Fishermen say cuts to quota will cause pain
SEABROOK - Most New Hampshire fishermen are still reeling from Wednesday's news that Gulf of Maine cod allocations will be cut by 77 percent when the groundfish season starts on May 1.
"I'm probably out of business," Seabrook fisherman Neal Pike said at the Yankee Fisherman's Cooperative on Thursday afternoon.
Pike has fished since he was 16. He is now 54 and owns three boats and three groundfish permits. Last year, he put two boats to sea and was permitted to catch about 50,000 pounds of cod. He expects next year only one boat will fish with an allotment of less than 16,000 pounds.
"It's not worth untying the boat," he said. "New Hampshire is a cod fish state, that's what we catch, so 77 percent of my cod is 77 percent of my income."
He has tried to diversify, fishing for shrimp, tuna, whiting and whatever else he can to make a living. But with cuts to catch allotments across the board, the outlook is bleak.
The Yankee Fishermen's Cooperative is hoping to stay in business, although manager Marvin Perkins said layoffs will be immediate.
Fishermen will also have to lay off crew. Pike said he will be down to just two crew members next year from seven this year.
Although the impact to New England fishermen, their families, and directly related businesses will be severe, some say the average consumer may not notice the change.
About 90 percent of fish caught in New Hampshire are sold overseas, and about 90 percent of the fish consumed in New Hampshire come from somewhere else.
Some restaurants will stay committed to the local industry, even as the fish they serve up changes.
Matt Louis, executive chef at Moxy Restaurant in Portsmouth, serves exclusively New England fish at his restaurant. Cod, lobster and mussels are on the menu.
"I'm going to keep using cod mainly because I buy it right off the boats that come in here and I'll continue to support them as long as they have the fish," Louis said. "If we stop buying from them, I feel the situation will be even worse."
Down the street at the Black Trumpet, Evan Mallet has not served cod for about two years as news continued to get worse about the condition of the stock and catch availability. But his philosophy has always been focused on sourcing local and sustainable food sources, including fish.
"The message that has to be conveyed to consumers right now is that if we want our fishermen to continue to fish and we want to continue to consume fish, we have to start eating different species," Mallet said.
He said in the past few months they have been successful in introducing people to Atlantic pollock, Acadian redfish, and hake, which are all caught by New England fishermen.
But because the New England ground fishery is multi-species, meaning one fish cannot be caught without catching the other, catch shares across the board will be affected as the fishermen left try and avoid catching cod next year.
Both Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH spoke out against the cod cuts on Thursday.
Ayotte said she will support economic relief, within budget constraints, but added that the focus should be on allowing the fishermen to make a living by removing onerous federal regulations.
In September, the Department of Commerce announced a disaster declaration for the commercial ground fish industry in New England, but no federal money has been allocated as a result to help fishermen deal with the cuts.