Of all things on this big old planet that could be divided and put into boxes, the ocean is the least likely.
Yet people find ways to box off and subdivide even the waves, and once you push past holistic and romantic objections, there are reasons for it:
We are at a point in our relationship to the world where (like it or not) we need management, we need to understand our impacts and where to focus and avoid. In order to do that we need to know where we are, latitudes and longitudes, and those crisscrossing lines are what make boxes, on land or water.
The chart you see here is published by federal fisheries managers to define the imperfect boxes we’ve agreed to use as we talk about fishing and stocks, spawning and recruitment, open or closed areas. For the uninitiated, these public conversations can sound like a complicated math equation, people conversing in numbers more often than words.
Lately, three numbers have been on a lot of people’s minds: 537.
You’ll see that 537 is just south of the Cape, not a clean rectangle because areas along the Massachusetts/ Rhode Island/Connecticut coast need separate attention, but a big important block. A lot of our fishermen work down there at certain times catching monkfish, others work on lobster. There are major shipping routes coursing through 537, and that makes sense given heavy Boston/New York traffic.
537, or some parts anyway, also attracts whales to feed and congregate. So right now there is a lot of focus on it, conversations about how to protect endangered mammals while respecting the historic effort of fishermen.
Cape Cod fishermen have worked for many years to reduce potential interactions with whales, laying fewer and weaker lines in the water to avoid contact or harm, stopping fishing entirely in large areas during months whales are around, obeying speed limits and offering wide berth. To our knowledge there has not been a single proven, documented case of a whale entangling with our local gear for a very long time, though there definitely have been ship strikes in our region and entanglements in Canada.
But North Atlantic Right Whales are now so few in number that many believe every single one must be protected at pretty much any cost. And that means there is discussion about shutting down the entire big area 537 to fishing activity for long stretches.
We stand ready to work with anyone and everyone to make good public policy. We sit with them too, at meeting after meeting, in committee after committee. And we will be as constructive as possible to get good results, though we have a lot of frustration because unlike most situations, when the government moves so slowly it’s hard to see progress, this time the proposed shutdowns have not been offered with enough time for affected people to really participate in the debate.
Our fishermen are in danger of being scapegoated. Not only is that wrong, it won’t bring back the whales because at this point we are far from the sole cause of this crisis. Bluntly and broadly shutting down 537 would not accomplish the common goal, but might well have the unintended consequence of creating yet another endangered species, called The North Atlantic Cape Cod Fisherman.
Boxes are necessary, but that doesn’t mean getting boxed out.