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September 25, 2013

Fishing crisis' collateral damage

Fishing crisis devastating crews, families, too

They don’t know what to do. It’s as simple as that.

The rumble they hear, louder by the moment, is their world collapsing around them and Everett and Jenice Sawyer simply don’t know what to do.

Everett, 42, will leave on Thursday, heading out to fish aboard the offshore dragger F/V Sammy Jo out of Boston, out to Georges Bank, looking to land pollock.

That will leave 46-year-old Jenice, slowed by a series of health problems, to pack up the remainder of their stuff from their Commonwealth Avenue apartment, from which they’ve been evicted for owing about $5,500 in back rent, and . . . then what?

“I don’t know,” Jenice said. “Probably pitch a tent.”

In so many ways, the Sawyers are the untold story of the commercial fishing disaster that has ravaged the piers of Gloucester and beyond.

The headline players are familiar enough in this passion play. There is NOAA and its National Marine Fisheries Service, along with environmentalists, in one corner; the boat owners and commercial fishing trade groups in another.

Caught between the antagonists — and there really is no other word for it — are those simply looking to make their living on the boats as crew members, folks with nothing more than sweat equity, a stake in the catch and a curiously tenacious grip on jobs that slowly are sinking away.

The crews of Gloucester’s fishing fleet have undergone their own sea change. A large segment of the city’s veteran crew have retired. Many of the younger hands have sought other opportunities in the face of increasing layoffs and dwindling pay.

“I don’t know a boat captain in Gloucester who hasn’t laid off crew,” said longtime fisherman Joe Orlando, captain of the Padre Pio.

It’s become a familiar refrain and no one is immune. Orlando had to lay off his own son; Joe Randazzo, captain of F/V Razzo, had to lay off his brother-in-law.

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