The 2015 fishing season was still two days away from its Friday opening, but for Paul Vitale the dawning of the new season didn’t seem all that different than the way the desultory 2014 fishing season closed. Deja vu. All over again.
Tied up at the end of the pier behind Rose Marine, the decks of Vitale’s Angela + Rose on Wednesday afternoon looked like something a retreating army had left behind. Gear, nets and rope were strewn across every inch of the deck from the net wheel in the stern to the pilot house, and a blue plastic tarp stretched tent-like at the middle of the deck.
Beneath the tarp, out of sight from the dock, Vitale worked, the crack and sizzle of his welding torch providing the soundtrack for the task at hand.
“I’ve got a couple of holes that I just found a couple of days ago,” Vitale said during a very short break from welding new patching plates onto the deck. “There’s no way I can see me going out on Friday. Maybe Monday.”
With that, he bent back to his most recent labors in the unceasing struggle to keep his boat in working order.
The 2015 season will dawn at 12:01 a.m. Friday, bringing with it all of the uncertainty and angst that have become the Gloucester inshore fleet’s constant seagoing companion. Same stuff, different season.
Vitale was asked what his plan was once he got his boat seaworthy.
“Plan?” he said, sounding a little like former Colts coach Jim Mora when asked about making the playoffs. “There really is no way to plan. The way things are going, you can’t really plan because they just keep changing everything.”
It’s familiar refrain along the Gloucester waterfront. The only certainty is nothing is certain.
The dwindling cadre of fishermen who still manage to play their trade will be fishing under another set of restrictive regulations in 2015.
The emergency measures instituted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last November because of growing alarm at the imperiled state of Gulf of Maine cod are gone, but the new management plan, which carries the wholly bland moniker of Framework 53, mirrors the emergency measures in many ways — and almost all of them are designed to protect the endangered cod.
If the 2015 season carried a name, it probably would be the Year of No Cod.
The New England Fishery Management Council has instituted, and NOAA has approved, another round of savage cuts to the quota for Gulf of Maine cod.
The cod quota for the entire year will be cut 75 percent to approximately 386 metric tons, with about 200 metric tons to be portioned to commercial fishing enterprises.
To put it in sharper relief, the cuts mean that all the vessels that fish in Northeast Sector II will share a total of 83,000 pounds of cod quota, according to Sector II Manager David Leveille.
“I have about 2,400 pounds of cod,” Vitale said. “And I’m just going to keep that just for my discards.”
Fishing other species
He’s hardly alone in trying to stay away from cod to avoid bycatch issues and concentrate on other species. Some have gone so far to say their strategy will be to run as far and as fast from the cod as they can.
“I think when it opens, guys in the inshore fleet are going to be going after dabs and gray sole,” LeVeille said.
Offshore fishermen on bigger boats, with greater range and capacity, will be able to exploit a greater versatility in the areas they fish and the species they target.
Just down the waterfront from Vitale, closer to the head of the harbor and across from the Jodrey State Fish Pier, two generations of Testaverdes — both named Tommy — prepared their 87-foot F/V Midnight Sun to head back out in a couple days.
The plan for the impending season is go after redfish, haddock and pollock, according to young Tommy, 30.
“The codfish and the flounders, they keep cutting it and we can’t catch it and there ain’t going to be a lot of it around to buy if you want to get additional quota,” Testaverde said.
He said though they plan to fish for redfish in the Gulf of Maine, they aren’t worried about the cod bycatch issues because the redfish school at much greater depths than cod.
And unlike the inshore fleet, which is hampered by area closures and cod bycatch issues when it fishes for haddock in the Gulf of Maine, the Midnight Sun’s expanded range will allow them to go for haddock off Georges Bank.
“We go out up to 150 miles,” Testaverde said.