, Gloucester, MA

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May 1, 2014

Quiet on the docks

Today's dawn of new fishing year silent amid crisis

It’s not like it used to be along the docks and wharves of Gloucester, where the city’s heralded commercial fishing fleet has spent more than three centuries harvesting the seas.

In the old days, the sense of anticipation and excitement was palpable up and down the waterfront, as springtime — and the fish — beckoned. Boats were scraped and painted, nets darned and repaired and the gear returned to working order. Winter, it seemed, was shrugged off like an old coat.

“There was a real excitement about getting back to work,” said Vito Giacalone, who grew up a fisherman and now serves as policy director for the Northeast Seafood Coalition. “You knew you were going to get back out on the water and were about to get in some solid days of fishing. There was a buzz and you just don’t hear that kind of buzz anymore.”

The docks were quiet under Wednesday’s gray and raw skies, with little of the wide-scale activity that used to mark the ramp-up to the season. Not like it used to be.

The truth is, this is a very different Gloucester fleet from its predecessors, with those differences steeped in the decline in the numbers of boats and fishermen plying their trade, but also in the size, range and complexion of the current fleet.

Gone are the days of Gloucester as a full-range groundfish port, with boats traveling out to fish the whole of Georges Bank and the expansive Gulf of Maine.

Today’s Gloucester fleet, or what remains of it, is an inshore, day-boat fleet, with a general radius of about 25 miles. In some ways, it is geographically trapped and wholly reliant on the inshore fishery whose season officially runs from May 1 to the next April 30.

This is also a fleet that operates under the dual restrictions: the declining, or at best unpredictable, nature of the populations of the groundfish they seek and increased quotas that have resulted in unprecedented restrictions to allowable catch limits since the catch-share system was instituted between 2004 and 2006 and expanded in 2010.

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