More than 100 New England fishermen gathered at the end of the Boston Fish Pier on April 29 in a last ditch effort to get Congress to notice them. In two days, a large reduction in the cod allocation for the 2013 fishing year was slated to go into effect.
At the back of the crowd, a folding table holds signs and informational packets put together by the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association. There is a pile of red signs supporting local seafood and a second pile of blue signs.
The blue signs simply reads “Congress we need your help.”
After two decades of tumultuous changes to the codfish fishery, the fishermen have begun to question if the changes are even about conservation anymore of if the changes are simply about politics.
“We are not part of the plan. We are supposed to be gone,” accused Russell Sherman, who has been fishing for cod in the Gulf of Maine since 1971. Sherman did not go the rally; he’s given up on the political system.
Two years ago, when the sectors management devastated the industry, Sherman led the charge seeking political relief. When he learned that President Barack Obama was going to vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, he decided to write him a letter explaining the plight of the fishermen. In addition to mailing the letter, he helped raise the money for it to be a full page ad on the back of the paper during Obama’s visit and he — along with more than a dozen other boats — sailed to the Vineyard to make themselves visible.
Obama never responded, according to Sherman. And Sherman lost faith.
The fishermen, according to cod fisherman David Goethel, don’t have the money to send a lobbyist to Congress or organize public campaigns to garner support.
“These are small businesses,” he said. “We have grassroots stuff. We can’t hire people. We don’t have that kind of money.”
At the rally, more than a dozen politicians are up on the stage. Of them, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the first to speak, promising that she would go to the Senate and seek disaster relief. In addition to Warren, Sen. William Cowan, Rep. John Tierney, Rep. William Keating, as well as some state representatives, all spoke at the rally, all echoing Warren’s sentiments.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was also at the rally. There, she stated that it would be legal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to pass a one year interim measure to offer the fishermen some relief. But NOAA officials disagreed, and said that even if it was legal they would not budge from their decision. In their eyes, the cuts are essential to preserving the cod stocks in the long term.
The statement — issued by NOAA Northeast Administrator John Bullard — left many fishermen feeling helpless. And bitter towards environmental groups.
“The environmentalist groups think they are doing the right thing but they don’t really know the inside story,” said cod fishermen Clark Sandler. “The public doesn’t understand. We have no PR for the industry. We are such a small group now, and we’re getting smaller every year. And we have very little if any political power. The senators can’t get anything done. Congress can’t get anything done.”
But not all fishermen feel powerless. Tom Dempsey, from the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, points out that when drastic cuts were scheduled last year the fishermen did push an interim measure offering some relief.
This time around, Dempsey believes the cuts aren’t about politics, but conservation. And he thinks they should go into effect, regardless of the politics.