Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Commercial Fishermen

Imagine a world where you have to call the government 48 hours before you go to work and get permission to go to work. No permission, no work.

If you do get permission, you might be assigned an observer. This is a governemnt employee who's job it is to check to make sure you are following all the regulations and rules of your job. If they catch you doing something wrong you can be fined. For now, the government is paying the observer, but in the future you will have to pay to be monitored.

As you head to work, you must turn on your electronic monitoring device which tracks your position by satellite. If for some reason you electronic monitoring device, which you have to pay for and costs a couple thousand dollars stops working you must stop working and return home. If not you will be fined.

But you've made it this far, time to make some money! You start working. The tools you use are all regulated, where you can work is regulated, the size and type of product you make is regulated. If you do any of these things wrong, you can be fined.

But its a good day, you get your work done and head home. Now you have to call in and report that you are returning from work. The government tells you you will be met by yet another observer of your work who will weigh and scale your work, and of course they will fine you if they find anything that does not comply with the regulations. Oh, and in the coming years you will also have to pay for this observer. $75/hr to monitor your work.

Wouldnt it be great if you could bring home some of your hard earned work to share with your family. After all, your work is providing food. But you can't. It is illegal for you to bring home a single fish to put on your family's table. In fact, before you leave the observer(s) they will search your vessel to make sure you are not hiding anything.

When nothing is found and you somehow make it through the day of work, you now have to fill out the paperwork. Pages and pages of paperwork. And if any of your paperwork is out of line, well don't even bother to call in to ask permission to go to work.

But, at least the information from your paperwork is helping to develop a better picture of what is going on in the environment in which you work, right? Wrong. The data is not used for anything.

Last night I had dinner with fisherman Steve Walsh from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He's been fishing for 33 years. Also at the table were two friends of mine who enjoy seafood, but were relatively unaware of what is involved in commercial fishing. As Steve described the above scenario, they became incredulous. Then they became angry, then depressed.

"How can this be happening in America?" They asked.

"What can we do?" They asked.

The latter question stunned me. In all the years I've been around fishing, boats and involved in fishing regulations no has ever asked what they can do. CAFC members are already doing a small part by supporting local community based fishermen. But can we do more?

In the coming weeks, I will be focusing on finding effective ways for folks who do care to get involved. By it's own admission NOAA has admitted the regulatory process is deeply flawed. We'll delve into that in a couple weeks, and in the following weeks I'll present opportunities for those of you who think fisheries can be managed in a way that:
  • doesn't treat fishermen like criminals
  • still save our oceans
  • improve the safety of fishing
  • reward fishermen who fish clean
  • improve the overall quality of our local seafood to be a global leader
  • support coastal communities


  1. did you see this article today?

  2. No, but thanks. There is a DAn Rather expose tonight at 8 on the subject: