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September 5, 2013

Fishermen's sea time spent on the docks

The view from the back deck at The Gloucester House on Wednesday was of a pristine, late-summer afternoon, with sunshine streaming through a cloudless sky and glinting off the deep blue harbor in a tableau suitable for framing.

The view through Al Cottone’s eyes, though he sat on the very same deck, was far different.

Where the uninitiated might have seen the quaint calm of New England’s famous port, Cottone continues to see inaction and the economic withering of one of the world’s great commercial fishing fleets.

Where someone who doesn’t fish for a living might have seen glorious sunshine slowly edging toward evening, Cottone, the owner and captain of the 45-foot Sabrina Maria, saw only saw dark clouds figuratively massing on the horizon.

“I haven’t been out (fishing) in a month,” Cottone said. “I’m like everyone else. Everyone is devastated.”

It is a common lament throughout the harbor, as the city’s commercial fishing fleet struggles through one of the worst years in its long and vivid history, a year in which NOAA slashed groundfish quotas based on scientific data that fisherman not only question, but suspect to be purposefully inaccurate.

Their distrust of the federal regulators is palpable and deep. Perhaps worse, that exodus of that trust now seems to have taken all their hope with it.

“There used to 16 boats tied up right around where we are now,” said veteran fisherman Joe Orlando, owner and skipper of the Padre Pio. “Now there’s one. Mine.”

Orlando said he has spent the last couple of months fishing for whiting just to make ends meet, pay his bills and keep his boat working. But there still must be sacrifices. Some things have to go and others, such as repairs and maintenance, have to be put off.

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