overfishing a reduction in fish stocks sets everyone on edge and often against each other. Unfortunately fishermen find it easy to blame each other when fish stocks go down

6. Gear Conflict / Bashing / War

When we aren’t towing over and cutting each other’s gear or having an outright gear war for teritory it is still easy to get fishermen to talk bad about each other’s gear. Talking about each other’s bycatch issues or reclassifying another fishery as forage fish or endangered fish… even perhaps a little endangered whale entanglement. The fact is we all have issues with gear that and when we disparage eeach other it creates a more divisive industry.

7. Our obvious differences

Big boat versus small, multi-vessel owner versus single, corporate versus mom and pop, subsidized versus privately funded, sport versus commercial, sharecroppers versus derby fishermen, residents versus out of staters, and all of the other ways we divide and seperate ourselves are all ways that we divide and are divided against each other.

I could go on but that gives a good idea of what we have…

The premise that we would be much better off if we set aside our differences and unite in our common interests should be obvious to any but those who seek to profit from our downfall but that doesn’t seem to help. The foundations and trusts of the wealthy continue to donate money to some of us to seek their aid in opposing the rest. It reminds me of a quote often attributed to Jay Gould, ~~”I can always hire half of the working class to kill the other half.”~~ Or perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s, ~~”A house divided against itself cannot stand.”~~ One thing is certain as our numbers dwindle and our divisiveness endures, our strength diminishes and our power to resist fails.

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15 Responses to Why Fishermen Fail To Unite and Resist Being Swept Off of Our Historic Fishing Grounds

  1. jimmywampum says:

    Great letter. All the sellout stooges will eventually get their due when the tide turns like a tsunami and takes them all down. It’s the unstable nature of sell-out corruption. It’s VERY unstable and unpredictable. “United States”-what a joke http://www.freeandcommon.com

    • Charles Fitzpatrick says:

      ur not alone ,newfoundland fisherman r in the same boat.

      • jimmywampum says:

        Thanks Charles!
        …there are lots of good people like yourself coming together. Things in the states cant get much worse…so getting better finally looks possible after the total collapse of the social fabric that sustained coastal communities or centuries

  2. jmknbsc . says:

    Wish I had said that. Wait, I have, just not as succinctly, rationally, or as eloquently!

    And, while I would like to agree with jimmywampum’s premise, I’m afraid that too many of the good guys have already left the industry, & of those remaining, many can not withstand much more. Perhaps the best we can hope for, is that the remaining blood-suckers will soon have to start feeding on each other.
    Jim Kendall – NBSC

  3. Joel Hovanesian says:

    When the enviro scum no longer have any use for the sellout pieces of shit, they’ll drop them like a used prophylactic. The legacy of these sellouts will be fishing communities that are a shell of their former selves, and the ruined lives of those, these self serving bastards claim to be saving. There is a special place in hell for those who push this destructive agenda and the idiots who knowingly carry their divisive, destructive acts.

  4. Richard L Beal says:

    Excellent letter I’ve been saying the same for a long time but unfortunately the inherent independence of our industry prevents us from speaking with one voice and the opposition has and will always use this against us. Great job keep writting

  5. Rocky Novello says:

    Biggest problem today, is N.O.A.A.’S INACCURATE & FLAWED SCIENCE being used for both commercial & recreation fisheries . This science must be fixed now ,so all groups will be able to fish in future ! This science issue should unite all fishing groups in the U.S.A.??

  6. Kurt Jones says:

    HELP!!! I’ve bought in… and I can’t sell out!!!

  7. Dimitra Lavrakas says:

    Please read “The Mortal Sea.”

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