TRANSCRIPT - Joe Sinagra
Sinagra is a bottom trawl fisherman in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
In general, what is happening with the fish stocks around here?
The fish stocks
are charging back right now. Were seeing more fish than we
have in the past ten years. They are growing stronger and stronger.
Ten years ago,
I was skipping a rather large boat out of Maine. I could see what
was happening. There were hardly any fish. Stocks were kind of depleted.
I quit fishing for awhile. I came back after two years and I could
see that things were starting to change a little bit. And now, that
I am back and heavy into fishing again, I see cod fish place I have
never caught them before. There seems to be quite an abundance of
cod. Ive been up to Nova Scotia talked to the fisherment
up there. In New Foundland, where supposedly there are no cod, the
stocks are up to where they were in the 1950s.
to go fishing for them, but the biologists say we dont understand
where they came from, therefore you cant. So, its the
harvesters. The harvesters are out there they see whats
going on. But the biologists cant catch these fish
they cant see them, so they believe theres none.
Do you believe these people who say that that the levels in New
Foundland are up to where they were in the 1950s?
I get the Canadian
newspaper. The official commercial Canadian fishermans newspaper
up there. And even the biologists admit, yeah theres a huge
abundance of cod here. But they just dont know where they
came from. Theres all kinds of things that affect fisheries
besides fishermen. Theres weather, theres the gulf stream
breaks off a puts warm water in places. Theres all sorts of
forces besides us. We can be part of the solution as part of the
gear technology. This is how fisheries are run today.
Theres a lot of people who have said that the depletion of
cod stocks was due to bottom trawling. What is an example of how
you can you fish for cod with your gear in a sustainable way?
with the bottom trawlers in the 40s and 50s was you
had very big boats with very little horsepower.
The gear that
they towed, the rollers that they would use to get over the bottom
were made out of wood. The spaces in between were made out of wood.
That didnt tend bottom as hard as all this rubber does today.
We have rollers that sometimes in the middle of the night weigh
80 pounds, that kind of thing. If we kind of regress. You know,
instead of driving 65 lets drive 45 again. I think that will
help. Its like computers. Youre not going to throw away
your computer, but if its bad for you and you find out its
bad for you and theres a screen that you can put in front
of it to save you, youll do it. Youre not going to throw
away your computer. Lets get away from the finger-pointing,
lets fix it.
Did I hear you say that for herring, youve got some sort of
thing that keeps your net off the ground?
Well this net
that I use right now is for whiting. Usually a whiting net would
be a chain net that would have chain on the bottom that would be
planked hard down on the bottom. If you do that youre going
to catch a lot of flounders, lobsters, other things that are not
your target species. This net that I use today is called a double
foot rope net. It has 48 inch of drop chains, the chain is on the
bottom, the net is 48 inches above the bottom. If we get enough
flounders to cover a bottom bushel a day, thats pretty darn
good. We might get one or two lobsters a day. Otherwise wed
probably get a few hundred lobsters, and a few hundred pounds of
flounders. We dont get that. So thats one example of
cleaning up the fisheries.
Can you explain, using yourself as an example, how a fisherman can
reduce by-catch as a bottom trawler?
for example this net here that I have aboard my boat right now is
a whiting net, which I a small fish that kind of tends bottom but
really is a little bit above the bottom. With this net here we have
48 inch of drop chains, this net is 48 inches above the bottom,
so we get more of our target species and very little by-catch with
this kind of rig.
Some people say that young cod rely on the structure on the bottom.
They say that bottom trawlers are doing damage to the ocean bottom
and therefore fishermen are shooting themselves in the feet as far
as the fishery is concerned.
Well some of
that could be true but its an appropriate gear for the appropriate
bottom. As I was saying before, the gear that we put down on the
bottom now, some of these larger boats with these 80 pound rollers
that can get over these kind of substraits, yeah, Im sure
that hurts the habitat. If we went back, put smaller rollers on
or even went back to the wind rollers were not going to get
over this kind of bottom and if we do that were going to create
primary marine sanctuaries, and you know, the habit will be healthy.
happened here is that throughout the ages, throughout the history
of dragging, we have gotten more efficient at getting over substrait.
Boats used to use wooden rollers, wooden spaces in between. Now
everything is hard rubber, heavy rubber, which allows us to get
over more and more bottom. And when we do that kind of thing, yeah,
Im sure that we do hurt habitat. I think the drag has a bad
name, but I think its appropriate in some kind of bottoms
hard sand, mud. I dont see why not. But this other
type of bottom, yeah, Im sure it does. So lets roll
back the clock a little bit.
Have these been tough times for you?
Well it has
and it hasnt. I think what we need to do is use your imagination.
Theres all kinds of things that we could go after, what we
really need is marketing. Marketing I think is key. When I was out
to the Culinary Institute of America this past weekend talking about
fishing, you know fish is flown in all over the world. Gloucester
used to be the biggest exporter of fish in the world, now we import
fish. But the fish is still there, were just not marketing
properly. Herring were so much in Europe and Canada, were
getting cents a pound for it, a few cents a pound. Theres
value-added. We could do more value-add. This whole harbor was nothing
but value-added products. Every wharf did some kind of value-added.
Theres no value-added anymore. Weve got to get back
to value-add in our products and have the fishermen integrate it
into the end user price of these products.
I know what value added means, but what is an example of a value
Well it was
before the days of refrigerated box cars or planes, so you had to
do something with the fish. It had to be salted, it had to be cured,
it had to be pickled, it had to be canned. You know, these products
could be done again today. Gourmet type products. You know, we could
sell a lot of this stuff right over the web. It could work out for
The hook fishermen weve talked to in Chatham who talk a lot
about a value added product say they are going to bring their fish
down to the auction and get a better price for their product is
in better shape.
I think thats
part of it, thats one step. I would go further, though. I
would take my fish out of New England. I would take my fish out
west, to the western part of the states, to the farm countries,
maybe even do a little trading with the farmer markets and the fisherman
markets. Get the fish to the people out there that never get to
Can you speak to whats been happening in Gloucester?
a lot less boats than there were, a lot less. You know, with all
the rules and regulations that we have on us, you cant support
a crew and their families on 30 pounds of cod a day. You know, its
ridiculous. Were throwing hundreds of thousands of pounds
overboard daily in New England, dead. We cant bring
em in, its just. . . its a shame, its a
sin against God. Whats wrong with putting a law in, like an
overage. You know, give us an allotment, give us something that
we can live on and if we catch more why throw it overboard dead?
Lets bring it in. Dont let the fishermen get paid for
it, let them get maybe a couple cents a pound, enough to put into
a fund to help fund ourselves through. If we do that we start taking
control over our fisheries, start funding ourselves, then we can
put grants to ourselves for gear technology because nobody is
Would you want your kids to get into fishing? Is there a future
I see a big future in fishing if we all clean up our acts because
the ocean is changing dramatically. We see things out here that
we never saw before. It wasnt the fisherman that brought these
things. Look at the area. Down in Plymouth Sound. Did the fisherman
do that, no, thats all hog farms and things like that. We
all gotta clean up our act. The ocean is changing, the water temperature
is changing and theres global warming. You know, all these
things affect the ocean. Airborne pollutants.
Something we read in all the literature is the idea of too many
boats fishing after too few fish. What do you think about that idea?
speak for other ports because Ive never been out in the West
Coast or anything like that, but you know some of these boats steam
to Georges. It takes them 18 hours to get there, theyre steaming
all that way, they dont even see a boat. I brought
two boats home from Nova Scotia. I never seen a boat until I got
close to shore. Theres hardly any boats left here.
So I dont buy that in New England that theres too many
What is your take on ITQs (Individual Transfer Quotas)?
transferable quotas is a way to destroy family fishing and destroy
seaports up and down the coast, thats all that does. It consolidates
the fisheries into a few hands, then those few hands could sell
it to a multi-national corporation. It could happen, it has happened
in many places where the fishermen dont even own the fish
thats outside their front door any longer. It privatizes the
ocean. And they always use the story of the tragedy on the Commons
thats always brought up. The true tragedy on the Commons
was when they kicked the peasants off the land that managed it for
thousands of years and the wealthy landowners brought sheep in
that was the tragedy of the Commons but nobody hears that.
Thats when they privatized it, thats when it
went down the hill.
How do we save the fisheries?
Well, gear technology
again is a way to save the fisheries and to regulate it from now
on, I believe. As I said before, put the fishermen in the room together,
wed all finger-point, lets admit what the dirty practices
are and lets come up with better and sustainable and ecologically
friendly ways to fish. I was involved some years ago in a grant
to market cape shot, dog fish. We hook-caught these fish. One of
the first things I noticed there was 60 to 70 percent of the fish
that we caught were . . the jaws were broken because the fishermen
didnt take the time to unhook em. They bust the jaws
off through these two rollers, we call em crucifiers, because
theyre too small for the market.
A lot of the
problems the market dictates to us, too. You know, they want
fish this big or they want this color or that color. Well, you know,
you cant put a little sign on the hook "Sorry, Charlie",
youre the wrong size, youre the wrong color. Youre
going to get . . . by-catching things that you cant bring
in." So I thought to myself why not put a little spring in
the middle of that hook that will flop down at so many pounds per
square inch, that wont break a jaw. Little things like
this could help us if we can get this kind of dialogue going between
fishermen. We gotta take back our fisheries.
going to rip a lip, but thats going to heal. But Im
not a hook fisherman. But I came up with that idea. You know, a
hook fisherman might come up with a better way to drag, I dont
know, lets get it done.
The hook fishermen in Chatham want to include on the packaging of
their product that the fish was caught in Cape Cod by hook fishermen.
They are appealing to the conscious consumers. Does that idea appeal
It does and
it doesnt. It appeals to me in one sense. I think thats
a very good idea. We tried to do the same thing with the cape shad.
But on the other hand, those guys are below the line where they
can catch the fish, were the ones that. We cant catch
em. Thats not quite fair I dont think. I dont
think the fish know theres a border, or theres a certain
line that they have to turn around.
like Nova Scotia. They have some laws that are better than us, and
we have some laws that are better than they do, but, its one
eco-system. We should have the same laws for everybody.
It seems that certain industry interests have dominated these regional
councils. How do you deal with that? How do you fix that?
a tough one. Thats really a tough one. The only way I can
think of fixing it is disregard the council, do an end-run. The
fisherman gotta get together, but its hard to do because when
certain user groups are getting what they want and the other guys
arent, they dont care. So if we can get all the small
boat fishermen, because thats whats really getting pounded
now is the small family fishermen are getting pounded. If we can
all get together and bypass the council, I think we might have something.
I think we need
a huge public awareness campaign of whats happening to us.
I was just out to the Culinary Institute of New York, I asked them
about cod. Everybody in the audience said oh, youre a fisherman?
Too bad, theres no cod out there, you must be starving. When
I tell them Im falling over thousands of pounds a day like
every other fisherman up here theyre shocked, they cant
believe it. But this is what they hear, this is what they see in
print, this is what they hear on TV. We need to get our word