Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fishing as an endangered but protected transaction

Here in New England, the plight of the fishing industry, and particularly of independent fishermen who operate small "day boats" from local harbors, is in the news. Three issues compete for attention: how to sustainably manage vulnerable fish populations, while keeping fishing profitable, particularly for the small independent fishermen who are seen as needing protection from larger, corporate fishing fleets.  Small fishermen are to New England what small family farms are in other areas of the country.

Here's a story from the Globe.

Change in fishing rules altering storied industry: Regulators to look at ways to protect fleet
"PLYMOUTH — Scores of fishermen have stopped going to sea in the past year as controversial new rules take hold that could fundamentally alter the storied fishing economy, culture, and communities of New England.

"The region’s scenic harbors already shelter hundreds fewer fishing boats than a decade ago, but some worry that smaller boats may vanish altogether: There are some signs the new rules, which assign groups of fishermen a quota on their catch of cod and other bottom-hugging fish, could accelerate a trend of consolidating those boats into far fewer, more efficient vessels. Some small-boat fishermen are selling or leasing their allotment to others under the new rules because they cannot turn a profit.

"“This may not be the end of fishing, but it is the end of fishing as we know it,’’ said Steve Welch, as he tinkered on one of his two boats, the Holly & Abby, in Plymouth. Nearby, his dog Hudson ate mussels that seagulls dropped on an icy dock.
Welch leased the fishing privileges on both his boats and laid off three workers this year. “We are talking jobs, tradition, culture,’’ he said. “All that will be left are large boats owned by corporations with deep pockets.’’ 
"However, it is inevitable, Grant said, that some fishermen will be pushed out of business for good because there are still not enough fish for all the fishermen. And that is a hard thing to take.
Fishing is not what [these fishermen] do; it is who they are,’’ Grant said. “It helps define the community. You can’t say that about selling tires. They are a cultural icon.’’
"Still, there are some bright spots with the new rules. Some $5 million in federal funds has been allotted to New England states to buy fishing permits and lease them back, often at a reduced price, to vulnerable fishermen. Some fishermen say the new rules are successful, allowing them to keep catching bottom-dwelling fish while others are diversifying to go after more abundant species.
But some fishermen, like Welch, wonder whether there will be small fishermen left when the fish finally come back.
I’ve been fishing for 33 years,’’ Welch said, proudly pointing out how he overhauled the electrical and hydraulic system on the Holly & Abby. “I’m a small, independent business owner. That should have value.’’"

HT: Tim Gray

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