TRANSCRIPT - John Pappalardo
Pappalardo is a hook fisherman in Chatham, Massachusetts.
John, why do you hook fish?
I use a hook
and a line. Thats the way I started fishing. I was a recreational
fisherman for a long time and Ive actually only been at the
commercial racquet for two years or so. But I think it was the obvious
and easy changeover. I knew how to use a hook and a line, so I could
make money at it. And living here in Chatham, its pretty easy
to get on a boat as a crew member.
And after that,
I saw that there were some benefits to fishing with a hook and a
line that I wasnt aware of. But I didnt know about that
until I started looking at all the other gears and listening to
what fisherman had to say and doing a little research and getting
the science of it all. And found out that one of the neat things
about fishing with a hook and a line is you can bring the fish up
alive and if its something you dont want or you cant
sell, you can just unhook em and release em. And that
was sort of a carryover from recreational fishing. Thats something
that you cant really do with other gears.
Is this kind of hook fishing a creative possibility to buck the
trend of hard times that fishermen are having?
if you look at the history of Georges Bank Im talking
about going back 350, 400 years and even before that the
Basques fished Georges Bank and other countries would actually travel
across the Atlantic Ocean in wooden sailing vessels and dory fish
for cod. And then you saw that started happening here. That was
the only way people would fish. Out of Provincetown and Gloucester.
You hear about the schooners and the dory fishermen sort
of folklore now. But it was a sustaining practice for 350 years
and its kind of hard to deny that. The facts are in, anyone
can find them. The catches back then were prolific were
talking tens of millions of pounds a year.
Basically, there has been a demise in fisheries for a number of
reasons. How is it that it is still possible to make a living hook
and line fishing?
The small group
of hook fishermen here in Chatham and Harwich is able to make a
living at it. Why are they able to make a living at it? Theyre
getting top dollar for their product. Theyre only responsible
for supporting their family their immediate family. Theyre
not some larger vessel which is part of a corporation that has a
balance sheet or a bottom line and is driven primarily by that.
Also, a hook fisherman doesnt need to bring in 10, 15, 20,
or 30 thousand pounds of fish. Hes happy with a 1,000 to 1,500
a day, and on a good day more. But there are also broker days. There
are days when you go out and you spend 1,000 dollars to make 500
hundred dollars. So it is a small business. But there seems to be
a little bit more leeway in terms of what he can absorb versus a
corporation can absorb.
How are you guys going about bucking the trend of the diminishing
fishing industry here in New England?
Again, as far
as hook fishing goes, right here in Chatham and Harwich we have
12 guys that are at it year-round and theyre making a living
at it supporting their families. And some of them have been
at it for 15 years. You know its a labor-intensive way to
fish. Its a craft. Gear is baited up on days off or on the
way out to the fishing grounds and the day is long. It is an 18-hour
a decision that these people have made. Its just the way they
want to fish. Theyre proud of the way they fish. Because they
dont feel that theyre impacting the habitat. They dont
feel that theyre catching unwanted species and throwing them
overboard. Theyre making the money that they need to make
to survive. Theyre squirreling away a little bit of cash just
like everybody else does in their retirement plan.
And I think
theyre called elitists but I think thats just because
other people are afraid to come on down to Chatham and bait up and
go hook fishing. And I say come on down. Anybody can hook fish.
It may take some time, but like I said: people have been doing it
for 300 years and it certainly wasnt the cause of the problems
that were seeing today. So, come hook fish.
Overall in New England is the industry shrinking, in your view?
Well 8 years
ago the industry took a bit of a hit. Like a lot of these big corporate
boats, the draggers, went out of business or sold out to the government
and took a buy-out and that reduced the fishing power on the seas.
But as far as
down here on Cape Cod, we havent really taken a hit and a
lot of other ports like New Bedford and Gloucester are quick to
point that out. But I think a lot of that has to do with the diversity
and the lateral ability the lateral movement of the small
boat fleet. You know, we can jump in and out of fisheries. We can
go hook fishing when the prices are right for cod, we can target
tuna fish in the summer time, and we can work on striped bass. We
happen to have another benefit in that we have a commercial shell-fishery
here, which is wild.
The bottom line
for a lot of these guys isnt as high, they dont have
to meet these great goals that a lot of these big boats have to.
And maybe its time that people slow down the way they fish
and maybe its time that they take a step back and kind of
throw some of that technology out. Maybe were chasing the
fish too fast; maybe were taking too much too quick and killing
a lot of things in the process.
I always look
at it as an analogy of a hunter in a forest. If I was hunting minks
to make a coat or hunting deer I wouldnt use a bulldozer to
hunt these animals and wreck everything in its path. Id use
traps or Id single one out individually. And thats kind
of like fishing. A hook fisherman uses a baited hook to catch a
single fish. This leaves the habitat from which that fish came from
completely intact thus ensuring a place for other fish to
grow up, instead of plowing it over and then saying, "ohh,
wheres all the fish?" Well, hey man, you wrecked their
home. Theyve moved on, if theyre still around.
What plans do you have in marketing your product and the value-added
part of it?
is more valuable because it hasnt been sitting in the water
for three days or two days. It hasnt been smooshed in the
end of a dragger bag, the cod end of a bag; it hasnt been
at sea on ice for days on end. These fish are caught and brought
to dock and in market within 12 hours from the time theyre
caught. It doesnt get any fresher than that unless you go
out and get it yourself.
been rewarded for that. People will pay more for our product, especially
now with this environmental trend thats sweeping the nation.
People are getting more conscious of what they eat, where it comes
from, how its caught, how its killed, how its
prepared, and how its stored.
going to kind of take it a step further and starting next spring
were going to start trucking our own fish. Were going
to all get together and put all our fish on a truck and bring it
up to the display auction, because when you put it side by side
with these other methods of fishing, theres no comparison.
We hope to market our own fish for ourselves and bring the return
back home and not pay pennies to the pound to all the middlemen
in between. And again: we think thatll be an incentive for
other people to start fishing that way.
What more can you say about individual transferable quotas?
quota concept scares a lot of the small boat guys, because I think
they feel theyve been unjustly treated, unfairly treated,
by the government. Whenever the government introduces a new management
plan it usually doesnt bode well for the family fisherman.
of an individual transferable quota is not palatable here
in New England. Were mostly small community-based fishermen,
regardless of gear type. Theres a feeling that, and we saw
it in the surf clam fishery here, that now you have eight boats
that basically own this resource. Its common property and
here we have 5 or 6 people that have the rights to take this resource.
I know the positive sides of the argument but as far as were
concerned, we wont win out and we wont even be able
to keep what we have, which is our individuality, our right to go
fishing, our right to choose to stay home. All of these things change
when you go into an individual transferable quota system.
with the individual transferable quota system, if it does come into
New England, on a personal note: I wont be able to get a boat,
and I wont be able to go fishing. This is what I want to do.
Thats why Im doing what Im doing right now. Im
trying to clean up this fishery so I can get into it and live in
it. It just doesnt look good right now.
Why do you say that? Does it have to do with the fact that allocation
is based on a catch history?
Actually I have
zero catch history right now because Im a crew member. The
catch history stays with the permit. So I could have been a crew
member here for 15 years and brought in tens of thousands or even
hundreds of thousands of pounds and my name is not associated with
that work or with that knowledge. And theres a big fear that
the big boats have the staying power but the small boat cant
live through all these regulations and these shifts. The bigger
boats have opportunities to stay at sea longer, and fish on several
different species that we cant catch with a hook.
fishermen, and thats all we can catch. So when they
talk about cod thats our life. When they talk about
cod and a dragger is listening, hes concerned because that
represents a small portion of his catch, you know. Thats money
that he might not be able to make. But he has the ability to go
catch mid-water fish like a herring, or a mackerel or even squid
or shrimp. He can chase other fish on the bottom like flounders
and gray sole we cant do that. All we can catch
So when they
start talking about a quota system for cod fish or for ground fish
we just dont think we can stay in the industry long enough
with the small allotment that were assuming were going
to get because of our small catch history to make it worthwhile.
And eventually whats going to happen is these big boats are
just going to be lurking in the shadows and theyre going to
buy up our quota. And youre going to have 6 boats catching
all the cod in a manner thats reprehensible.
You guys seem kind of proud of the fact that you are hook fishermen.
There must be some reason there.
of two fold.
a tradition involved with hook fishing something that dates
back four hundred years. And especially here in my community
in Chatham, and in the neighboring town of Harwich, and even up
in Provincetown, guys that have hook fishing with jigs or long lines,
you know, for generations. So its something thats really
held on here. It hasnt held on in other communities, but here
on the Cape, were pretty proud of hook fishing.
But also, when
you dig a little deeper and you start looking at hook fishing verses
other methods of fishing, such as a gill net, or an auto trawler
a big dragger which is the predominant method of fishing
for ground fish here in new england, you start to notice very obvious
differences. Speaking specifically about habitat and the effects
of fishing gear on a habitat.
if you drop a hook overboard, and catch your cod, youve taking
that fish out of the water, but you havent left behind destruction.
You havent destroyed the bottom the way an auto trawler has.
Also if you drop that hook over, and you catch your cod, youve
caught that cod. But if you throw a net over, a gil net over, ah,
theres a good chance you are going to catch a lot of things
youre not looking for. And you dont have the opportunity
to return that species, that animal, to the water the way you do
with a hook, alive.
There must be some by-catch involved in long lining. Whats
your take on bycatch?
We do have bycatch.
You know, there is no clean way to fish. The cleanest way to fish
is not to fish. With hook fishing, we do have the ability to return
these fish to the water a lotwith a higher degree of certainty
that they are living, compared to other types of gear.
How did the culture develop around this manner of sustainable fishing?
has had a cod fishery for almost four hundred years. If you go to
our state house, theres a big cod fish over the door. New
England was built on cod dollars, on the salted cod, on the cod
trade. Hook fishing has been here the longest. Hook fishing has
the best track record. It wasnt until thirty or forty years
ago when heavy duty, industrialized fishing came to New England,
first with the foreign fleets, and then when we kicked the foreign
fleets out in 1976, our government made it easy for corporations
and fishermen to build similar boats that were plying the waters
and it was then that we started to see a decline in stocks.
started to notice a decline in habitat areas because thats
what a hook fisherman depends on. A hook fisherman needs hard bottom
needs habitat, needs structure to find fish, thats
what he depends upon. And hes returned to those spots year
in and year out for generations. Those spots are safely guarded.
Theyre secrets. We pass em down, from father to son,
from grandfather to grandson. Those areas have disappeared. Thats
a fact, we know this.
What do you love about fishing?
For me, its
getting to know another part of the world. I think thats what
the ocean is another part of the world. And the idea that
youre out there with your line and your pulling it up and
you dont know what youre going to pull up; theres
some excitement in that. And the chance to make an honest days
pay and come into the dock, throw your fish up on the dock and have
a tangible result from your days work. Those are all some
of the things that I really enjoy about fishing.