By Lisa Cavanaugh
A partnership between the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and the Pew Charitable Trusts has been a through line for Peter Baker’s career.
Son of a commercial fisherman, Baker was raised in Portland, Oregon but moved east to work in politics. After stints with Senator Bernie Sanders in Vermont and the Sierra Club in North Carolina, Baker accepted a fisheries campaign position at the Alliance in March, 2002.
“I wanted to come back to New England,” says Baker. “I saw a job listing that Paul Parker put up, and very quickly after that my family and I were in Chatham.”
Baker came to help coordinate an ongoing fight against industrial trawling ships targeting herring; the organization received funding from Pew for the project. It took more than a decade, but Pew’s support for this conservation-oriented management project saw positive results this fall.
“Amendment eight is a culmination of the work that John (Pappalardo) and I started in 2003,” says Baker. “That was when we first created a coalition to spearhead efforts to move trawl boats offshore.”
In addition to the herring campaign, Baker worked on getting sectors put into place (a structure that regulates by using quota and total allowable catches rather than days at sea), and ecosystem-based management strategies, all with Pew support.
“It was a fruitful relationship which provided a lot funds to hire staff and run important programs,” he says. “And the Fishermen’s Alliance was a really strong partner for Pew, with a big voice at the federal level – NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service), NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), and on the New England Fisheries Management Council.”
Baker is proud of his work at the Alliance and notes that after creating the first sector, the Georges Bank Hook Sector, NOAA gave the organization a conservation award: “This kind of recognition for a fishing group in New England showed that we could use innovative conservation management tools, and put them in place effectively.”
Pew began running its own campaigns and offered Peter a job in 2007. And so the roles reversed.
“I became the person at Pew granting money to the Hook,” he says, using an old nickname for the Alliance.
Still living on the Cape and working from Brewster, Baker is now focusing more on Pew’s issues related to gear interaction with whales: “We are trying to find ways for whales to thrive while not devastating the commercial fishing industry.”
He remembers his time at the Alliance as a fun collaboration with energetic, dynamic colleagues who care about their work. “There was lots of interaction with fishermen, and chances to get out on the water,” he says. “Great camaraderie.”
And sometimes amusing challenges to overcome.
“In the spring of 2006 we were really involved in advocating for reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevenson Act, working with a bi-coastal coalition of fishing groups,” Baker remembers. That meant going to Washington DC to work the halls of Congress. “We had rented a place for fishermen to stay in Arlington, Virginia, but we were on shoestring budget and when we got to the house, the plumbing wasn’t working. We had 27 guys flying in, and no plumbing!”
Baker doesn’t recall how they resolved the immediate issue, but the trip was a success.
“That week we took fishermen from Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Maine to Capitol Hill to meet with over 200 members of Congress. It ended up being an influential and great experience,” he says. “We were able to get a lot of the reauthorization work through and the Alliance is still in partnership with some of these groups.”