TRANSCRIPT - Russell Sherman
Sherman is a bottom trawl fisherman on the Captain Dutch outside
Dogbar, Breakwater in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Can you tell us why you are getting a bigger boat?
Well, I feel
that the inshore fisheries, the way the regulations are working
right now are working against us in that this boat is getting near
the end of her working life and in order to be able to be more versatile
- get more places, get around the closures and things - I shouldnt
say get around, get away from them - I need a bigger boat.
And a stronger boat. Ive got another 10-15 years left, and
the Captain Dutch doesnt, so Ive got to switch.
As much as I hate to put her away, Ive got to.
Is one reason youre getting that boat to go out further?
I have to be able to access all the areas at the times that I am
allowed by the regulations. Around the shore here, oftentimes we
have six months of closures around the shore and I either have to
accept this business as a part-time business and go elsewhere for
the rest of my years pay, or I have to expand my horizons a little
bit, my capabilities actually, my physical capabilities and be able
to go around some of these closures, go where the fish are. Use
the time that I am allowed, which is 111 ground fish days, to the
best of my ability and to be able to diversify into another field
which is a whiting fishery, which I have to travel out to Georges
for and I need a boat that I can do that safely and economically,
just to survive.
What are "days at sea" all about?
Days at sea
are probably the major reduction tool that the council has been
using to reduce the mortality rate - in this area primarily on codfish,
but on all the species - to bring the mortality rate in line with
the total allowable catch for the year and meet the conservation
guidelines that have been mandated by Sustainable Fisheries Act.
And there are opportunity days.
There are two
categories. One is an individual day at sea category, which is the
one Im in. And if you didnt choose that, for one reason
or another, theres a fleet day at sea category and that gives
you 88 opportunity days to prosecute brown fishing - fishing for
stuff. The whiting fishery is not regulated
by days at sea and so I dont have to call in to go whiting
fishing, and I dont have to use a day at sea to go whiting
fishing. And there are other fisheries as well that are not regulated
by days at sea. Its an effort-to-control tool that the council
has come up with.
Has limiting the number of ground fish days at sea hurt you? Has
it made it harder for you to make a living?
measures were put in line and yes it did hurt our ability to make
a living. Some, of course, more than others and some sectors were
hurt more than others. I feel that these conservation measures that
have been put in place, although some of them I dont like
or some of them could have been done more fairly, but I would say
overall, these measures have been very beneficial to increasing
the stocks. They have helped to bring the fish stocks back and they
will promote a viable industry, a vibrant industry, in the next
two or three years. I do believe that.
I feel the way
the current political situation is and the current conservation
situation is, that in order to survive in this industry I need a
larger vessel. I have to have more capability. And so I feel that
in this case, if you cant beat em, you have to join
em. It s too bad; its certainly a way of life
gone by the by. But if I want to survive in this business, I have
to have the ability to get around these closures and to work in
a little harder weather and I want to survive this industry. And
so I have gone forward and I am actively looking for a larger vessel.
Georges Bank is not doing well. Why are you feeling like stocks
in this area are returning?
I beg to differ
on Georges. I have participated in some of the stock assessments.
Ive been in the room. I havent scientifically participated,
but from what Ive seen the stock in the seas, the stocks are
coming back. Apparently codfish is still a problem child on Georges.
Certainly its a problem child here in the feeling of the federal
government. We feel theyre coming back. Our data, the things
we see and digest are real time data. The federals are, unfortunately,
using data thats two or three years old
I do feel the
stocks are coming back around here. We see more fish. We catch more
fish per unit effort in the same places that weve been going
for the last ten years, or some fellas for a lot more than that.
We see more fish in evidence. We see more flounders as well as more
codfish; it isnt just the one species thats coming back.
The drastic cutbacks in effort, in the fleet, the raising of the
mesh size, allowing the juvenile escapement that weve achieved,
have been very good measures and they are working.
is over 40% rebuilt on Georges according to the federal statistics.
Codfish is still a problem but they dont feel its enough
of a problem to warrant a heavy daily catch limit. The daily catch
limit on Georges now is 2,000 pounds a day. Whereas on the Gulf
of Maine codfish, which is judged in worse state, its only
400 pounds a day. I do believe that the fish stocks are coming back
and that continued good science will prove that.
You mentioned that you might be getting involved with some cooperative
research with scientists?
is an effort - and I must say its spearheaded by the state
of Massachusetts and helped along by our congressional delegation
-its cooperative research. Although none is really in evidence
now, there is money in the pipeline. It is the thing of the future.
I do believe that our scientists are good.
to Woods Hole. Ive been present at joint presentations between
Canadian scientists and American scientists. And the difference
Ive found between the two was the amount of information they
had, not their presentations, which were equally as good. But our
scientists just dont have the statistics and the amount of
data that they should have. And I feel that we can help with that
And, of course
working with people, you get to know them. There are animosities
that have developed. And I think itd go a long way to diffuse
some these animosities if people worked together. And we certainly
have the space. We have real time data, we can show them where the
fish is at certain times and I think perhaps thats a facet
of their investigation that should be looked into. We can provide
that service. There are a number of things that we can do that could
be very beneficial. And of course we need their guidance to do it
in a proper scientific manner.
How about dragging the art of dragging? It seems like it
has become almost a science. For example, you just caught a bunch
of dogfish. Why were you tossing them overboard?
dogfish plan, although the biomass is at its highest level
in years, the total allowable catch has been reached this year.
And the trip limit has gone from 600 pounds to zero pounds retention.
There are no laws in the book, no regulations in the book that say
we cannot possess them or catch them. We just cannot land them.
We differ in our assessment of the stocks. But thats neither
here nor there. I happened to run into a bunch of dogfish that I
couldnt legally land and so unfortunately I had to jettison
them. Otherwise I could have brought them in and sold them for food.
But, due to
Mother Nature, we just ran into them. I didnt want to set
out again. I didnt want to kill needlessly and waste and so
instead, we came home. And thats what weve been doing.
Its happened with codfish as well. We look at it as in the
seas of abundance, and some of the federals look at it differently.
But its an unfortunate situation, it really is. You try to
avoid what you cant sell the best you can. At times, you just
cant do it. Just cant do it.
It seems to me that the art of fishing is becoming more and more
of an art on the skippers part, to avoid by-catch and to make
sure you are not in a closed area and so forth.
true. You have to be much more aware of where you are and what youre
doing and what the regulations are. You almost have to be a Philadelphia
lawyer. Literally. Also with the days at sea and the limited opportunity
you have to make money, you have to be on top of your game all the
time. A matter of 3 or 4 hundred yards could cost you 30 or 40 thousand
dollars regulation-wise as far as closed areas go. You have to maximize
your effort on the sea.
No longer can
you say, "Oh well theres always tomorrow; today we didnt
do well, but tomorrow well do better." You have to have
that attitude, but you cant always depend on it. So, you really
have to be on top of your game all of the time. Commercial fishing
is a very competitive business; it always has been. Thats
one of the great rewards - it is so competitive. And youre
gauged by a lot of different things. How much money you make is
one of the very important things; how much fish you catch, actually.
So its very competitive and if you want to stay competitive
as the field narrows down, which it is narrowing down, the more
competitive it becomes and there again, only the strong will survive.
So it behooves you to be on top.
Have there been other skippers that have not been able to bite the
bullet while the stocks are rebuilding and who have lost their boats?
Yes there have
been other skippers that have been marginal or felt that they did
not want to live with the regulation, or they couldnt live
with the regulation. Not that they were going to break them, or
whatever, but it became too complicated, it became too much of an
issue. And either they felt that they had a good job ashore, or
perhaps they were near retirement age. This fleet has been downsized
at least by 50% in the last 6 or 7 years. And so, you have a lot
of occurrences where the regulations have at times put people out
of business and at other times made people just make that choice
themselves; ease their way out. It has happened, yes, to a great
This new boat youre buying is going to involve a mortgage
and insurance. What exactly are you taking on? It seems like you
are taking on a lot more risk, in a way.
am. I originally bought the Captain Dutch in 1984. And I
was going to have it for five years and then upgrade. That was my
original business plan, my game plan. As things turned out, it didnt
work that way.
Now, I have
to make a choice at 52 years old whether to assume another mortgage,
get a little deeper, and work harder for the next five or six years
and take that risk, because it is a risk. I have to put a second
mortgage, a second note on my house, a security note. And I have
to look at working a lot harder, frankly. I am going to have insurance
payments to make, Im going to have mortgage payments to make
that I didnt have before and its going to call for a
lot more effort. I am going to get more crew and work longer hours.
looking to the future. I hope its a good business plan, I
hope its a sound plan. But if I want to survive in this business,
I have to do it. And Ive made that decision. My wife and I
have talked about it. And weve made that decision and now
we have to go forth with it. Were not out of the woods yet.
I think if we come down and talk together in another three or four
years, then well know who was right and who was wrong.
Right now, there
are still going to be some tough times, but youll just have
to just have to work a little harder. With this business, its
funny, the people always say, the federals say well, there are going
to be so many thatll be gone - the business will go away,
the business will go away. We didnt go away. People dropped
by the wayside, but theres still a hard core left of people
that are fishermen, commercial fishermen, and thats it. Thats
what theyre going to be and thats what theyre
going to do. And I think thats what you have now and these
people who stick it out this interim period the next three or four
years, are going to be rewarded at the end. I have to believe that.
Why is it tougher for the small boaters, for the small fishermen?
of the Gulf of Maine, the codfish issue. The National Marine Fisheries
Service determined that the Gulf of Maine is near to extinction
and is in very deep trouble. We have the great fortune of having
two or three natural subterranean spots out here. We have Jeffreys
Bank and we have Stellwagen Bank and we have Tillers, which
are a natural spawning ground for many different types of fish and
the Gulf of Maine codfish. Codfish is what built this town, what
started this town over 350 - 375 years ago. Were very fortunate
to have these natural underwater things out here.
But yes, NMFS
has focused on our fishery. And it has focused the regulatory process
on our fishery. And what it has done in the beginning was that several
good and needed measures were put into effect. But it seems that
the federal juggernaut cant stop itself. It has no neutral
gear, although it was in reverse for many years. But now that it
has found forward, it can no longer find the breaks or neutral gear.
And so we, being the weak sister, have been kind of stepped on.
We see a resurgence
of codfish. This year, with the spring survey, the National Marine
Fisheries Service has admitted that there is a larger biomass than
they had formerly anticipated or than they had formerly observed
and yet we are seeing no break. We were unfortunately being forced
to throw fish overboard, in order just to make a living, in order
to get by.
When I set this
net out here, I cant say a certain percent of codfish is going
to be caught. It just cant be done. And the same when a fellow
sets a gillnet, whatever swims along and hits that is gonna get
captured and through responsible fishing practices and the fact
that we do only prosecute our fishing during the day time. Bad weather
drives us in. Were small boat fishermen. We dont have
the big fishing power to scour the ocean as it were. But yet there
are quite a few of us, and it is a way of life.
Could you just speak about the fact that a small boat has less impact
on essential fish habitat?
been talking about clear-cutting the bottom, that a bottom trawler
clean cuts the bottom. Theyve used vis-à-vis the logging
industry, which is totally, totally outlandish. Its just as
different as the dry land to the wet ocean. Its two different
things. They have nothing in common, really. Its a nice idiom.
It's a nice picture to paint, but its not a true picture.
A small boat
like this, I employ a couple of fellas. We go out daily, small horsepower.
Make a couple tows, and we come home. Let the bottom, then we farm
the bottom more than anything else. You can only reach certain areas.
Weve worked these areas for years. For generations actually
and they produce year after year after year and Id like to
think with my generation and the new generation behind me, fellows
in their 20s and 30s, that this is becoming a smarter
industry, a more ecologically favorable industry because we have
a future. We want a future and we realize that the oceans
resources are finite; they are not infinite.
have the big power to tow rock-hopper gear and stuff up over mountains
and knock boulders loose and rearrange the sub-oceanic terrain.
We dont have that kind of power. Yes, there are ships that
do have that power and do prosecute that kind of living. We dont.
And to be grouped in with such people is not right. I think what
is going to come down to in the end, is are you going to have many
small boats employing 2 or 3, in other words, feeding 2 or 3 families,
or are you gonna get down to certain few larger boats with 4 or
5 men crews?
I know the fellas
around here said, The federal government will never put us out of
business; its a way of life; they wont put us out of
business. And I reminded them of the scenes we saw on television
in the 1980s - the small family farm going on the by and by,
people standing out in their front yards auctioning off their bureau
drawers and their bedroom sets, things that theyd had in their
families for years. And it can happen. And unfortunately, to a large
extent, it is happening.
To what extent have people begun to sell their boats and get out
of the business here in Gloucester?
To a large extent.
This city, I came here in 1971 and the fleet right now in 1999,
I would say is 1/3 the size that it was in 1971 and maybe Im
being optimistic. The boat buy-out took many of the larger vessels
away. The smaller vessels have gone through this regulatory process
where their days at sea have been cut in half. The amount of fish
that they have been allowed to bring in has been cut in half.
And so their
livelihoods have been cut down and a lot of the fellows who are
older, ready to retire, gave up their boats and retired. A lot of
the younger fellas went to work inshore, for better benefits, for
a more stable wage. And not have to put up with the things we have
to put up with every day.
In many ways,
were treated like petty criminals. Now in this business, they
come to the dock, we have federal officials, state officials check
everything, overlooking down in the threshold, as if were
hiding something, as if were doing something wrong. If they
find 3 or 4 fish that are one inch or a quarter inch under the limit,
then were written up.
not the officers fault. Theyre doing their job. Theyre
told this is what you have to do and they do it. And in most cases
they execute their business as gentlemen and everything, but it
becomes wearing after a while. And when youre always presumed
guilty before you start, in this great country of ours, it really
wears heavily on people who are hard working people - tax paying
people and the people who dont want anything from anybody
- just to be left alone.
We know thats
not possible in this day and age, but really the way were
looked at is that were guilty before were proven innocent.
What construction worker has a building inspector on his construction
site every single day of the week throughout the whole project,
looking in everyones back pocket. It just doesnt happen.
Can you say something about the old guys who wish it were still
the way it was but have gotten out?
I think that
the current generation of fishermen are much more in tune with whats
going on, politically and ecologically. They realize that the old
days of boom and bust, get-em-while-you-can fishing is over,
and well it should be. A lot of the old timers when these heavy
regulations came down just couldnt stand it. They had worked
for fifty years with no regulation and all of a sudden some one
said that you have to call up Uncle Sam and talk to them before
you go fishing. Just a little thing like that, say, "Gee, Im
not going to do that; thats crazy." And many of them
turned their boats over to their sons, sold the boats, and got out
of the business. And that actually started happening in the early
90s and right now, I think youll find very few fellows
in this business. Im one of the older fellows in this business
and Im 51 years old. The fellows in their 60s and 70s
Why have you chosen to use gear that doesnt drag along the
it. Commercial fishing in general and the bottom trawling fishing
industry in particular has been under fire by many green groups,
by many scientific groups that were clear-cutting the bottom,
ruining the resource, ruining the industry. We have come back in
a lot of ways because we do have knowledge of gear. Fishing is our
business. We know where the fish are, we know how to capture them
and in this light, we have worked on different types of netting
and trawls that are more friendly.
an example in the gill net industry. Theyve come up with pingers
which they put on the end of their buoys to keep porpoise from being
entangled and its worked out very, very well. This example
of a raised foot-rope trawl here in Massachusetts is an initiated
measure and it has been approved by the state of Massachusetts and
its almost to the stage of approval by the federal government.
But we all know how slow the federal government is to grab a hold
of a good idea and run with it.
very hard to target this species which is whiting - white fish -
and exclude flounders, which was a by-catch, and also the small
flounder was the problem. Its a small mesh net and you catch
a lot of fish with it and by raising this foot-rope up off the bottom
and positioning the chain line behind the trawl itself, weve
eliminated 97% of the small flounder and flounder by-catch
Youve got a small mesh net and youve eliminated by-catch?
This trawl behind
me is a whiting trawl. It consists of a two-inch mesh and as you
can imagine, a two-inch mesh catches just about everything that
it goes by. We used to have a very big problem with this in pursuing
whiting and shrimp.
We would also
catch a lot of small juvenile flounders that were unmarketable and
of course they hadnt had a chance to spawn in the old days.
There were no rules and regulations about this and nobody really
thought much about it. Of course, in this new day and age weve
tried to eliminate this by-catch.
And the way
weve done this is to raise the foot-rope up off the bottom
and position the chains behind the trawl. We need the chain to make
it tend to make it come some place close to the bottom but when
the chain goes up and tickles the bottom, the fish go up and hit
the bottom of the net and go away. The fish that were working
for, which is whitefish, is captured by the net itself because theyre
a little bit off the bottom and so its another example of
how the industry has tried to change to become more habitat friendly
and to eliminate discard.
Discard is the
problem. The biggest problem in the commercial fishing industry
right now is discard and were working on it just as hard as
anybody else to stay in business. We want a future and unless we
come in to line with the government and the green groups, we are
not going to stay in business. A lot of us wish we were paid more
attention to by and given more credit by the government and by the
green groups, that we are making an attempt and we are trying to
cooperate and we do have innovative ways to minimize discard, to
minimize by catch.
Do you have any concerns youd like to voice about individual
transfer quotas, ITQs?
I believe that
the future of the inshore industry, these inshore grounds, which
are very fertile grounds, hinge on a couple different things. I
think they hinge on sectional regulations. In other words, I hate
to draw lines in the ocean, but draw lines in the ocean.
The people who
are going to fish on the inside, on this side of this line are going
to be stake holders and they are going to make up the regulations
to provide a living ad infinitum and the fellas outside, the big
offshore fellows, theyll have Georges Bank and those places
to work, which we cannot get to and we do not want to get to, will
set up their own rules and regulations and conservation measures
for that industry.
And so their
back is up against a wall when somebody comes by and says gee, Russ,
youve got 100,000 pounds of codfish in your quota this year.
I hear youre up against it. I hear the banks going to
take your house, yeah. Thats right. Ill give you 100,000
bucks for that fish. Geez, I could use 100,000 bucks, and I give
it to him. We trade and now my quotas gone forever. Im
out of the business and yet Im just a piece for that fellow.
And he gets a few more pieces and there again we get to talking
about the wealth, a large amount of wealth being centered in a few
hands. And thats what always happens. Thats what happens
wherever independent transferable quotas have gone into effect.
fishing quotas is a different issue altogether.
What do you mean by that - IFQs?
On the other
hand, I like independent fishing quotas because that way I know
at the beginning of a year - because I'm a businessman I do have
a business plan - I know what Ill be allowed to take and what
I wont be allowed to take and I can plan my year around that.
And when Im done with that quota, Im done fishing. Im
off the bottom. Im not bothering the fish or bothering the
bottom. Im done. Im done for the year.
And yet, I will
have a hand in judging what is a reasonable and fair fishing quota
for myself and for people who are in the same position as I am and
I think thats very important. As it is now, its whoevers
got the best boat, or the most time, or the most political pull,
gets the most fish quota. This way here, it can be done equitable
and fairly thats all we ask for, as small boat fishermen.
We ask to be regulated fairly and equitable, thats all.
People say with individual fishing quotas keeps people from rushing
such that they are able to change gear as necessary and therefore,
conserve the fishery. Do you think thats true?
I think that
has a lot of merit to it, yes. Obviously as a businessman, you are
going to take this quota, if you are given this quota, in the most
advantageous way to your own operation. And if it means that you
can tow smaller gear, use less fuel, because lets face it.
I know, if they give you 100,000 pounds of codfish for the year,
Ill tell you I know right now, where Im going to work
and the months Im going to work to get that fish. I can tell
you right now, just as soon as Im standing here. So I can
say, well instead of going out with 1000-foot net, I know when I
catch this fish, theyre actually going to allow me to keep
it and sell it. And if I can get it more cheaply, which means using
smaller nets and less days to prosecute the fishery, then Im
going to do it that way
It makes good
business sense. And in the end, knowing that Im being more
user-friendly, that Im ensuring a future for myself and everyone
else as well, it just makes damn good sense. But I am scared to
death of transferable quotas, because it ends up taking all the
wealth, and I hate to talk fish and money in the same voice because
it makes us sound like the only thing were interested in is
making money and thats not the truth. You know, we are interested
in the resource, otherwise we would do something else.
You know, fishing
is something that gets into your blood. I think Linda Greenlaw speaks
very eloquently to that fact. It gets in your blood. Its something.
You talk to a tuna fisherman thats hooked up a 6 or 8 pound
tuna and he doesnt want to do anything else but that, believe
me. So its not just about money. But money, of course has
to enter into it. We all have to live. And so its a wonderful
way to make a living.
And so to take
that and put that wonderful way to make a living into just a few
hands is a sin. You have people on a board, members of a board of
directors that, its a lot easier for regulators to go and
sit down in a room of lawyers and say, no were going to hash
out the fishery regulations for the year 2000. Its so much
easier for the regulators and its so much easier for the board
members. Its an easy process.
But is it the
right process? I dont believe it is because you can have a
few large boats with four or five fellows on deck and thats
it. Thats the fishing business. Theyre going to deliver
the protein. Theyre going to deliver the product. Theres
no doubt about that. Isnt it better to have many hands delivering
the same product, the same protein and having a way of life, besides
- a viable, taxable, livable way of life.