For the three dozen inshore gillnet Gloucester-based fishermen in Northeast Sector 3, regulatory constraints have flattened the earth and left them gazing in trepidation over the edge into an abyss.
Added together, their years on the water comes to hundreds in rough numbers, yet the fishermen measure the uncertain future not in decades or years, but in months and see what time is left to their businesses as somewhere between bleak and nonexistent.
The desperation shows on their faces and in the risks they’re taking to keep their mom-and-pop businesses on a lifeline.
Take John Montgomery. With in-shore gillnetting prohibited in February and March as a harbor porpoise conservation measure, Montgomery took his 42-foot F/V Chandelle deep into the treacherous waters of the wintry Atlantic drop nets for monkfish.
”It took me 131/2 hours to come home at 4 knots” into the face of a gale, he recounted. “I shouldn’t even be out there in a boat that small.
”This is what I have to do because I can’t fish inshore,” Montgomery said during a visit to the Times last week along with a half-dozen commercial fishing colleagues.
Steve Smith told of how he has been forced to take the Lori B, a 45-footer, to fish for monkfish far from the shores of Cape Ann — on a month-long trip that yielded virtually no profit. The gillnetters operate at competitive and regulatory disadvantages. For one thing, the small scale of their enterprises mean that the cost of observers, which at least for now are being shifted in part on their boats, becomes a nearly insuperable burden, costing as much or more than the gross value of their landings.
The same cost of observers $300 to $600 a day becomes proportionally smaller as the boats become larger and their haul greater. The offshore trawlers can much more easily absorb these observer costs which are self-evidently regressive.