The Zeus Packing Co. has been a lifeline during the long, unrelenting, regulated hard times for the day boat groundfishing fleet — the 60 or so remnants of what had been the world's pre-eminent fishing port.
With the groundfish complex under extraordinary protection and the fishermen rationing record small allocations of cod and flat fish in their first apportionment of catch shares, boatsmen could at least keep busy and keep the lumpers, the cutters, the packers and the truckers employed in a "trash" fish sector — skates and dogfish — that provided steady work.
Although landing prices were in the pennies — a fraction of the premium prices fetched by the fine table fish that end up in linen-tabled restaurants and East Coast kitchens, the work was dependable.
But now — despite all the empirical evidence from fishermen and the one place where it counts, the trawl surveys of the government, telling a conservation success story of a Northwest Atlantic teeming with dogfish and skates — the federal government has effectively shut down the closely related fisheries to protect stocks that would no longer seem to need protection.
So the Zeus Packing Co. is no longer packing. And the 70 to 80 people who drew paychecks from Zeus, an eight-year-old company founded in Gloucester by Spanish interests to buy, clean, pack and export to markets in Europe and Asia, are no longer getting those checks.
Kristian Kristensen, the Zeus CEO, said Tuesday he sees it all as such a waste, nearly a farce. And he attempted to document that through a tour of the refrigerated cleaning and packing rooms, about 8,000 to 9,000 leased square feet in the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction complex that thanks to NOAA actions have the ambiance of a morgue.
"Instead of laying off people," said Kristensen, "we should be hiring people."