Joe Orlando still wakes up in the night, when the wind is whistling, and wonders if he should go down to the Gloucester House and make sure the Padre Pio’s lines are secure.
There still are days when the longtime Gloucester fisherman, as if lured by something invisible and irresistible, finds himself heading toward the dock to check on his boat.
“I say to myself, ‘What am I doing’?” Orlando said.
He is doing what he’s done for the past 30 years, what he’s done since he bought the 65-foot steel fishing boat in 1983 in partnership with his sister Angela Sanfilippo and her husband John.
There’s only problem: Orlando no longer owns the Padre Pio.
Buffeted by the same economic and regulatory forces that have blown cannon ball-sized holes in the once-legendary Gloucester small-boat fishing fleet and unable to make a living in the only manner he’s ever known, Orlando sold his boat on Nov. 11.
In doing so, he joined the growing ranks of the fishing displaced and became, at least for now, a man of the land, an unperson of the sea. His boat, though now the possession of a Boston fisherman, is the phantom limb he still feels.
“My wife Nina says it’s not like we lost a boat, but like we lost a member of the family,” Orlando said. “That’s how important that boat was to us.”
He is sitting in a Gloucester breakfast shop, a cup of coffee and a jelly-filled cruller in front of him. He is wearing a black hoodie and a couple days’ worth of stubble. A black ball cap, with the logo of the Fishing Partnership Support Services, sits atop his head, a meager deterrent to the frigid and unwelcoming day outside.
As Orlando speaks, you can almost feel the rush of years flying past, a flashing reel of three decades at the helm of the same boat, of days upon days on the water, hauling by hand and winch his very living and life from the waters of the Atlantic.
How many trawls in 30 years? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Maybe even that’s conservative.
How many fish came over the side? Millions? It has to be millions.
It was the life he chose, as his father and his father before him.
“I’ve been fishing since 1974 and there’s nothing better than getting up in the morning, being your own boss and going to work to make money for your family,” Orlando said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
But it’s not what he feels now. What Orlando now feels is the flame of anger, burning at the man-made forces of regulation and bureaucracy he believes have ruined the commercial fishing industry and left him no alternative but to sell his boat because it was too big and expensive to run for what he was allowed or able to catch.
He hardly is alone. Within the past five months, Gussie Sanfilippo sold the Lily Jean, Dennis Robillard sold the Julie Ann II and Joe DiMaio sold the Princess Laura, and many other fishing vessels remain for sale, according to Orlando and information from David Leveille, manager of the II Northeast Fishery Sector Inc.
“I’ve spent my whole lifetime fishing,” Orlando said, his voice rising with each word. “I did everything they wanted me to do. I never broke the law.”
He considers that worthy of repeating, though now his voice falls back, softer though no less emphatic.
“I never broke the law.”
For Orlando, the blame lies squarely with the politicians and bureaucrats at agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and on up the federal ladder to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Commerce.
He also reserves a special measure of bile for the scientists employed by those agencies, who he said have repeatedly lied to and mislead fishermen. He blames them for initially saying the drastic cuts in the allowable catch quotas for cod and flounder would allow the stocks to regenerate before they came back with the dreaded words “upon further review ...”
Orlando said his biggest mistake was taking them at their word and investing $400,000 to buy three additional fishing permits with an eye toward things turning around in 2014 for himself and his son, Mario. Instead, things have gotten worse, so bad that he had to lay off his own son, who has landed on his feet with a job at Gorton’s.
“I’m pissed off,” he said. “I did everything they told me to do. Now they’ve made it look like it’s all the fishermen’s fault. (NOAA northeast regional director) John Bullard talks about how we’re at a day of reckoning. The day of reckoning should have been for them, not for us. I’m out of work, but they’ve all still got their jobs.”
Others, having escaped the frustration and burdens of a withering industry, would walk as far and as quickly away as possible. Not Orlando. He is a fisherman and will remain one. He plans to buy another boat, something fiberglass and in the 40-foot range, and return to fishing.
“I have no regrets about the decision I made,” he said. “I made the right decision with the choices I had. I had the perfect boat. Now, I want a smaller perfect boat.”
The rub, of course, is the cost. Everything he’s looked at so far would run him between $300,000 and $400,000 and require a mortgage — no small concern in an industry with no predictability or stability moving off toward the future.
And when he buys his new boat, what will he name it? His old boat was named for the Italian Catholic priest of the Capuchin order, Pio of Pietrelcina, who was born Francesco Forgione in 1887 and died in 1968.
The sale agreement with the Boston fisherman that bought the Padre Pio stipulates he must retain the name, so that’s probably out.
“Maybe I’ll name it the Santo Pio, since they made him a saint,” Orlando said, referring to Pope John Paul II’s cannonization of Pio in 2002.
The implication is not lost that he and the rest of the shrinking fleet of Gloucester fishermen will take all the divine help they can get.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT