February 18, 2013

Fishing's decline looms; will fish consumers notice?

Jay Lindsay / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, Ron Gilson, a 79-year-old life Gloucester native, walks along the fish pier in Gloucester, Mass. In Gilson's life he's worked throughout the fishing industry from working on the wharf in his youth to a historian on Gloucester in his later life. In May, a massive reduction is coming to the catch limit for cod caught in the Gulf of Maine, just outside Gloucester Harbor, and the cuts are acknowledged by fishermen, regulators and environmentalists to be devastating, and perhaps fatal, for the historic industry. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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The crew on Gloucester fisherman Richard Burgess's two boats is family, and he said he hasn't considered selling out of the business.

"I put them out on the street, where are they going to get a goddamn job?" he said. "And these are men who have devoted their lives to feeding the country fresh fish. And now the country is stabbing us in the heart."

Groundfish accounts for 50 percent of the business for Richie Canastra, co-owner at the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction in New Bedford. He can still depend on the port's robust scallop catch, but he said he's already laid off four of 30 workers and anticipates another 10 layoffs when the cuts kick in in May.

There's talk of government aid for fishermen, after the fishery was declared an economic disaster last year. But the best hope for many in the industry seems to be a correction in the science that fishermen view as deeply flawed. There's also a belief that natural fluctuations have made fish scarce this year, and those same fluctuations can bring them back.

Canastra recalls the story about a 1928 Massachusetts license plate that featured a symbol of codfish that appears to be swimming away from the plate's abbreviation for the state. The cod catch suddenly dropped that year, prompting superstitious fishermen to demand the plate be changed to show the fish swimming toward the state name.

It was, and the cod came back to Massachusetts. It can again, Canastra said.

"My point is, there are cycles," he said.

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