News / USA

    New England Fishermen Face Crippling Cuts

    Crewmen on the trawler Erika-Lynn of Port Clyde, Maine, fish in the Gulf of Maine in this June 1997 photo. Stocks of the once-plentiful cod fish are near collapse.
    Crewmen on the trawler Erika-Lynn of Port Clyde, Maine, fish in the Gulf of Maine in this June 1997 photo. Stocks of the once-plentiful cod fish are near collapse.
    After nearly four decades of fishing, this season might be David Goethel's last.

    The New England Fisheries Management Council has cut the amount of cod fishermen like Goethel can catch in the Gulf of Maine by 77 percent.

    Painful cuts

    “For us, it basically means we’re all done," Goethel says.

    Under the new limits, he says he'd reach his quota of cod in just a few days of fishing.  And other fish are effectively off limits, or out of reach, for his kind of boat and equipment.

    While today’s catch, and the number of fishermen chasing it, are a fraction of what they were a half-century ago, the council’s decision is devastating for those like Goethel who have hung on.

    “I’m 59 years old. This is all I’ve ever done," he says. "How you’re going to pay for things?  I have no idea.  Basically, if we don’t work, we don’t eat.  Pretty simple.”

    Fewer fish 

    John Bullard, head of northeast fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says council members knew the quota cuts would be painful. 

    “But they felt it’s the only chance we have to bring back these stocks," Bullard says. "We have to do this. If we don’t do this, then there’s no chance.”

    But that chance is far from a sure bet. Scientists are finding fewer and fewer cod in the Gulf of Maine, and they don’t know exactly why.

    “It used to be that there was really only one thing that caused fish stocks to go up or down, and that is how many fishing boats were out there and how much fish they were catching," Bullard says. "And now, over the past five or six years, there’s more at work.”

    Shifting ecosystem

    One factor at work: waters in the Gulf of Maine have been unusually warm in recent years; last year was the warmest on record. Scientists say global climate change may be the culprit.

    Plus, after years of overfishing, other species may have taken over the place in the ecosystem that cod used to occupy.

    And the remaining cod may be too small and unable to produce enough offspring to rebuild the population.

    Whatever the cause, the entire ecosystem appears to have shifted.

    “The ecosystem now favors more species like [the] American lobster, which is very abundant right now in the Gulf of Maine," says fisheries expert Yong Chen at the University of Maine. "[It is] less favorable to groundfish.”

    According to Chen, experts don’t know if groundfish like cod will come back to their previous numbers, even with the quota cuts. 

    Cumulative impact

    What really bothers fishermen is that they have been following the limits that scientists have set. But now those scientists say those limits have been wrong.

    Chen acknowledges their models of the ecosystem have been too optimistic. 

    “So that means we probably catch too many. The level is set too high," he says. "I think this problem has been [going on for] quite a long time and the cumulative impact, of course, would be getting worse and worse.”

    The latest cuts are meant to make up for that cumulative impact.

    Shifting promises

    Fishermen are tired of hearing it.

    For two decades, says Dan Georgianna at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, experts have promised the limits they set will bring the fish back. But it hasn't happened. 

    “When you promise over 20 years that if you catch fewer fish now, you can catch many more fish in a couple of years, and systematically that’s never true," Georgianna says. "That’s going to cause problems.”

    He says now many fishermen don’t trust what the scientists tell them.

    Meanwhile, fisherman David Goethel believes the cod will be back when the waters cool down again.  But under the current limits, he’s not sure he’ll be there to see them.  Although he can't imagine a different way to live.

    “I’ve seen people leave the fishery," Goethel says. "A lot of them come right back. This is a way of life. It’s not a job. And so they don’t tend to do real well on land.”

    Some financial assistance may be available for New England’s cod fishermen. Even before the season has officially begun, the federal government has already declared the industry an economic disaster.

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    US Watching as North Korea Opens Biggest Political Meeting in Decades

    As Workers' Party Congress opens, Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora