“There’s not any romance left in it, it might have been romantic when I was in my teens but it’s business,” said Clark Sandler, a fisherman from Gloucester, MA. “Sure, I’d love for it be fun, but it’s not fun when you do something for 35 years.”
When Sandler started fishing with his neighbor at the age of 9, he loved it. He says it got into his blood. But because his fathers and brothers were lawyers, Sandler went to law school and earned his degree. After trying his hand at office work, Sandler decided to make fishing his full time job at the age of 26.
“It was easy back then,” Sandler said. “There were no regulations.”
At the docks, Sandler, who is dressed in a practical pair of old blue jeans, white t-shirt and sunglasses, barks out orders to his crew of two men. The catch of redfish has just been unloaded from his boat, the Sea Farmer, and is now being processed by Atlantic Coast Seafood Inc. Now, he wanted to move it to the side of the dock so some repairs could be done to a light that had gone out.
“Vito, that line is caught,” he hollers. He feels rushed, like there is never enough time when he is onshore, but too much time when he is on the boat.
He wants to go home. His wife, kids, two dogs and horses are all waiting for him. And a part of him regrets the family vacations he didn’t take and the birthday parties he missed.
But, he’s doing what he believes is right.
“This is what you are supposed to do as a human, as a male,” he said. “You are supposed to work for your family.”
And fishing is the best way he knows how to.
When David Goethel first became involved with fisheries, he planned to be a scientist. The Needham native earned a degree from Boston University in biology with a focus on marine sciences, before going to work part time at New England Aquarium in 1976.
But, Goethel — who had been working on fishing boats since 1967 — found the days inside tedious. And when he was offered a full time job at the aquarium, he declined it. Instead, he chose to become a full-time commercial fisherman.
Goethel, who captains the 44 foot Ellen Diane named for his wife, likes being on the water. He likes having a job where he can see the sunrise and set, sometimes in the same day. Most of all, he likes being outside.
“I’m one of the last naturalists,” he said.
While not an official scientist, Goethel still makes use of his education, studying what he sees on the water daily. Most recently, he conducted his own study of the cod biomass where he adjusted the reference points to mimic a warm water system, a system that he says cod stocks cannot rebuilt to the levels set by NOAA in. He is using the study to try to change the cod allocation for the 2013 fishing year.
In his final of three terms with the New England Fishery Management Council, Goethel has become bold. In the January meeting about reducing the cod allocation, Goethel suggested the Council just close the fishery, a move he said was carefully calculated to call the Council’s bluff.
“They panicked,” he recalled. “‘Oh well we can’t do that.’ Well if you believe things are that bad then yes you can.”
But if there is one thing Goethel has learned during his time on the boat, its that you have to remain calm. You can’t freak out when a shark is chasing your aging father around the boat or when your father falls overboard. You just have to take a breath, and come up with a solution to the problem.
Dave Marciano’s boat sank.
It simply slipped under the water one night when it was docked a Gloucester Marine Railways, the oldest port in town. Now, his boat — The Hard Merchandise– been dragged on shore and up on blocks. It’s going to take $80,000 in repairs to fix it, according to Marciano.
Sitting in Marciano’s pickup truck watching him chain smoke a pack of Camel cigarettes, it dawns on me that Marciano’s boat has sunk both literally and figuratively.
Figuratively, his boat sank in 2010 when the sector management system was put in place. That’s when he was knocked out of the groundfish business.
“Sectors destroyed me,” Marciano said.
For a little while, he didn’t know what he was going to. He started running boats for other guys, and he started to seriously consider selling the boat, not sure if he was ever going to be able to make it profitable again.
Marciano has three kids, two daughters and and a son, and fishing was his only way to provide for them. Without that, he was as risk of “losing everything.”
Then the reality show “Wicked Tuna” came onto the scene. And Marciano, with his reputation of saying what he thinks and using salty language to do it, was a natural fit for the show. His laid back approach made him someone people could identify with, giving him a sort of bar buddy persona. And the fans loved it.
“He’s the only good one on the show,” a man called out, after he saw me talking to Marciano.
And while the show doesn’t pay him enough to get rich, it was enough to save him.
Now — much like his boat — he’s been put back together better than before. He recently went to Europe on a tour, and around the docks, he’s a bit of a celebrity. With tourist stopping him all the time for a picture or an autograph.
“Now, I go where the limo takes me,” he says with a chuckle.
Tom Williams was hoping to leave his sons a way to make a living, the same way his father-in-law left him a living fishing out of Point Judith, Rhode Island. He was hoping to preserve his family business when he gave two boats to his sons.
He gave his son Tom Williams Jr, 40, the fishing boat the Heritage, and he gave his younger son Aaron, 33, the Tradition. His sons make up some of the youngest fishermen in the fleet.
“That was their future,” he said.
Now, he is hoping to keep his grandson — who wants to be a commercial fisherman — out of the industry. He is hoping to convince him to go to college first, and then, maybe if things are looking better, he can join his family on the boats.
But not yet, not when things are so uncertain, he tells him.
Because after decades of surviving changes to the regulations, Williams thinks the latest slash in the cod allocations represents the end of the industry.
“Financially, it can’t be done,” he says, while standing at the back of the April 29th rally at Boston Fish Pier to support the industry. Williams – a bigger man with a heavy set frame — speaks quietly but with importance. He overheard me talking to another woman about the industry and politely interrupted the conversation to contribute his two cents. He wants his message heard.
Everyone here is in trouble, he explains, gesturing at the 100 or so other fishermen at the rally. Everyone has not only their home but their boat on the line.
After 46 years of fishing and surviving, Williams feels strangled by the new rules. His made it through a lot, but this time he says, it cannot be done.