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Maine's Few Remaining Groundfishermen Face Bleak Future
01/31/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Making a living in commericial fishing in the Northeast has gotten tougher with each passing year. Now, regulators have announced strict new limits on the amount of cod that fishermen from Massachusetts to Maine can catch. It's part of an effort to rebuild severely depleted fish stocks. But as Jay Field reports, fishermen worry the new restrictions may put them out of business for good.

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Maine's Few Remaining Groundfishermen Face Bleak F Listen

In Port Clyde, on Maine's midcoast, boats named Day Star, Sinful, Amazing Grace and Yankee Pride sit in driveways on the road into this small fishing village. A driving wind turns the gray water off the town wharf into a tapestry of white caps that crest and break against the last five fishing trawlers left in the harbor.

"We're probably at the lowest level of groundfish boats that's ever been," says Gary Libby, whose family owns three of the remaining five boats. Libby sits in his pick-up truck, near the wharf. "Back when I first fished, 30-plus years ago, most of the lobster boats put nets on in the spring and went fishing," he says.

For a long time, cod and other species of groundfish in the Gulf of Maine were plentiful - a seemingly endless bounty. In 1990, about 350 boats in Maine caught more than 15-million pounds of cod alone. But as the years passed, overfishing caused stocks to decline.

Regulators imposed stricter and stricter catch limits to prop up a fishery in freefall. By 2011, the 40 or so remaining fishing trawlers in Maine hauled in just 750,000 pounds of cod.

John Bullard is the top federal fisheries regulator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "No young fish are being born and recruiting into the fishery. So the stocks not rebuilding," he says. "This is a real problem."

A problem so serious that Bullard says regulators have no choice but to take drastic action. Yesterday, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to cut the cod catch in the waters off Maine by 77 percent over the next two years.

There was bad news, too, for fishermen in New Hampshire and in the Massachusetts fishing meccas of Gloucester and New Bedford. The catch along the Georges Bank will drop by 61 percent. Bullard says the cuts are necessary to save the cod fishery over the long term. "And that's going to have a significant economic impact on fishermen, on their families and on fishing communities," he says.

"If I could find a job for $25,000 - $30,000 a year, with benefits, I'd walk away from this fishery tomorrow. I really would," says
Randy Cushman. I meet Cushman in his basement, where he's fixing up a 100-foot-long trawling net. In the winter, Cushman has to travel 75 miles out to sea to catch anything. The last few trips, he says, were money losers.

"Right now, my wife and I are fuel a thousand dollars, fuel negative. There's gonna come a point where I'm gonna need to put fuel in that boat and the money's not going to be there, in other words," he says.

Cushmen's boat is the collateral he used to get the mortgage on his house. Melanie Cushman is Randy's wife.

"I got a lot of physical issues," she says. "We've got no insurance. We've worked hard all our lives. To be in this situation - it's beyond me."

The Cushmens say they'll decide in the coming months whether to keep fishing or close up shop for good.


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