TRANSCRIPT - Linda Greenlaw
Greenlaw is a swordfish captain in Isle au Haut, Maine and
author of "The Hungry Ocean."
How are the fish stocks doing?
that fish stocks are in good shape. I just talked to a friend of
mine. He just landed a trip fishing New Bedford, Mass. He had 57,000
kg of fish and he had over a 100 lb. average. Now 57,000 Kg of Swordfish
has been a good trip for years and years. Its excellent. Obviously
he didnt catch every last fish in the ocean. I think theres
plenty of fish.
usually spawns around 70 lb.s. So a 100lb fish has had a chance
Where are the fish caught?
Most of the
fish are being caught East of the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. Thats
where we generally fish.
Whats your take, then on all the talk about the low swordfish
Well, I think
for the most part the general public has been misinformed.
I think its
good people feel they want to do the right thing. Im a conservationist
myself, I want to insure theres a future in fishing. Im
confident that the laws and regulations are enough at this point
to keep the stocks healthy.
I think one
of the statistics that youll hear in favor of conservation
is that the average size of the SF landed has declined something
like 60% in the last 40 years. But that sounds really scary "Oh
long-liners are only catching baby swordfish," but what they
dont tell you is that the only SF industry 40 years ago was
a harpoon industry. Harpoon fish are big fish. SF are caught in
every ocean, theyre fished on by many countries. Fish only
surface in a few places in the world to be harpooned. And theyre
created a demand for small fish. Restaurants dont want a 500
lb. fish, the steaks are to big for the plate and small restaurants
cant afford to put that much money into one fish. If they
cant sell it in 2-3 days they have to freeze it. They created
a demand for smaller fish, puppies is how we refer to them.
a pretty savvy group, Its how we make a living. We supply
the demand. We developed a fishery with hook, long-lining, and with
hooks you catch fish of all different sizes. So yes, the average
size of the fish has declined. We still catch big fish. The average
size of the fish they landed recently was 100lbs. I mean, thats
a nice fish. A 100 lb. fish is a good fish.
Other than landing, what about discards of small fish?
Discard is not
a factor where Ive spent most of my life east of the Grand
Banks. Were allowed 15% of our headcount to be under 40lbs
and all the years Ive fished that regulation was in place
I never even had my 15%. We try to release the small fish that are
still alive and keep the dead fish to make up our allowable percentage.
So discard is not a factor anywhere Ive ever fished.
Do you have any concerns about stocks at all?
I have concerns
in that left to our own devices we wont self regulate. Fishermen
have proven that. Thats how we make a living, we catch fish.
Everyone wants to catch the biggest fish, the most fish the fastest.
Theres a lot of healthy competition. So the rules and regulations
are needed. But Im confident that the rules and regulations
in place are enough to keep the stocks healthy.
Besides small swordfish, do you catch and toss any other discards?
I can only talk
about the areas I fish. I can only talk about the captains I fish
around. As I said, most responsible captains, I like to think us
fishermen are pretty responsible. You have to be a pretty good fisherman
just to get the boats that far away and back in one piece and we
fish a pretty terrible season to fish weather wise; its hurricane
season. So its a pretty good group of guys. We release the
fish that are still alive. Its just like catch and release
sports fishing. If the fish is alive, you let it go. If its
dead you keep up it for your allowable percentage. Nobody wants
to fish on small fish. I mean, you dont fill the boat very
fast with 20 to 30 lb. fish. You fill the boat quickly with 100
pond fish. So nobody would fish intentionally on baby fish.
Are you aware of nursery areas and are you able to avoid those areas
to allow the swordfish to breed?
and so its very seasonal in different areas. I guess the worst
thing thats happening is allowing boats to fish down in the
Caribbean and other places where fish do spawn. Ive never,
ever caught a fish full of spawn in the north, north east of the
Grand Banks. Its the wrong season for them, they arent
spawning, they go south to the warmer water to spawn. So if anything,
I guess, if theyre going to protect anything I guess theyd
protect the areas where the fish spawn down around the Caribbean.
For the stock of fish I fish on.
Have you had any experiences with by-catch or marine mammals being
affected by your fishing practices?
involved with fishing for 18 years. 16 of those have been long-lining
for swordfish and Ive had one interaction with a marine mammal.
The mammal did not die, it was a small porpoise. We released the
porpoise. It did not die. It wasnt even hooked, it had line
wrapped around its tail. We released the porpoise. It swam
off, everything was fine. Ive had interactions with turtles,
never seen a dead turtle. Hooks are very selective, obviously. Mammals
are pretty smart. They dont want to eat frozen squid, they
want their bait live. They feed themselves, theyre smart enough
not to bite a hook. Hasnt been a problem. Again, people are
misinformed. Ive never killed a bird. Ive never caught
a bird long-lining on the Grand Banks. Long-lining is a pretty clean
fishery as Ive said, other fisheries are not as clean. People
are misinformed, plain and simple. Any by-catch that I have other
than the target species of swordfish and tuna, would be Mahi-mahi,
but people eat those. Its not a waste. I dont have any
desire to kill anything that wont be used as food.
We have been talking to a lot of fishermen who say that the fish
You know what,
youve been talking to a lot of small fishermen and Im
sure thats the way they all feel. They cant make a living.
Now really, the lack of fish is inshore. Now what that tells me
is that the in shore fish have been overfished. Maybe the smaller
guys need to start tightening up and start protecting their resource.
If they cant get offshore, theyd better protect what
they have inshore.
You know, everybody
needs to make a living. The big boat guys will say the small boats
are the problem, everyone agrees theres a problem and nobody
wants to sacrifice. You know, thats just human nature. Its
always somebody elses fault.
Could you speak a little bit about a fishermans sense of what
being a conservationist means?
I am a conservationist.
I like to know there's a future in fishing for myself and future
generations. I love going to sea. I am passionate about catching
fish. One of lifes simple pleasures is going out with hook
and line catching one fish. I think its a right everyone has
to do. I am confident the fish will be round cause they are so protected.
Another idea we keep coming across is the notion that there are
too many boats chasing after too many fish. Fish are a finite resource
and the fishing fleet is getting too large
You know what,
fish are a renewable resource. If you take care of the resource
youre always going to have it. Now, all the conservation groups
have like to point the finger at overfishing. Well, the fish
stocks are declining, its got to be overfishing
What about pollution? What about loss of habitat?
There has to
be a balance between conservation you know we have to feed
the world. Fishermen and farmers, thats what were doing;
feeding the world. Now fish is a good food. Its health food.
I dont put the life of a fish on a human level. A lot of people
say, Dont you feel bad killing fish? I dont
feel bad, killing something thats going to feed me.
So, have you actually seen and caught large swordfish lately?
I know they
like to say there arent any big swordfish left. Theres
a picture in Fisherman Magazine two issues ago of me with a 200
lb. swordfish. Its a pretty recent picture, there are big
fish left. You have to know where to get them. I think one of the
problems especially on the Florida coast, if theres no bait
around the fish arent gonna be around. Where theres
prey, theres a predator. If the baits not there, other fishes
have caught the bait up or the factory trawlers have caught the
bait up. Or just because of pollution factor, or loss of habitat
the baits not there, the fish arent going to be there.
As I mentioned
a friend of mine just landed 57,000 pounds of fish. Thats
a lot of swordfish for one trip, one boat. There are fish around.
If there arent big fish off the coast of Florida, maybe they
better figure out why but its not the longlines that have
caught them all. I dont think youre going to be able
to wipe out a spawn fish with hooks. Its just not going to
happen. A few years ago nobody thought there were swordfish left
on Georges Banks. A lot of small boats went out there with hooks.
Some clever guy went out with a gill net, caught all kinds of swordfish.
Now why they arent biting the hooks, I dont know. Theres
fish out there. The gill net quota is very small. The guys go out
and catch their quota in one trip. Theres plenty of fish.
They catch their quota in one trip! Theres fish around.
Can you understand the perspective of the sports fishermen who say
that commercial fishing should be banned?
I know that
the sports fishing groups are very adamant about commercial fishing
and a lot of them would like to see an end to commercial fishing.
I dont know. Its a big ocean. I think theres plenty
of room for everyone. Im a sports fisherman in a way. I mean,
I love to go out and catch fish just for fun. But, as I said, fish
is a good food. Sport fishermen arent going to feed the country
seafood. All fish cant be farmed. Its something in our
heritage. People have been fishing since time began. Now I think
its a right, and as long as its protected and people
fish responsibly and rules and regulations that are followed.
What do you think about the current management plans?
I think a lot
of management practices are very good. I think closed areas are
good. Protecting the areas where fish spawn. Thats a good
regulation. There are bad regulations. Any regulation that has a
daily quota or a trip quota. Lets say 100 pounds a day for
codfish. Thats ridiculous. No matter what you set the level
at if its a daily quota, eventually boats are going to reach
that level and be throwing dead fish overboard. Its very wasteful.
Thats a bad regulation. I think gear regulations are good.
Only use a certain size hook or size mesh for nets. But I think
quotas are a bad way to manage because I think theyre wasteful.
a thing called high grading, which is when youre on a trip
leave quota, you throw out the small fish and you only keep the
big fish. And as the trip goes on, you do something called high
grading where you throw out the small fish youve already put
in the fish hold to replace with bigger fish that are worth more
money. Its such a waste. Thats why I think trip leave
quotas are bad. I think these quotas arent a good regulation.
Wouldnt you agree that it makes sense to protect spawning
grounds for the good of the long term health of the fishery?
Well, I agree
there are areas where you catch more small fish than others. And
theres no question about the fact that swordfish go to certain
areas to spawn. So if you can allow the fish to spawn, you know,
the fisherys going to stand a better chance. You have an agreement
I talked to another fishermen who was saying that although fishermen
here stay out of certain swordfish spawning areas, a lot of other
fishermen from other countries are not respecting the same boundaries.
know what the other areas are doing. I guess the comment I could
make about that, the ICCAT quota for the North Atlantic the
US fishermen have a very small percentage of that quota. We dont
go over our quota, we are very managed by the government, by NMFS.
Other countries exceed their quota, sometimes doubling the quota.
So it doesnt seem fair to crack down on the US fishermen who
are already in compliance with all the rules rather than just insuring
the other countries stick to their quotas. And I think thatd
be a good first step.
Could you talk about what has motivated you to fish?
I have never
fished just for the money. I fish because I like to go fishing.
I think most of the miserable people in the world are people who
just fish for the money, because certain times of the year mechanical
breakdowns or whatever. There are times you dont make any
money, so you better like what youre doing. I feel very passionate
about the lifestyle. The title of my book, The Hungry Ocean,
refers to the oceans ability to totally consume you. If you
like what youre doing, be drawn to it and be taken by it,
consumed by it. Its very rewarding. I feel very fortunate
to have spent 18 years of my life doing something I like so much.