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.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More