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Is the New England Fishing Industry Fading Away?

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Once upon a time, the New England fishing industry was one of the most prosperous fishing economies in the world.

Today, however, career fishermen in the region tell a different tale, one plagued by rusting boats and destructive fishing regulations that have brought about a massive decline in New England’s industrial fishing operations.

To be fair, it’s hard to believe that fishing could ever completely disappear from the area, given New England’s preponderance of inland lakes and its proximity to ocean waters. However, if federal regulators get their way, New England’s reputation as a workhorse producer of fishing exports could be at risk.

But why is the government interfering with the New England waters, and what can career fishermen in those parts do about it? Reports indicate that the government is trying to cut back on heavy fishing activity due to scientific studies that have claimed a decline in cod populations in New England waters.

However, a lot of the fishermen in the region are telling a different story: they’ve gone on record claiming that, when left to their own devices, they have no more trouble catching fish than they have for decades. And how can harvest numbers be staying relatively consistent if the scientists are right and fish populations are declining? There’s no immediate answer to that question, but the dichotomy between what the scientists and the government are saying and what fishermen are seeing out on their boats is certainly an alarming one.

Theoretically, the decline in cod numbers has been going on for years now. A decade ago, the government made its first intervention into the New England fishing industry by demanding that fishermen catch fewer cod. Since then, a vast increase in permit costs was instituted for career fishing boats, also with the supposed goal of saving the cod. Now, however, scientists are claiming that the cod are all but gone – despite the best efforts of government regulators – and feds have responded by slashing cod harvest amounts by almost 80 percent.

Check out this recent piece on the decline of Great Lakes fish populations.

Fishermen have been so discouraged by the piles of red tape and regulation that many of them have turned away from fishing as a means of making a living. The article published by CBS Boston – and covering the fishing scene in Gloucester, Massachusetts – indicated that the vast majority of fishing boats in the city’s harbor are now for sale.

There’s a good reason that fishing boat captains are ready to cash in their chips and get out of the game: one fisherman quoted in the story claims to have surpassed the new federal annual cod harvest limit – 5,000 pounds of the fish – in the space of a single afternoon. That statistic not only shows that new cod regulations are far too strict to sustain a once-prosperous industry – or even a single fisherman’s full-time career – but also that New England cod are far more prevalent and easy-to-find than scientists are willing to admit.

Luckily, there is a bit of hope: a state senator in Massachusetts is on the side of the fishing industry and is calling for a more thorough scientific investigation of New England cod populations. But with fishermen giving up and selling their boats, could her efforts be too late?

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Is the New England Fishing Industry Fading Away?