Capt. Joe Orlando has been a stalwart of the Gloucester fleet for more than 35 years.
He has an instinct for fish and an appetite for justice. Right now, he contends, there's a lot more of the former than the latter.
Orlando, 56, was a child when his family emigrated from Sicily in 1963 and settled in Milwaukee, where his uncle lived. But it wasn't right for Orlando's father, a fisherman in Sicily.
In the early 1970s, a helping hand was extended by Tommy Brancaleone, whose family made up one of the legendary high-lining crews of the post-World War II era. Brancaleone invited the Orlandos to come to Gloucester to fish.
"When we started, the health of the fish stocks was pretty good, but not as good as it is now," said Orlando, who maintains a fishing business with his son Mario via the 65-foot dragger Padre Pio.
The early '70s was the time of the big offshore draggers, at the end of Gloucester's last heyday.
What ruined the industry back then were foreign factory boats. They were expelled after the first Magnuson-Stevens Act established the 200-mile exclusive U.S. zone in 1976.
But the government erred when it then encouraged a buildup of the fleet through easy credit. The result was a fishing "bubble" not unlike the recent real estate bubble.
The excess of boats did nothing to protect the stocks of fish.
Orlando believes the government is erring today again by implementing a system of catch shares that he believes is unjust.
He recalls that, years ago, fishermen were advised to "get off of groundfish" to relieve overfishing of cod, haddock and similar species. Many fishermen did, shifting to other species whose stocks had not been weakened by fishing pressure.
But when the federal government last year decided to determine groundfish catch shares based on catch histories, they effectively penalized those who heeded its advice and rewarded those fishermen who "kept pounding the overfished stocks."
He sees another ethical lapse in the system. Although the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires equal treatment for all groups, the government last year voted to use 5-year catch histories for two special interest groups — Cape Cod hook fishermen and recreational fishermen — and a 10-year catch history for the main group of commercial fishermen.
The decision favored the two special interests because fish were more abundant during the 5-year window.
The effect, Orlando said, was like stealing. He estimates 1.2 million pounds of cod were denied the main group of commercial fishermen.
Orlando says he appreciates the way the catch share system guarantees him a given amount of fish and liberates him from the pressure to participate in "derby fishing."
But the political decisions that made some winners and some losers, "that's just not right."
"I'll be OK," Orlando said, "but that doesn't make it right."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com.