Peter Taylor is a hook fisherman in Chatham, Massachusetts and a member of the Cape Cod Hook Fisherman’s Association.


Overall, fisheries worldwide are experiencing a lot of problems with diminishing stocks and loss of fish habitat and the demise of many fisheries, so how do you account for doing well yourself in the fishing industry?

I won’t deny it — the fisheries are in tough shape. There’s too many fisheries in the business. I think there’s too many hook fishermen in the business, as well as draggers and gill-netters and it’s too over-capitalized. The government encouraged that years ago. And unless there’s a lot of restrictions, we’re facing more restrictions all the time and some of them, I’m afraid to say, are necessary. And the big thing is we really need to cut back on the amount of fishing.

How do we cut back on the fishing effort in an equitable way? We’ve heard about ITQ’s, Individual Fishing Quotas versus transferable quotas — what’s the best way to do it — buy-outs?

Well, ITQ’s are great, except when you don’t have enough fish available for everyone that has a license at the present time. So you have to eliminate the licenses and I’ve suggested this before the last boat buy-back. There’s a lot of latent permits out there, a lot of people with licenses on boats that don’t even exist. Start with offering to buy those latent permits — not the boats — just the permits back.

You’ll find that a lot of those go; those are potential permits that could cause problems for the fisheries later on. And that’s a big step in the right direction. And then I can go with more boat buy-backs and you’ll see a lot of people get out of the business. It’s taxpayers’ money but I think it’s well spent and you see how money’s wasted through the rest of the government’s activities and it’s a drop in the bucket.

They spent 25 million dollars last time and they took out a lot of boats out of the business. If they would’ve put 50 million in they’d be surprised, they’d take a lot of boats out of the business and I think that would’ve solved a lot of their problems, and I think 50 million dollars is nothing. You hear where they blow up 2 billion dollar satellites on launch and they just shrug that off and say, well they weren’t important anyway.

We’re in New England is because the collapse of the cod fishery is one of the biggest crashes in the fishing world, but somehow that’s not affecting you guys. Is this because you only go to certain areas where you’re allowed to fish you fish in a certain way?

I think the collapse is a little over-stated. I don’t feel that we ever got to the state of collapse; I don’t even think we got to near-collapse. I think we got to the point where things needed to be addressed, these issues needed to be addressed — and they have to a certain degree — more steps needed to be taken, but we never got to the point where I feel on Georges Bank the codfish were threatened to near-collapse state.

I think the scientists were wrong. I think a lot of the information the scientists have is bad science. And the trouble is policy. Fisheries policy is dictated by the science, which is tremendously flawed.

The National Marine Fishery Service is quite sure that the science is not flawed at all — that the numbers clearly indicate that the amount of cod now is only a very small fraction of what they were 20 years ago.

The trouble is, the way they acquire numbers is they’re using their antiquated draggers to make tows, they take the same tows, the same places, the same times every year. And I can understand that scientific principle behind that, but what they don’t take into any consideration is that codfish will change their behavior. And places where codfish haven’t been, we haven’t seen ‘em in 10 years, all of a sudden, for instance, this last April we were catching fish where there never has been codfish before.

So my feeling is that there’s a lot of places where these codfish are, that these people just haven’t been towing because they have never historically towed there. They never take into consideration the fact that codfish change, can change their routes, their feeding grounds, their areas — and who knows why? It could be pressure from draggers, could be pressure from fishermen, could be weather, could be climates, who knows why they do that, but that’s not taken into any of their science.

Do you think there is a potentially a future in fishing for your 9-year old son?

I wouldn’t want my son in the fisheries business. I hope to send him to an Ivy League school, honestly. And I hope he gets into something other than the fisheries. I honestly don’t see that there’s a good future for it. I see ITQ’s down the road, I see it monopolized by the large boat fisheries, and that’s what the government wants. If you look at the sea clam business, they like the way that’s managed — few corporations own all the stocks and that’s what they’d like in the cod fisheries. And I don’t know if we’d be able to fight ‘em, I honestly don’t. It’s easy for them to manage.

You are good at what you do, but do you enjoy fishing?

Honestly? Yeah, There are times I’m having fun; there are a lot of times it’s like a job, like anyone else’s job. There are times I’m having fun, there are times it’s horrible — when the weather’s really bad, the conditions are horrible, I mean you come in the wintertime we’re fighting a gale and the weather’s 10 degrees and that kind of stuff — there’s not a lot of fun in that anymore. But you know, you go out and you have a good catch, prices are good, and you know you can have a real good day.

We have a trip limit, a 2000-pound trip limit. That took away a lot of incentive. Now you can’t go with the hopes of having a good day; now if you go and have a good day, you have to throw away the fish, because all you can keep is 2000. That took more out of the fishing business and me than any rule they put in place so far. There’s no longer any incentive to work harder, because for us working harder meant catching more fish, potentially making more money. Now there isn’t any.

The scallopers are dredging — is it basically an otter-trawl with some kind of a blade?

No, it’s a metal drag. They tow two of them. Most of the boats, they’re big boats, and they’re heavy — they weigh tons, they’re in tons and not in simple pounds, they’re in tons — and they drag right on the bottom.

A good example of what these heavy scallop drags do to the bottom: when that TWA flight crashed off of Long Island and the divers and the Navy boats couldn’t pick up any more pieces, they hired scallopers to dig, to tow their rakes — they call the scallop drags rakes — to tow those across the bottom because they dig into the sea and beneath the surface and pick out pieces that nobody could find. So this is a good example right there of what the scallopers do.

We’ve heard a lot about too many boats chasing too few fish and that the fish have no place left to hide because of improving technology to find these fish, so it’s even more important to fish in a clean way. Can you comment about technology and the impact it’s had on fisheries?

We’re fishing in places that historically we’ve fished forever here, in Chatham and Harwich area. The technology really hasn’t helped us tremendously. We spent on fish finders, mine probably cost 4 or 5 thousand dollars but on any given day I’d like to throw it in the water; it doesn’t help that much, honest to god. We go where we’ve always fished, the same time of year we’ve fished places; that’s what we do, that’s what we’ll always do.

Maybe draggers who are actually chasing schools of fish have the opportunity to utilize that technology better than we do. But to us, you could probable ask a dozen of the full-time hook fishermen and they’d just say, take it away.