Fred Bennet is a cod fisherman in Chatham, Massachusetts and a member of the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen’s Association.


You have fished a lot of ways, and you've come back to long-lining in fishing for cod. Tell us why that is.

Basically, the reason I long-line is that it's not hurting anything. It's not hurting the habitat on the ocean floor; we can release our fish alive. You can actually see the fish swim right back down to the bottom.

It's just a great way to fish. It's really not hurting the overall picture. First of all, the fish don't all bite. They bite when they're hungry, just like people. We only catch the ones that are hungry. The little ones we can let go alive. It's just a wonderful way to fish.

How come you're not dragging?

Well, I was dragging. I dragged for about 8 years or something like that. And first of all, I didn't have the correct amount of power needed. When I first started dragging, we were in smooth bottom where you didn't need a lot of power and then as the population of fish diminished and the population of fish were strictly in the hard bottom, you needed a lot of power to tow a net and I didn't have that. It took a long time before I realized what I was doing to the habitat — crushing everything in my tow, just disturbing the bottom colony. It was sad to see that.

And one of the particular instances that really made me change my mind was, I was towing down in the great South Channel and I was at night towing along, the net was full of soft lobsters, just their parts — their tails and various parts of their carcasses. That was it for me; I just couldn't take it any longer. It wasn't the thing to do. You know, I think anybody that's responsible that cares about the future would see it that way; but not everyone, obviously.

What are your concerns as a fisherman?

Well, our concerns, my concern in particular, is for the future. I'm pretty much at the end of my career of fishing full time. It's been a long time, and it's been hard on the body, but I have a son, and grandchildren that I would like to have the opportunities that I have had and I feel it's a very honorable way to earn a living. On an average day I feed 1,000 people. How many people can say that? That they feed a thousand people a day; that's a privilege. And I never hurt anything. That's the way I look at it. Hooking won't hurt anything. And that's important. I've destroyed enough things in my career and I feel that we all need to look to the future.

There's a lot more people on earth, and it's a renewable resource. It's very important that we learn to do things properly. I'm not saying that everyone needs to hook fish, by any means; dragging and scalloping are great ways to develop fish products, but we need to learn how to do it correctly. Just because it was done that way for the last 80 years doesn't mean it's correct.

That 's what frustrates me about these green groups — they come out with all these great ideas. They sue the government and then they step aside, so many of them do that. It's really frustrating.

You're advocating hook and line fishing, but isn’t it true that even this equipment can be used in a bad way, such as in sword fishing?

Well, this type of equipment couldn't be used for sword fishing. Swordfish are in mid-water or on the surface. This gear goes to the bottom. It has weights, actually. We clip weights on every so often, so they will get to the bottom as quickly as possible. We have to be worried about mammals that might be in the area that would swim by and tangle the gear. So we try to get it to the bottom as quick as possible and we don't catch any mammals. None.

Are you saying it's not really what the technology is, but how you use it?

How you use it, but also technology has a great deal to do with it. For instance, a while back, a couple years ago before the haddock made a comeback, I suggested to the New England Regional Council that in order for fishermen fishing otter-trawls to not catch haddock that they modify the net. When the fish are traveling across the bottom in front of the net, haddock try to escape by going up, they don't go sideways, they go up. So, I said, why not let the haddock go through the top of the net? Instead of using 5-1/2 or 6-1/2 inch net, go to 12 or 24-inch twine and all those haddock would escape. Now that's what I call technical use of the gear because a lot of things can be done.

Scalloping — there's probably ways to lift the scallop off the bottom, other than dragging gear that weighs 2 or 3 tons that's leveling everything in it's path. I realize scallopers have to use what they have now, but there should be some kind of science, fishermen government working together to correct these problems. They're well known. Not everyone will admit it; I understand that.

But why not look to the future, by having the correct gear. It may take a lot of years and a lot of hard work. Just so many brilliant people in this country. I know the fishermen can't do it. We don't have the resources, but together we could do it. Even the world. Basically, we're feeding a great deal of the world. And the resource is getting short so I think the thing to do is to come up with better gear.

What advice do you think that other fishermen need to hear?

I just feel that fishermen that are using destructive gear probably have an idea that they are using destructive gear and looking at the short-term financial gain, which is considerable. You have to realize that people feed their families doing this business; it's not all romance. We're looking for money like anybody in any business, but if you look at the long term, although fishermen nowadays are not particularly young — I'm 63. There's guys that are nearly my age and there's very few young guys in this business. The reason why is there hasn't been a future in it for a while.

But I just feel that they need to look at the long-term outlook, renewing the resource, thinking about when they're done fishing, who is going to going to leave anything left on earth? That's really important - that we leave a better atmosphere than when we started. Most of the fishermen are much smarter than when I started. There's a lot more education in the fishermen themselves, in the way they catch fish.

If they just look at the long-term; think about what' if you've got a little kid that's ten years old and he doesn't want to go to college, and even if he does, he wants to go fishing. You've got to leave him something. And we have to keep feeding the people, all the various countries and throughout the world and also, leave the habitat so that the fish can continue to grow, a place to live in where they can escape from predators.

You've switched over to a fishing practice that has less impacts and you're still able to make a living?

I am inclined to say that hook fishing is financially beneficial. I've done very well since I went back at it again, since 1986 or 1985. I'm making a good, comfortable living. I'm ready to retire. Spent a lot of years doing it, but I can do it and it's a great way to do business. It's beneficial to not only yourself, but to the environment, and to the people that you feed.