TRANSCRIPT - David Horton
Horton is the owner of McCleans Seafood in Fairhaven,
Dave, what is your sense of the state of the fisheries in the North
handling swordfish off these distant water long line boats for about
20 years. We havent seen a whole lot of drop-off in catches.
We have seen some size reduction over a few years back in the late
80s and early 90s. My overall view or sense of it is
that the fishery is really pretty solid.
We just had
a trip come in last week with about 55,000 pounds of swordfish with
a 120-pound average weight. It was one of the better trips weve
had in a couple of years. So the fishery is going back. Its
being very well managed here in the United States. Ive heard
that some scientists in Canada had some pretty good numbers for
us for last year so there seems to be a sense of starting to rebound
was never in any dire straits as perhaps some people with the conservation
groups and other people might have tried to lead people to believe.
There was some over-fishing for a few years back in perhaps the
70s and 80s but things seem to be very well under control.
The fish are being managed very, very well with the National Fishery
Service and I believe that were going to be here for quite
awhile in the swordfish business.
What is a typical year of handling like?
target is to handle the distant water boats here in the United States,
the local fleet. We buy fish from about 20 boats that fish the grand
banks and Georges Bank here in the summer and the fall. These boats
then go down to the Caribbean and we buy a lot of fish out of Florida
and the Gulf and out of the Caribbean area and fly those fish fresh
back into Boston and New York.
So we handle
these boats year round. We follow them around wherever they go and
try to keep the price up for em and put some money back into
their pockets. In addition to that we also buy fish from a number
of other foreign countries that have developed long-line fleets
as well. We buy fish from four or five different countries in South
America Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Ecuador. We
also buy fish from South Africa; were buying fish out of Australia,
which is fairly new in the last couple of years; and in New Zealand.
We also buy a lot of fish from the Canadians in the summer and fall
Its flown in, I take it?
The fish from
the boats that we handle are loaded at our dock or when theyre
in foreign ports. Yes. We load them and we fly them in. Its
all flown in fresh. Most of the fish that we load is flown in within
12 to 24 hours of when its unloaded.
Whats your sense of the offshore fleet?
The fleet itself
has shrunk a little bit. As far as the boats that are fishing here
its shrunk substantially. Probably a good 30 or 40 percent
over the last 3 to 5 years. There have been a few boats that have
gotten out of the fishery but most of the reduced fishing effort
here in New England has been due to boats relocating. Weve
had six of our boats relocated to the Pacific, fishing in Hawaii.
Another couple of boats we used to unload one went to Peru,
one "The Seneca" now is down in Brazil. And weve
had a few boats that have gone to other countries. But overall,
Id say in the last 5 years we probably have about 35 to 40
percent fewer distant water long-line boats fishing the North Atlantic
than we had four or five years ago.
What is your sense as to why theyre goingwhy the boats
are moving elsewhere?
There are several
reasons. One is weve been under a management plan which has
produced a series of cutbacks in our quota. We had a quota of about
6 million pounds 10 years ago. Today were living with a quota,
which is four million. So a lot of the boats thought that perhaps
they were not going to be able to fish year roundthat theyd
only be able to fish 3,4 months so they decided to go. Some boats
decided to go to the Pacific, where there are no management rules
in place yet and there are no quotas and they can fish year round.
Some of the
other reasons why some of them left were that three years ago the
National Fishery Service instituted a catch limit, so the boats
can only come in with 30,000 pounds of fish. The larger, 90, 100-foot
boats that are million dollars boats really couldnt survive
with a catch of 30,000 pounds and come in. Its an expensive
proposition to gear it up and go to the grand banks for 30 days
and come back, between fuel and gear and grub and the light sticks
and the whole ball of wax. So these boats that were used to catching
50 or 60,000 pounds a trip didnt think they could make it
with these smaller reduced limits on their catch and that was part
of the reason why some of them left as well.
Some conservation groups say that the north Atlantic swordfish is
being over fished. Do you agree?
No I dont
agree. The swordfish boats that are fishing the eastern side of
the North Atlantic are under strict management measures. We have
quotas. And the quotas have been cut back 10 percent every year
for the last several years, so the fishing effort has been reduced
and the stock is being managed very well here in the North Atlantic.
So I feel very confident that the Canadians and the U.S. fleet are
not over fishing. Theyre law abiding fishermen, theyre
adhering to the laws and regulations, and theyre tying up
their boats when the quotas are met.
a tremendous amount of reporting and enforcement that goes to that
as well, to make sure that happens. There may be some instance of
some over fishing with some of the countries in the western part
of the North Atlantic. I know that even though were all living
under a quota situation and reduced quotas, I dont believe
the enforcement on those fleets may be as adequate as it is here
in the United States. Specifically Spain and Portugal and perhaps
Japan, who are three of the main large fleets that are catching
a lot of swordfish out of the 26 members that are part of ICCAT.
Do the sword fishermen that you work with think that the stocks
assessment of the stock is pretty optimistic. You know, theres
no question, weve caught some smaller fish back in the late
80s, early 90s. I see things coming back. The fishermen
do also. Theyve been bringing great stocks this year. Its
been a phenomenal year. Theyre doing much better this year
than they did the last couple of years.
to realize that this sword fishery is a fishery that occurs in all
the oceans over the entire world. These fish not only reproduce
and live and are caught and harvested in the North Atlantic but
also the South Atlantic, the Pacific, South Pacific, Indian Ocean,
and the Mediterranean. I mean they are everywhere and are being
harvested everywhere. So the state of the overall fishery of swordfish
Id say is tremendous. The state of the fishery here in the
North Atlantic Id say is good. I dont think were
at maximum sustainable yields but were getting pretty darn
Do you think foreign fishermen are taking the same steps that you
are in the United States?
a great question. When you say foreign fishermen, Im going
to relate that to ICAT people here in the North Atlantic, as opposed
to worldwide. We live under some very strict guidelines and management
rules here in the United States and Canada, and of course all the
other ICAT nations as well. I know that we have great enforcement
here in the United States and I know in Canada as well. We are doing
a pretty good job over here.
that is seen is that even though we have the same laws, rules, regulations
and the quotas system that we have in all countries, I dont
believe that some of the foreign countries perhaps Portugal,
like Spain would be a big one to look at are adhering to
these laws as well as we are. And that has the effect of really
nullifying the management process. Because if were abiding
by the law, were getting reduced catches. Were not catching
juvenile fish. Now thats great, but if the rest of the world
doesnt do the same thing it nullifies the effect that we have.
I know. Ive
heard captains come in and theyre out there fishing with the
Japanese and the Spanish and so forth and theyll talk to a
Spanish captain and say, "gee, how many fish did you have to
discard today because theyre under-sized?" And theyll
say, "what are you talking about, we keep everything."
So thats a pretty good indication that the Spanish fleet,
for at least over the last couple of years really hasnt been
abiding by the same ICAT regulations that have been imposed on everybody.
That has a lot to do with lack of enforcement on these foreign countries
and that really needs to be addressed in a multi-national way by
our government at ICAT next time around in Madrid.
What do you think the best management ideas are for maintaining
think anyone really has the answer to that yet. What I do firmly
believe is theres a lot more work that needs to be done other
than focusing only on fishing efforts and the fishing fleet. We
have issues such as the environment, pollution of the oceans, and
habitat which is very, very important. We have spawning areas
that need to be looked at and addressed because if we can reduce
the fishing effort in spawning areas that creates a tremendous effect
on bringing back these fish.
to that theres the whole food chain we have to take a look
at. If you bring in the foreign fishing fleet like we did here back
in the 60s or early 70s when the Russians came in here
and cleaned out the herring and the mackerel, the squid, the butter
fish, the whiting. Those are the fish that marlin and swordfish
and bluefin and big eye and yellowfin feed on. If you eliminate
that bait fish, and then you go out there and say, "gee, whered
the swordfish go, it must have been over-fished," thats
not accurate science. Those fish go somewhere else because they
dont have the food theyre looking for. So theres
a tremendous amount of issues that need to be looked at and I really
think that if the environmentalists, the conservationists, and the
recreational people were really serious about brining these fish
stocks back to MSY, that they would be looking and spending a lot
more money on science because what we really need is more science.
What percentage of the product, meaning all of the swordfish that
you buy all over the world, is below breeding age?
say that the breeders need to be up to a weight of about 100
somewhere between 140 pounds before they breed. Some people have
come back in recent years saying even less and they found research
that shows breeders as low as 40 or 50 pounds.
So again weve
got a real problem with the science here. Some of your conservation
groups tends to get out there, saying its got to be 150 pounds
before it will breed thats not really true. Im
not sure science has a real good handle on it yet. But theres
no question that a lot of fish are harvested before they reach their
breeding capabilities and a lot of fish hare already bred when theyre
harvested. I dont know what percentage, it could be 50/50,
I really dont know. But you also have to understand that when
it comes to this arguing about catching small fish, these conservationists
will say, "gee, youre catching the small fish, youre
not letting them get up to breeding."
We address that
issue by eliminating being able to land under-sized fish below almost
40 pounds, dressed weight. But when you get to that issue and you
say gee, were going to start bringing in big fish they say,
gee, now youre catching the breeders. So you cant catch
the big fish, you know. So you cant win with these people
that complain about catching small fish because if you say would
you stop catching the big fish now youre catching the spawning
fish and you dont want to do that.
So in reality,
whether youre catching breeders or not, its really not
that significant because of the fact that these fish grow so fast.
They grew to maturity in 3 to 4 years, so these fish rapidly, rapidly
grow. They grow to a size of about 150 pounds within 4-5 years and
theyre breeding within 3 years. So I believe that the breeding
stock is in pretty good shape.