FishOn: Whale meeting takeaway: Tag 'em

SEAN HORGAN/Staff file photo/ Rockport lobsterman Larry Stepenuck

Well, we're just back from Greenland, which we tried to buy. No deal. But we did rent it for a week and a good time was had by all but perhaps the Greenlanders. Fingers crossed on getting the deposit back.

We engaged in the usual shenanigans. Went kayaking among the ice floes, which helps keep the Tuborg cold. Went on a whale watch, which they do a tad differently out there in the Labrador Sea. In Greenland, the whales watch you!

We checked out the Northern Lights, which were kinda like seeing the Dead back in '73. The only problem was a guy in our group who just wouldn't zip it. Blah, blah, yada, yada. Talk about borealis.

We drew the metaphysical line on a dog sled ride after the boys, Foster and Willie, took a knee in silent protest. And we were really looking forward to trying a Laplander, but it turned out that's Finnish. And not really what we thought it was, anyway.

But it was still pleasant to get away. And nice to come home to the end of summer and, apparently, the Red Sox.

While the Dodgers and Yankees were in Los Angeles over the weekend shaking down the ancient thunder of their shared history, and possibly en route to their 12th Fall Classic as rivals, the Sox were in San Diego getting some sun and catching up with Don Orsillo.

Whoo boy. Wait until the curtain officially comes down on this one. It's going to make the fallout from the Celtics' face plant look like a Duck Boat parade.

Lobster and whale combo platter

No sooner were we home than we were off to cover NOAA Fisheries' meeting on the new protections adopted in April by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, heretofore referred to as the Gang of 61, to help stem the catastrophic decline of the North Atlantic right whales.

You may have seen our story in the pages of the Gloucester Daily Times and online at gloucestertimes.com.

The meeting included an extended period for comment on the measures to reduce entanglements with fishing – primarily lobster – gear. They include a reduction in vertical buoy lines, weaker ropes and more stringent regulations on gear markings. We got as many comments as we could into the story, but it nagged us that we had to leave two out, because we thought they were pretty good.

First, from Gloucester lobsterman Michael Goodwin.

Goodwin opened by telling the regulators that they were going about the task of protecting the whales in the wrong way. The answer, he said, is using available technology – or developing new technology – to track the whales so that fishermen and commercial shipping can avoid them.

Then he held up his smartphone.

"I can find any boat in America on my cell phone," he said. "Why can't we track these whales? All this technology and this is the best you've got?"

He has a point. If the whale researchers can survey the whales from the air – and Michael Asaro of NOAA Fisheries said while researchers don't see each of the whales every year, they believe they see all of them over a five-year period – why not figure out how to track them?

So, why not tag them as they do with other large pelagics, such as sharks and tuna? How is this not a good idea?

And then came lobsterman Larry Stepenuck of Rockport, known in circles that matter as the "Ukrainian Cranium" or if you're into the whole brevity thing, "Ukrainium."

A couple years ago, our man Larry sold his old lobster boat for $8. Asked how he arrived at that price, he said: "I sold the one before for $7." He showed up at the meeting with a bag of Cape Ann-grown figs.

That's how you get a nickname like that.

Anyway, by the time Stepenuck got to the microphone, a little of the usual animosity between fishermen and whale conservationists already had bubbled over.

Stepenuck, who described himself as "a 72-year-old lobsterman and proud tree hugger," told the assembled that the battle should not be between fishermen and conservationists.

The two sides, he said, should ally against the deep-pockets developers, seabed mining companies, energy companies and the rest of the Snidely Whiplashes looking to brazenly monetize the ocean at the expense of everyone else.

"The issue is more basic," he said. "Both sides here are being played."

Tough love. But righteous. Can we get an amen?

Amen.

Schooner or later

Well, it's that time of year again. The annual rite of the passing of summer – the Gloucester Schooner Festival organized by the Gloucester Schooner Festival Committee and Maritime Gloucester  – fast approaches.

This is the 35th edition of the great event, which this year will beheld Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 throughout the harbor of America's oldest commercial seaport. More than 30 schooners -– including more than a half dozen schooners more than 80 feet in length – already have confirmed and more are expected.

We'll be sitting down with Michael DeKoster from Maritime Gloucester and Daisy Nell Collinson from the festival committee to get the real skinny on the schooners and the rest of the plans for the festival. So look for that this week in the pages of the Gloucester Daily Times and online at gloucestertimes.com.

Our favorite part of the festivities every year is the Mayor's Reception, where our pal Ozie remains the undisputed heavyweight champeen of oyster slurpers.

But does the Oyster Whisperer have it in him to again lap the field? Well, we hear he has disappeared into the hidden pockets of Ipswich Bay to train, so clearly there's been no decline in motivation or confidence, even at his advanced competitive age.

Ozie. The Brady of the bivalves. 

As always, no fish were harmed in the making of this column.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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