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August 13, 2013

Fish supplies hurting whale watch ventures

There are more signs that it’s not just commercial fishermen who have felt the bite of declining and shifting fish stocks in and around the waters of Gloucester and Cape Ann.

The same is true for many of the sea-going adventure businesses that ply their trade out of Gloucester Harbor.

You only have to go back to your elementary school maritime food-chain lessons to know that fish and whales go where their food goes, just as our ancestors chased the great herds across the plains.

Consider the local whale-watching businesses and what happens to them when the fish stocks which make up the whales’ seafood buffet — the same species that in many cases serve as the preferred food of the increasingly elusive cod and haddock — either decline or move on to more fertile grounds.

The result is fewer whales or, in a worst-case scenario, no whales at all for those nice folks vacationing from Peoria and elsewhere to see.

“Lately, it has been a little challenging,” said Jim Douglas, co-owner of Cape Ann Whale Watch since 1979. “We’re seeing them on every trip we go out. It’s just not the huge number we’ve seen in past years.”

On Monday, for instance, Douglas said his afternoon boat spotted three humpback whales between 13 and 15 miles out from the harbor.

“The thing that we’re not seeing is a lot of the open-mouth feeding (by the whales) that we’ve seen in the past,” Douglas said. “That is probably due to the lack of sand eels in the area.”

The sand eels, also known as American sand lance, are the food of choice for whales, just as they are the bait of choice for the cod and haddock that have served as part of the traditional prey of Gloucester’s commercial fishing fleet.

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