WORRIES HAVE BECOME A CRISIS
An old Closeteer remembers his farmer grandfather salting and drying a few cod each summer by his house in Salisbury. In high school his history teacher took a group of students to the capitol in Boston. There the “sacred” pine cod is impressively hung from the dome in the House chamber. [pullquote]”By the early 1980s the small coastal fishermen in the Canadian Maritimes became greatly alarmed by the decline in cod populations.”[/pullquote]Sometime in his youth the Closeteer saw the movie Captain Courageous based on Rudyard Kipling’s book by the same name staring Spencer Tracy. Tracy played a good man and cod fisherman who turned a spoiled boy around. Kipling, on a visit to world famous fishing port Gloucester, admired the tough dory-schooner fishermen. Yankee boys upon hearing such yarns did too. Stories of cod, the basis of our colonial economy, seemed in the blood of coastal lads.
Alas in November just past, the cod fishery was practically closed down by federal regulators. Fishery researchers pronounced cod “stocks” dangerously low; possible extirpation in the Gulf of Maine and nearby banks is feared. In a short article on the action the Bangor Daily News used the following words and phrases: “emergency closures”, “stock in free fall”, cod at “three to four percent of sustainable levels”, “rolling closures” changing each month, and “banning recreational catches”. We can’t remember the many dire words used in several Boston Globe articles reporting on and bemoaning the tragedy long predicted, and we’ll not repeat the back and forth here between fishermen crying foul and the regulators backed by fish scientists. There have been numerous reports in local media. A species may be on the verge of disappearing, and the five hundred year old bottom fishing industry here may follow.
There have been warnings of cod “collapse” for two centuries; one was reported here in the Water Closet three years ago. The warning with comment is repeated below. Fishermen, fishery scientists, and regulators knew the crisis was coming. Now it is here for many fishing families.
WORRIES ABOUT COD AGAIN
(WC December 2011)
Once upon a time a magnificent fish filled the seas of our northern continental shelves. Brave men in tiny vessels sailed across the ocean from the Old World to catch Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, on offshore banks of the New.
They preceded the English and French colonists by a century. We know little of them. Fishermen came in the spring and returned in the fall laden with valuable cargoes of salted fish. We offer their vague history as evidence of the enormous numbers of fish here at that time. After literate colonists settled precariously along our New England and New France coasts we have records that the protein from our prolific seas saved many from starvation. Fish quickly became one of the bases of the Colonial economy. Salted-fish along with beaver pelts and sassafras were exported to home countries.
For three centuries bottom fish were commercially caught here with weighted hand lines. In the 19th century they shifted to “long lines” with multiple hooks. Several hundred feet of stout line with hooks on leaders every fathom or so were baited and neatly coiled in wooden tubs. These were dropped from dories manned by one or two men onto sandy and rocky bottoms for cod after an anchor and marker buoy was attached to an end. When most of the baited line was stretched out on the bottom a second anchor with buoy was attached and dropped at the end. Then another long line was set nearby. The dory returned to the first and brought it aboard starting at one end, taking off any fish caught. By mid afternoon, after the second line was retrieved, the small seaworthy dories, filled almost to the gunnels, were rowed back to the mother schooner hovering nearby. Think about this method: a light line descended gently to the bottom doing no harm. Almost all the fish brought to the surface were target species, there was little “by-catch” to be thrown over board dead or dying. While labor intensive, the damage done was miniscule compared with that of the great bottom scaring trawls that replaced long lines in the last century and are still with us. The latter bring up almost everything that can’t pass through the huge net’s mesh. The catch is sorted on deck, the often large by-catch returned to the sea. The ocean bottom, supporting delicate layers of life, the sustenance of bottom fish such as cod, hake, haddock and halibut, is badly damaged.
In the 1950s through the 1970s vessels called factory ships with catcher boats came from around the world to our waters. These high tech fleets fished all seasons, night and day. One of their targets were cod spawning areas at times of spawning. This style, get-as-much-as-you-can-fast, of fishing was predominant in the wasteful latter half of the 20th century. In 1982 Canada and the United States extended their “exclusive economic zones” 12 to 200-miles out from shorelines. The foreign fleets left. Government subsidies, especially in Canada, stimulated high tech fishing from larger boats. We copied the foreigners’ methods. “Bigger is better”, isn’t that what the landlubbers also say? Witness our banks and corporations. By the early 1980s the small coastal fishermen in the Canadian Maritimes became greatly alarmed by the decline in cod populations. In 1992 Canada belatedly banned bottom fishing. Scores of coastal communities died. The fisher folks went on the dole. Around Newfoundland, populations of four century old villages, were moved off islands and outposts and brought to the mainland where they could be provided for more efficiently. Despite the ban the expected return of cod and other bottom fish hasn’t happened. The reasons are not well understood. Habitat and breeding cycle disruptions and especially “over exploitation” in spawning areas are thought to be the causes. On the fishing banks off New England catches of prolific medium and large size cod have also plummeted despite the 200-mile zone. Tallies in 2008 showed promising signs, but an article in the December-January issue of “The Working Waterfront” out of Rockport, Maine, has bad news from fish scientists yet again. The numbers expected for 2011 are not as predicted. They worry. We await their final report; reporter Craig Idlebrook just got some hints as to what it would contain. We won’t go on; the media here have had frequent reports about our fishing woes.
Does this all sound familiar? Historians tell us that if we study the past we have less chance of repeating mistakes made. We old timers in the Closet love history, but aren’t so sure this happens. Big fur trading in the 17th to 19th centuries came close to removing beavers and bisons from this continent. Big whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries almost wiped out the Earth’s most magnificent creatures. Big agriculture in the 20th has done away with small farmers. Big oil has covered our land with internal combustion engines and furnaces to the detriment of the world. Big banks have sucked up small local ones in which we knew the bankers. The largest are deemed “too big to fail”, and yet they fail us. Big oil and big coal, despite claims to the contrary, harm the environment. Now perhaps one of the most important of sea animals, the cod, is threatened by the efficient methods of big boats. The first to suffer in all these takeovers are the little guys and gals. Our politicians’ daily praise small businessmen who “create jobs” while at the same time taking money from big corporations who can’t but influence some in their policy making.
What then are the answers to our environmental and fishery problems? We old timers admit we don’t have them, and our time is almost over. Positive proactive views of government instead of poisonous negative ones might be a good start. Isn’t clean effective government what we really want; not necessarily less?
Back in hippy times a popular book Small is Beautiful by British economist E. F. Schumacher was making the rounds; we’ve mentioned it here before. Schumacher like Barbara Kingsolver, with her gardens and farmers’ markets, would have us do things locally so many more would have a stake in what is truly needed, made and raised.
Our generation went the other way; big business was thought by many to be marvelous. It hasn’t been. Our young need to read our sad environmental histories and take the historians’ admonition to heart. We can’t tell them how to solve the problems we bequeath them. However, we think “too big to fail” is not one of the solutions. Benign long lines, oars and sails weren’t so bad. We urge our youth to create better modern equivalents and think seriously about settling for less of everything.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Sept||Oct||Nov||Dec|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.77||4.40||4.55||4.12|
|2014 Central Watershed Actual||2.58||8.09||3.7**||0.8 as of 12/2**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 2, 2014 Normal . . . 67 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Nov and Dec..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.