|A slightly edited version (okay okay I couldn't resist just one little change) of this article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 9/21/04
Page A12, Opinion; Copyright 2004 by Beth David
(Alas, dear reader, for some mysterious reason, there is no byline on the Standard-Times website.)
If you are an editor and need a newspaper clip, please email me at: email@example.com and I will snailmail an original or fax a copy to you. Please state your preference. Thank you.
Regulations are killing the fishing industry
It was probably 1975 the first time I took this ride: through the hurricane barrier with Clarks Cove on the right and the gem called Hazelwood Park on the left; then around the loop where the new Fort Taber Park beckons not an appealing picnic spot 29 years ago.
Then along the beach on the east side, by the old factories and their putrid stacks.
I smile now to see people enjoying a clean beach, the Butler Flats Lighthouse shining in a glittering bay. Glittering was not a word associated with New Bedford Harbor in 1975.
Now theres a bike path, and spruced-up houses sporting decks and big windows on the water side. The remaining factories have cleaned up their acts considerably. The horrid smell I remember is gone.
Then back through the dike on my way to the piers.
Back then it spooked you a little to drive around the docks. A lot of rough characters moved about. Mostly they worked busily on boats, or scurried off to lower Union Street. But they were a scary lot. And thats a fact.
There was something quintessentially New Bedford about driving this route, to notice which boats were out and which ones were in. The radio and newspaper ran lots of fun details about the boats and their catches. And it didnt matter whether or not the Coast Guard had busted them. It was news in and of itself.
Bad weather always made me think of where the boats were. I cant remember their names. But I suspect they didnt differ much from what I see now. Most were named for women, places or catchy phrases like It Aint Easy.
After moving back here from living away, I resumed the habit of cruising this route. Approaching Leonards Wharf that first time, I saw the familiar tangle of A-frames, stay wires and masts rising to the sky and thought, This industry isnt dead, there are lots of boats here.
Then the truth of those words sank in: lots of boats here tied to the docks, three and four deep.
And not a human in sight.
Sure, you wouldnt expect too many people around in the early evening. But this place was absolutely deserted. Thats a different kind of spooky.
Back in the mid 1970s people were always crawling around the boats, messing with lines and nets and other gear. You stayed away at night precisely because they were around.
When I was very young, my father took me to buy lobster right off the boat. But now even that's regulated. How utterly absurd.
Ive fished on the Tennessee River, a stream or two in New Hampshire, and Ive dug clams in Puget Sound. But nothing compares to fresh fish from my Atlantic Ocean.
Nothing compares to driving up to the docks and buying from the days catch, whatever it is, from whomever pulled in last.
Now, youre lucky if you can find somebody. I wont rant about whats wrong with the regulations.
Ill just say that a way of life is disappearing, and not just for fishing families.
Yes, weve lost industries before. We survived going from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy to a high-tech economy to a service economy.
But through it all, people had to eat. And around here, they ate fish. Fresh fish.
Environmental stewardship and commercial fishing are not mutually exclusive. As a believer in both, I am sickened by the lawsuits that environmental groups have filed against the federal government.
The fishing industry is not dying, its being killed, one mean-spirited regulation at a time. Just drive around the docks and see for yourself.
[Beth David is a freelance writer who lives on West Island.]