The Last Longliners
By Lisa Cavanaugh
Long lining is labor intensive, but it’s a sustainable way of fishing, with little by-catch. Despite the depleted population of cod and haddock, these two Cape Cod fishermen still choose to use long lines with baited hooks to make a living.
Ninety miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine—in the dead of winter—can be a cold and lonely spot. But for longline fisherman Eric Hesse, it is the place he wants to be. “I like being on my own, out of sight of land, homing in on the cod.”
For generations, Cape Cod fishermen, such as Hesse, used long lines with baited hooks dropped to the ocean floor to catch an abundance of cod and haddock. But as he returns his vessel, Tenacious II, to its home port of Barnstable, he unloads only 1,200 pounds of low-value cusk. The cusk was hauled as part of a federal stock assessment survey trip that he captained for three days.
“I’m finding ways to repurpose my boat now,” he says, as he readies his gear for another upcoming research trip. “With the ways things are, I need to explore other industries that need infrastructure on the water.”
The way things are for the groundfish industry is undeniably grim. After decades of convoluted, and sometimes miscalculated, fisheries management, the Northeastern commercial groundfish fishery was formally declared a disaster by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2012. Since then, commercial fishing quotas have been slashed by up to 70 percent, a disaster relief bill was passed, and most recently, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to request that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration take emergency action to reduce “fishing mortality on Gulf of Maine Cod.” NOAA responded with extensive Gulf of Maine Cod and Haddock management measures, which severely restrict the amount of cod a commercial fisherman can catch in the area. Most of the cod and haddock we enjoy on Cape Cod is imported from Iceland or Norway.
“The sad thing is that there simply aren’t enough codfish left for longliners to target,” says John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “The good news is that haddock have made a comeback. And longlining is one of the best ways to catch haddock while protecting cod because cod can be unhooked and released alive while targeting haddock.”
What this all means for a small hook boat fisherman is that his way of life is becoming harder to maintain. Long lining is a labor intensive, but sustainable way of fishing, with relatively little by-catch. “It isn’t the most efficient way to catch fish, which is why it is ultimately better for the marine environment,” says another veteran longliner Greg Walinski. “I can pull off the undersized fish and send them back swimming.
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