In Gloucester on a diplomatic mission, the lead administrator of federal fisheries has told hands-on commercial fishermen, port business leaders and government representatives that "the system is not broken."
But Eric Schwaab, who heads the National Marine Fisheries Service, is also promising he'll do his best to fix it — while also cautioning it won't be quick or easy.
One by one, the audience let him know in a meeting Friday they did not believe either statement, but are at least hopeful of the latter.
The New England Fishery Management Council — the legislative leg of the system — is rife with "conflict of interest," commented Capt. Joe Orlando, echoing the allegations in a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford for fishing interests spread over 1,000 miles of coastline.
Noting two separate problems — excessive law enforcement, as documented by a Department of Commerce Inspector General's report — and decisions by the council to issue unequal allocations of fish, away from the main body of commercial fishermen to the recreational sector and a dissident group on Cape Cod whose executive director is council chairman, Orlando told Schwaab, "People should be going to jail."
Others joined Orlando in commenting to make different points: One, that the industry has felt patronized, ignored, and lectured to, yet never sought for its knowledge, and that the system has weakened the port of Gloucester, despite the presence just off shore of fish stocks that are surging in size.
"We need to bring cooperation back to clean up the mess we're in, " said Vito Calomo, a former fishing captain, who now advises U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., on fishing issues. Calomo described a port that seems a skeleton of what, not too long ago, was a bustling center of marine industry.