, Salem, MA

May 2, 2014

Our view: All quiet on the waterfront

The Salem News

---- — It was generally quiet on the waterfront yesterday — and that’s not good.

In years past, North Shore fishermen and those gearing up to work as crew members aboard boats in the local groundfishing fleet might have been working feverishly to prepare for the start of the new commercially permitted fishing year, which dawned yesterday.

There might have also been some enthusiasm, as fishermen and workers at Gloucester’s waterfront landings stations prepared to pick up the pace as a new season bore promise of increased revenues.

That’s not the case this year — just as it wasn’t last year. And it’s hard to picture when there may be that sense of optimism for a new year’s beginning again.

As the 2014 fishing year begins, some longtime fishermen have sold their boats and bowed out of actively seeking the new year’s catch. Others have set aside their boats for a while; they’ll finish up in the land-side jobs they’ve landed before venturing back out to sea to use their minuscule catch allocations. And the crews? There are virtually no crews. The “luxury” of bringing along helping hands was among the first cuts many fishermen had to forego for economic reasons last year.

Yes, there is the promise of federal “disaster” aid to come — some $75 million for fisheries across the country, with $33 million of it rightfully pegged for the teetering New England groundfishing industry, rooted, in large part in Gloucester. And let’s not forget that, while our federal government has extended a measure of disaster aid, that declared “economic disaster” — first recognized in November 2012 — preceded the catastrophic catch limit cuts that hamstrung the industry last year. And those dire limits, with cuts of up to 78 percent from the allowable landings in 2012, remain in place for the new year that began yesterday.

It’s not just commercial fishermen who will feel the pain. For the first time, recreational anglers will have to sacrifice.

NOAA’s Fisheries Economic report from 2013 shows a 7 percent increase in sales revenues from commercial and recreational saltwater fishing to $199 billion.

But let’s remember that, thanks to new NOAA mandates, the recreational fishing sector is facing dire new catch cutbacks this year. Let’s not forget that these revenue figures do not account for fishermen’s increased costs, from fuel to insurance to permits and catch charges that project what NOAA presumes fishermen’s bycatch should be — regardless of what it is. And note that the same report shows the catch and revenue is being reeled in by fewer boats — meaning, just as NOAA’s catch share plan foresaw — the larger and better capitalized boats and corporations are gobbling up the traditional catch usually hauled in by smaller, independent boats.

Simply put, the federal aid headed our way — someday — will not be nearly enough to brighten the present or future for the fishing industry. What fishermen need are profound changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which NOAA has consistently interpreted in a way that continues to pound fishermen and fishing communities alike.

It is in that vein that we and our state and federal lawmakers must begin the new fishing year with a new resolve as well: to push for the kind of basic, legislative changes to Magnuson-Stevens that this industry needs.

Let the new year — and a new commitment to fisheries reform — begin.