Fish Hatchery – Ten Pound Island. John Hoagland, circa 1930. In a far sighted effort to maintain fish stocks, this hatchery provided lobster and cod fry from eggs. Operated by the US Fish Commission, it ran from 1889 to 1954. Hoagland was an American painter active in the 1930s. Framed, $300
It’s an expression that came fresh off the docks. When a fisherman wanted to invoke the utmost superlative, he’d say, “finest kind.” Eventually usage morphed to more mundane levels.
“How ya dooin?”
But these days life along the waterfront is anything but the finest kind.
In an effort to conserve a dwindling natural resource the federal government has subjected New England’s fisheries to draconian restrictions. In the old days, catch was controlled by such measures as net size and days at sea. Lately, however, these efforts have been replaced by “catch shares.” Modeled on the carbon shares system, each area of the fisheries is assigned a “total allowable catch.” This catch limit is divided among fishery participants, whose haul will thus be within the limits set by NOAA scientists, ensuring survival of the resource.
Sounds good in theory. But in practice it has had two disastrous consequences.
Under NOAA administrator - the Rosa Klebb-like Jane Lubchenco
- the catch shares system was applied with a welter of nitpicking regulations, impossible for anyone to fully comprehend, let alone follow. NOAA cops pursued violators with a ferocity that bordered on outright persecution. Horror stories abound. My neighbor Paul Cohan, skipper of the day boat Sasquatch
got whacked with a $20,000 fine for having a piece of survival gear a week late for inspection. Others have been slapped with five figure fines for inadvertently bringing in a catch that was a few pounds over the limit. To make matters worse, an investigation by the Commerce Department’s Inspector General revealed that these fines were being used by the NOAA cops to purchase cabin cruisers, foreign vacations, and other inappropriate toys. The government is in the process of returning some of the fine money, but the damage has been done. As a final insult, the bad cops, when caught, weren't punished. They were simply transferred. But it gets worse.
My daughter Celia’s significant other, Adam Novello, fishes on a family boat, Captain Novello.
Their catch limit is so severe that they can’t come close to making a living - Adam and Celia won’t be buying a house anytime soon – and some day Adam's family may have to get out of the business altogether, selling their allotted catch shares to someone else. Then, probably sooner than later, those catch shares will get sold to someone else further up the line, and then to someone even bigger.
At the end of the day fishing rights will be controlled by a few concerns with unlimited financing – an outcome comparable to the notorious "inclosure acts" in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
So, in the name of preserving a resource, our government is destroying a way of life and placing what was formerly a commons – the ocean – in the hands of a few mighty corporations.
If you are inclined to conspiracy theories, here’s one for you. The Environmental Defense Fund, the people who conceived of this scheme in the first place, is backed, in part, by giant energy concerns like TXU. The Pew Charitable Trusts with deep roots in Big Oil
have also been major supporters of the catch shares system. And what’s out there in the soon-to-be corporately controlled ocean? Underneath all those fish?
Giant oil reserves, that’s what.
Anyway, back to the painting pictured at the top of this entry.
It’s an image of the iconic Ten Pound Island light house, my totem. The lower building to the left of the island is the fish hatchery sponsored by the US Fish Commission, predecessor to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
The hatchery was in operation from 1889 to 1954. Working in concert with government vessels like the Grampus, they collected hydrographic data and made studies of quantity and distribution of various species of fish. They also raised cod and lobster eggs and distributed juveniles in New England waters.
They must have been doing something right because they stayed in business for 65 years.
Yet, despite all the hullabaloo about the disappearance of food fish in New England waters, no one has considered re-opening a fish hatchery. The Obama administration has declared our fisheries to be a “disaster,” which paves the way for Congress to fund emergency relief. Of course, Congress shot down the first appropriation, and it may be years before we get any federal help in the form of low interest loans, training programs, or infrastructure improvements.
But I think it would be great to have a fish hatchery back on Ten Pound Island – Finest Kind!
Such a move might invigorate the fisheries and provide some work for the fishing families whose livelihoods have been destroyed by well-meaning (or perhaps deeply scheming) conservationists.
ALBUM OF TWENTY-ONE PHOTOGRAPHS OF GLOUCESTER MACKEREL SEINING, 1903, BY JULIAN DIMOCK. Dimock was born in 1873 and died in 1945. He was a professional photographer, best known for his photographs of African Americans in South Carolina in 1904 - 1905. A collection of 155 of these images was published in 2002 as “Camera Man’s Journey.” The photographs here were taken in 1903 for Outing magazine. They are silver gelatin prints measuring 7 3/4 x 5 3/4 inches, and they depict all phases of mackerel seining from Gloucester schooners. Dimock’s card is tipped onto the front pastedown. It contains the inscription, “To Captain Charles H. Harty in memory of a pleasant trip made possible by his courtesy. Julian A. Dimock. Bull Run N.Y. Harty was a Gloucester skipper who later served as an official in the International Fisherman’s Races against the Bluenose. At the back of the album are six smaller photos of southern fishermen - one with a live alligator - and a final photo of a man, possibly Dimock, with two large dogs. $1500