TRANSCRIPT - Rodney Avila
Avila is the Outreach Specialist at the Greater New Bedford
Fishermens Family Emergency Center in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
In terms of the number of boats here in New Bedford, has the off-shore
Yes, we were
somewhere up around, I would say in excess of 400 vessels here in
early 1990s, 92, 93, like that. And when they started
it was government regulations. Since 1994 Ive tracked 157
vessels that have left service. Which represents 623 jobs to the
Out of New Bedford,
I would say roughly about a third of the boats have left New Bedford
one way or another.
Would you say the regulations sorted out those who were less skilled
I think a lot
of them have left. I think it was a matter of economics. It was
a fast buck. People looked at the fast dollar, "Im going
to jump in it because fishermen are making good money, Im
going to get into it and make a buck." When the regulations
come about a lot of people didnt want to deal with regulations
and theyd, "say why am I going fishing to make X amount
of dollars when I can go back and be a carpenter and make as much
money and not deal with regulations?" or, "I could be
a bricklayer or whatever their occupation was prior to them coming
to fishing." A lot of those people are finding themselves back
in their same occupation they started. Thats what I see.
In our research, weve learned that several scientists have
been presenting information to the council for years and years regarding
overfishing and the decline in numbers of fish. Yet the council
was slow to move. Do you think it would be a different situation
today if the council had put the brakes on sooner?
When the council
first started I agreed that they were a little slow. I agree that
regulations should have come a lot earlier than they did come, but
there were two reasons those regulations didnt come.
The first reason
was the stocks were in pretty good shape. They were dwindling a
little bit but they were in pretty good shape. And for years and
years and years youd hear all the old-timers say and
Ive said it myself its a cycle. You have 7 good,
7 bad, 3 good, 3 bad its a cycle. And wait till we
get to our good cycle. Okay, that sounds all well and good but thats
not really protecting the resource. Were going by what happened
centuries and centuries and centuries ago. Years ago there was probably
buffalo roaming right where were standing here now but theyll
never ever be another buffalo there again no matter what we do.
So I think that there needed to be regulations a lot sooner than
they were. I myself in fact went to the council way before I was
a council member and asked them to shut down a portion of Georges
Bank that had juvenile fish for that protection. And I dont
know if it went on deaf ears or at that time the law being in power
that was . . there was a lot of associations. Unions and associations
and they would send lobbyists to these meetings. They call them
representatives, I call them lobbyists, whatever, its the
same thing. And the power was there. There was the same people going,
"oh, you cant close this down, youre going to put
our people out of business, the work force." And everybody
was a little scared. I think whenever they really come down to almost
a depletion people said, "hey, we really have to do something
here or there will be no fishery."
You made an interesting analogy earlier when you compared the council
members to parents and the fishermen to kids. You said the fishermen
knew how to work the council. Could you talk about that?
I took it like
its a child, you know. And no mother likes to spank their
own child, no father. But you need it to discipline that child so
when he grows up hes a good adult. What happens is these children
know how to work their parents, you know, same like the fishing
industry. It knew how to work the council members. They would say,
"oh, my fish..."and I can remember, I never took my wife
or my kids to a council member. I can remember a lot of times I
was at a council meeting and it was going to affect a few people
and the next thing you know there would be a roomful of wives and
children. And nobody wants to say, "oh, Im going to put
your father out of business, youre going to be without a home,
youre not going to wear that pair of Nike sneakers you have
on now." Who wants to say that? So they knew how to work the
What is the solution for the fishery management council?
First of all
everybody has to take their role serious as a council member. I
know when I went there, I took an oath and that oath to me was everything.
Every time I voted on an issue I asked myself am I voting for the
resource or am I voting for myself. I would ask that question all
the time. And I think if every council member asked themselves that
and they really think about it, and if they vote for the resource
all the time were going to be winners. When you start voting
for yourself were losers. So thats what they have to
do. And it takes a special person to do that. The first thing you
have to keep in mind is the resource out there, because without
the resource nobody is going to be there. Theres not going
to be any fishermen, theres going to be no need for The National
Marine Fishery Service, and theres going to be no need for
council. So we all gotta get on the same page and we all gotta be
preserving our resource.
You talked earlier about pulse-fishing and the way that it hurts
the resource, especially, for example, during the month of May when
cod are spawning. Could you elaborate on that?
the most vulnerable time for the fish and actually I dont
have my boats fish. We tie them up. Because first of all the fishes
are in spawning, theyre congregating so it makes it easy to
catch em and theyre worth less. Theyre spawned
out, theyre weak, theyre worth less. So I look at it
this way. I fish for dollars. Everything I pay is in dollars not
in fish. So I would rather catch less fish and get more money for
them than a lot of fish and get less money.
Actually I do
know some fishermen who save their days for the month of May because
they come in with these big slammer trips, 50, 60, 70,000 pounds
of fish, and actually get nothing for em. Very little. They
make a trip but its very little, its a lot of work.
So I think by us fishing at that time of the year were really
hurting ourself in three ways. Were brining in a product thats
not good, were hurting the resource, were hurting our
future, and were killing off our future. And were burning
up our days doing that in that time. I think that you should spread
em out. You shouldnt be pulse-fishing. At that time
people will burn up their days, theyll catch their trip, and
theyll go right back out again. Stay home one day or one night
and go right back out again. So thats no good for the resource
Earlier when you spoke about a time when you were planning to partner
up with someone who would haul a lot of juvenile fish. It was then
that you realized that process was destroying the resources. Could
you tell us about that experience?
Actually I was
19 years old. I was fishing for that man. We were catching trash
fish or industrial fish. We would catch fish, bring it in, they
would grind it in and make cat food or dog food, whatever it was.
We were catching hake and whiting stuff no one wanted. There
was very little value. We used to get three quarters of a cent a
pound but we worked on volume. We used to fill the boat up maybe
twice a day or once a day anyway. We were out there one time, we
couldnt find any, I dont know what had happened, it
was just the wrong time or something was wrong. So, the captain
moved over to an area where there was a lot of juvenile flounders
which was a fishery at that time, it still is, a viable fishery.
And we were working on juveniles and I kind of told him, I says,
"what are we doing here?" He says, "I want to get
a trip, I want to fill the boat up." And at that point we had
the boat half-full. And I says, "why are we killing off all
these fish?" He says, "because I want a trip, I want a
weeks pay, I want to go home." So I says, "but you
realize what we just did? I says, "what it took us to fill
half of that boat up today in two years from now would probably
be 50 boat-loads of fish."
We killed them
off before they could reproduce or get larger. So I says, "I
cant fish like that." I left after that.
You said your grandfather taught you early on to only take what
you need and to leave some for tomorrow.
I was lucky
when I learned how to fish. I was a very young person. I started
with my dad. I was 7 or 9 years old, something like that. He was
a day fisherman. He would go out every day so days I didnt
have school I would go out with him and I always enjoyed fishing.
Im the fourth generation, my son is the fifth generation in
our family to be fisherman, and my grandfather always taught us
and my father he would always say the same thing because he was
taught by his father, was you only take what you need. You take
enough to survive, support your family, and you always leave something
for tomorrow. He says because if you dont do that there will
be no tomorrows. I was taught that way very early and I think its
paid off for me anyway.
Could you tell us why there is a need for the FFEC?
been a lot of boats that have left the industry and the crews have
nothing to do. These places are essential because were retraining
a lot of these people to find other employment and transit out of
the industry saving face, and supporting their families.
Since the regulations were introduced, the stock has been rebuilt
and things have improved. You credit the regulations for that. Could
you elaborate on that?
When I first
started fishing there was no regulations. The fishermen could go
out of this harbor and do whatever he wanted to. There was nobody
to oversee them, nobody to watch them, nothing. Once you got away
from the sight of land you could basically do whatever you wanted
to. And it was fine for the fisherman. And I dont want to
portray fishermen as being bad people, the fishermen that knew or
realized that you have to protect the resource for the future livelihood.
But as the other fishermen come along that same value was not there,
so they would do whatever they wanted to and between that and the
over-capitalization of boats, we started seeing our stocks go down
and nobody likes to see that happen. Its like a sinking ship.
Nobody wants to see a sinking ship and when you see your stocks
going down thats what it is. So I believe in regulations.
Like I say, its the controlling factor. In a home we set down
rules for our kids, ground rules and for ourselves. And its
If you notice
most of the homes that the kids grow up good and in good shape are
homes that have regulations: you have to be in by 10:00, you have
to do your homework before you go out, all that sort of thing. So
thats all regulations. So Im a believer in that. And
I think were finally seeing the outcome of regulations here
in New England. Were starting to see a rebound. Im not
saying and I dont want people to misinterpret me that everything
is hunky-dory, lets open everything up, but I do think were
on the road to recovery. I believe that.
Is there a future in fishing?
I believe there
will always be a future in fishing. There will always be fishermen.
My son just bought half of my boat this January. If I believed this
was a dying industry I would not sell him half of that boat. So
I believe if its maintained and regulated there will always
be a fishery.
I also believe
that there will be a good future, the fishermen will make a good
honest living again. Itll be a good profession, people can
look up and say yes Im a fisherman, Im doing it the
right way, Im following the regulations, Im earning
a living, supporting my family, Im putting my kids through
college. I really believe thatll happen. I just think the
fishing industry needed some tweaking. We were the outlaws of everybody.
Everybody else got tightened down. We were the wild, wild west out
in the ocean; now they put some rules to us.
You seem to have a deep love for the ocean. Could you talk to us
about that and tell us how you got into fishing?
First of all
I come from a fishing family. My background is fishing. I was brought
up with fish talk in the house. You know, my grandfather, my father,
my uncles, everything. And most people dont realize what it
is. Its such a challenge to go out. I sit in the office right.
As soon as it says 8:30 Im making money. Im getting
so much an hour for every hour that goes by. But when you go fishing,
its a challenge. You got to dig yourself out of a hole. You
leave here owing 5 to 6 or 8 thousand dollars in expenses between
fuel, lights, groceries before you even leave. And its the
challenge of going out and you did it yourself. Nobody gave it to
you. You know its not like going in an office, punching a
clock. You earned it yourself, you worked for it. And every trip
is a different trip. Its like dating a girl. Every one you
date is a little bit different than the last one. Thats the
same thing with fishing, every trip. Theres no two trips the
same, theyre all a little bit different and I think thats
what keeps fishermen fishing is that. The suspense.
Do you agree with the regulations that limit the days at sea?
I really believe
a lot of it. I dont agree with all the regulations but I think
everything as a whole, thats what helped. If we were to continue
on the road before the regulations became in place, there is no
doubt in my mind that we wouldnt have a fishery today. And
so I think back then we needed to do something. And I think we did
it. We all tightened up our belts and we hurt. Some guys went through
come hard times and things werent like we were accustomed
to. But its like being sick. You have a healing process before
youre better. Thats what I see out here.
Some of the deckhands are having a hard time finding work and transitioning
out of their livelihood? Can you talk a little about that?
I think theres
a definite need for a center for fishermen. I dont believe
all the regulations are over with. I just got through telling you
I see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I dont think its
business as usual, to the way it was. I think theres still
going to be a process where some of the fleece still gets trimmed
away. Either by those who cant afford to operate or by maybe
another buy-back theyve been talking about. Therere
still limited days at sea. Theyre talking about limiting days,
more days, and further closures and openers, and the thing is, I
think right now its a balancing act they dont
know which regulation to implement. Its whatever probably
the industry will feel better with or something like that. But I
definitely see more of the boats getting out of the industry. I
see effort going away. And then the fishery of the future I dont
believe is going to be anything like we knew it years ago. Its
going to be a different kind of fisherman out there, a smarter fisherman,
a more conscientious and a more conservative fisherman, I believe.
Thats the new fisherman thats going to be out there.
We did a long interview with Vaughn Anthony in which he described
how year after year he thought he gave really good scientific advice
to the Council and yet year after year the quotas werent set
at low enough rates. Please talk about that from your perspective.
when I got on the Council, and I can remember that. It was like
this: the industry fought him year after year after year. They fought
him; they didnt want any regulations. And its like anything
else the longer you take to go to a doctor, the worse your
ailment is; the more medicine you have to take to be cured. Thats
exactly what happened to the fishery. The first few years everybody
ignored it. They said the fishing will come back, its a cycle,
we have good cycles and bad cycles. We passes that cycle, it didnt
come back. Oh the next cycle will be better. The next time, were
looking at, well, theyre shootin rockets up into the sky.
They put the blame everywhere except where it was needed, where
it was on the industry. It really took a long time before
people woke up. You know were gonna have to do something or
were gonna lose a great resource out there. And the pill was
a bitter pill that we have to swallow now; its a much larger
pill than if wed listened to Vaughn Anthony, back then. It
would have been a lot easier to rebuild the stock and a lot faster.
Regardless of regulations, or gear type, what kind of ethic do you
think fishermen of the future need to have to sustain their resource?
I think you
have to find that balance between recruitment and where you just
take out enough and the resource stays stable so it can replenish
itself. Thats the balance we need to find. Its like
you see a graph going down; were up at one point, then were
down at another point. No matter what you see in the graph, going
down, its depletion. Or an increase. So you need to find that
middle level ground where everything can work. The effort out there
whether its days at sea, whether its by quotas that
you bring in, only so much of that resource comes to shore. Or closed
areas that so much of that resource is protected, nobody could go.
I think you have to find the right balance, and once you find that
youll always have a fishery. It went out of balance right
after the 200-mile limit went into effect. It went WAY the other
way, so we gotta rebuild it to a good healthy resource and then
just allow, whether its a lot of boats and everybody gets
just a few days to fish or theres a few boats and everybody
gets to fish more, whatever works out, we need to keep it at that
Is there an inherent weakness in the people in the industry who
There is a weakness
I think its up to the regulators. When stocks are rebuilt,
its not a free-for-all again. Never let it get to that. You
know they have management measures that they uphold and they enforce.
Thats what happened in the beginning there were all kinds
of measurements the first 3 or 4 years that the Council was in effect
but they werent enforced. There was no enforcement behind
them. Its like having a speed limit and not having a traffic
cop to enforce it; its a law but who cares? So what? Its
like throwing a coffee cup into the ocean; it like, legally
its a Styrofoam cup, but if nobody sees me theres no
problem with it. But there is a problem with it. And thats
why the industry got to where it is.
I like this
industry, I just wish I could keep in it for the rest of my life.
But I know, you know, its a game, its a young mans
game, its not an older mans game. So I just gotta be happy
now on the sidelines, giving my son advice and helping people that
want to transition out. And actually its been good. I never
thought I would love this job the way I do. I do really like this
job, as much as I did fishing.
Whats your take on ITQs?
like them personally because ITQs seems to always seem to
end up in big-big business and it puts the little family boat owner
out of business, the father and son team or whatever. And big business
comes in, they offer a lot of money for these permits; and they
get them. Weve seen it in the clam industry where there was,
I dont know how many clam boats, but everything got consolidated
to half a dozen clam boats. And then the men had no control over
what they were making; they got paid what they told they were going
to get paid. They were gonna get so much a bushel or whatever it
was. Never on a share-basis the way it is now.
I see another
problem. When are they going to set these ITQs and where are
they going to set them at? What I caught before or what Im
catching now? Right now were not allowed to catch a lot of
fish because we got days that were restricted, or theres
some fish we cant even bring in because our quotas are so
low. Wheres my ITQ gonna be at; wherere they going to
be set at? So theres a lot of problems. I dont think
we should start looking towards ITQs until the stock gets
rebuilt, and at that point if the people want it then they could
get to that point, but not right now.
Do you ever have the sense that in these closed areas, theres
been a spill-over of fish, maybe flatfish? I know the recruitment
of cod isnt that great out here, but whats your take
on the possibility of Marine Protected Areas? Do you think it can
I think a lot
of the spill-over is coming from the cod fish. Everybody says the
closer we get to the closed area, the more fish we get. No kidding;
theyre gonna swim in and out of that area. The only thing
I see with that is that everything around it gets beat up because
the people have no place else to go.
I was on the
Council when we proposed to close areas. I thought that when we
actually closed them. But my take back them was that we close them
permanently for one or two years, and then they stayed altogether,
that we would have a rotate and close every same amount of ground
but lets shift it next year, or in two years, or open half
of it, or something like that. You need to rotate a little bit,
thats what I see. Right now theres been no rotation.
Theres been a little opening up with scallops thats
helped the scallop industry but hasnt done anything for the
ground fish. And from what I hear theres fish in there. The
abundance of fish is just like scallops. I think at some point the
Council needs to address opening in up, maybe not all of it but
a portion, and closing somewhere else. Giving some other place as
much protection as they gave that place. Every place needs protection.
See years ago
the fleets were smaller
the boats were like some of those wooden
boats I showed you. So the weather protected the fish. They didnt
go out, they didnt fish as much in the winter. When it was
hard weather they went into the docks. Now you see these 100-foot
trawlers. They can fish just about anything. They just stay out
there and fish and fish and fish. Years ago boats used to lay up.
Ill just starve for 8 or 12 hours til it gets better. Now
they wont do that because its costing them time so they
just keep fishing. They just fish and fish and fish. I remember
years ago when it used to get rough the fish would drop in half.
Im not gonna spend my time catching half as much. Ill
just lay up for 10 or 12 hours, and when it gets better tomorrow
Ill go fish and get right back what I normally catch. But
today sadly enough they just fish right through it, because they
dont want to lose the time.
Like I told
you before; see I believe everything in this world has a minus and
a plus. Everything. So, we if can turn the minuses into pluses were
If your grandchild came up to you and let you know that he wanted
to fish, what would you say to him? What kind of ethics would be
most important for him to learn?
two things. I was taught to respect the ocean. My grandfather and
my father always taught me to respect the ocean and the weather.
You fit your boat out right, make sure your boat is safe. When theres
a storm coming, you batten down the hatch. If you take all those
precautions youll always get through it. Its when you
dont do that that you get into trouble.
always used to tell me, my whole family always believed in this,
every one of my uncles I fished with: You only take what you need
out of the ocean; you always leave some for tomorrow. Thats
been our philosophy. And I would tell him the same thing. Dont
go out there and destroy the whole resource because youre
able to do it. You just take what you need to make a comfortable
living, and you leave some there. And our thing is we always try
to fish on the larger fish and let the immature fish grow up to
at least spawning size.
What do you miss most about fishing?
Every trip Id sail through this dyke, it was like going out
on a first date. You never knew the outcome. Theres always
an excitement of going out to the ocean. Theres always been.
Every trip is different. I can go to work and I have different work
days, but I already know whats gonna happen. Im either
going to be down at the docks or I have reports to fill out or I
have meetings to go to or training to do. I do some computer training.
So I already know whats expected of me when I go in for that
But when I go
out into the ocean you dont know what the weathers gonna
be, you dont know what the catch is gonna be, Ive sailed
out of here and filled my boat in one day; Ive sailed out
of here and been 14 days and not have had enough to pay the fuel
bill. Its that excitement. I think thats what draws
people to the ocean. Its not like working on shore, in a structured
environment. The elements are different; youre working night
or day, winter or summer. And it was always a good feeling, as a
captain, to come in and have had a good trip.