PORTSMOUTH — If things can’t turn around for Capt. Tim Rider, the owner of New England Fishmongers, he and his business partner will be out of business at the end of this month.
During a boat tour of Portsmouth Harbor on Sunday morning, Rider and Kayla Cox told Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke about the struggles they have.
The biggest economic hurdle for Rider, who still uses a rod and reel to bring in most of his fish, is catch shares. That’s when part of a share of a species of fish is allocated to individual fishermen or groups. In most cases, fishermen or groups can buy or sell or lease shares.
“Someone owns the rights to the fish and can sell the rights to the highest bidder,” Rider explained before O’Rourke arrived.
O’Rourke had lots of questions for Rider and Cox about the system and what they are doing to make sure they survive in an industry they love but that seems to be getting gobbled up around them.
“What’s your access to capital in terms of getting a loan or working with a bank?” O’Rourke asked.
“It’s pretty difficult because obviously you’re strained financially. We’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul for so many things,” Rider answered.
Rider and Cox told O’Rourke the stress of staying afloat financially led them each to emotional meltdowns one weekend this season.
“Everything was going wrong. Things were breaking. We couldn’t fix the boat. We had no fish on the deck and it was like 2 a.m. on Saturday and we had been fishing for three days and we needed fish for the Saturday and Sunday farmers’ markets. We both cried,” Cox said.
“It’s life or death every day and you can’t live that way indefinitely,” Rider said.
Rider said the most heartbreaking part of the whole thing is that his son, Paxton, who is 7 years old, will likely never have a shot at commercial fishing under the current mentality of “Go rich, go big or go home.”
O’Rourke said after the tour that he enjoyed the natural beauty of the Piscataqua River and Atlantic Ocean. He empathizes with Rider and Cox.
“It’s gorgeous and I would love for more of our fellow Americans to see this, and also to see that this way of life is being threatened right now. And that it’s not just going to fix itself,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said the government should respond to the needs of people like Rider, who faces regulations and policies that make it hard for him to survive as a small business owner.
O’Rourke, 46, of El Paso, Texas, represented his state in the United States House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019. He said it is important that people reach out to their elected officials to make sure their voices are heard on the federal level.
New England Fishmongers partners with a number of local restaurants and provides fresh fish for New Hampshire farmers’ markets. It contributes fresh fish donations to local food banks, and also works with researchers and nonprofits to share data and provide educational workshops.