FOR at least the 200th time, Peter Mahoney's left hand reaches
down and starts the winch on his lobster boat, "Windemere.
The trawl line, then the trap attached to the line, snap out of
the water. His right hand pushes the cage away from the boat's side.
The returning arc elevates it.
Chad, his son, muscles the trap on board. Then, with hands surer
than the claws of any lobster in the trap, he quickly tosses two
"keepers" into the holding tank. Just as quickly, Chad drops five
over the side - too small. The ratio is typical.
"Those five are the sign of a good fishery," says Mr. Mahoney
with a nod and a smile at his son. "We'll catch them later."
The same can't be said with such confidence for his counterparts
in the fin-fishing industry. In what once were some of America's
richest fishing grounds, the catch this past year of New England
groundfish - cod, haddock, flounder - was so poor that it totaled
only half of traditional production.
"If the American farm belt were only growing half the grain and
corn it traditionally did, great concern would result," says Jeff
Pike, legislative assistant to US Rep. Gerry Studds (D) of
Massachusetts. "That's exactly what has happened with the New
Mandate for changes
The current dire conditions mandate major changes in the
management of the fishery, says Eleanor Dorsey of the Conservation
Law Foundation, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization
which last month filed a lawsuit against the United States Secretary
of Commerce over the diminished fish stocks.
"Unless the depleted stocks of groundfish are allowed to rebuild,
no one will earn a living in the ground fishery," says Ms. Dorsey.
The biomass of fish is a common heritage, and the 1977 Magnuson
Act requires it be protected, she says:
"People who remain in the fishery, who reap the benefit of
changes that produce an expanded fishery, should pay proportionately
Such a position is difficult to argue with, and no one really is,
says Frank Mirarchi, captain and owner of a 60-foot fishing trawler
and chairman of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory
But what fisherman are very concerned about, he says, is
legislation and government control that results in a scenario in
which investors, rather than laborers, control the fishery.
Does the fishing industry really want the marine equivalent of
Consolidated Coal or the Weyerhaeuser Company, a forest products
giant, to subcontract laborers on corporate-owned ships, like coal
miners and loggers? Mr. Mirarchi asks.
"You don't need very good statistics to know what's going on,"
says Vaughn Anthony, a researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institute for the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the
Commerce Department's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
"If you want to harvest large amounts of fish, you need to keep
certain spawning stock in place," he explains.
Since the Magnuson Act was passed in 1977, there has been a
reduction of such stock from a factor of 100 down to a factor of 5
on certain species, Mr. …