Fast forward, 30 years

Dec 29, 2021 | Over the Bar

By John Pappalardo

Much of this month’s issue conjures up stories and images going back 30 years, when the first incarnation of this alliance came together as “the hook” and then evolved.

Now it’s my turn to pivot, look forward, and peer into a crystal ball:

What might the next 30 bring?

After staring awhile, and closing my eyes awhile too, here are some things I now foresee:

Local food production will become more and more important. The amazing interconnected, multinational network that emerged in the last generation, moving food all over the world as a matter of course, will contract because of infrastructure challenges and big carbon footprints. We will rely more on our own communities, our own region, and a decentralized approach.

That means our style of fishing and harvest will not only remain viable, it will become even more attractive.

As part of that, our communities are going to reimagine and expand how we work the near shore. Aquaculture will continue to grow and diversify. We’ll be engaged in things like kelp farming (already going) or even algae production along with oysters and quahogs. We’ll be growing mussels and scallops, cultivate flats and shallows for a whole variety of harvest. And we’ll do it within the small-scale diversified ownership model we use now, not allowing large-scale, vertically integrated corporations to control our maritime economy.

Along similar lines, our small-boat, independent fleet will survive. Boats will become even more sophisticated, automated. We will see the arrival of battery-powered fishing boats, maybe with onboard solar or wind charging built into trips and power trains.

That said, we may also see fewer ports and harbors dedicated to commercial fishing, a consolidation. Climate change and economics will drive this.

We also will see a profound shift in the species our industry lands. Climbing temperatures will make our waters less hospitable to iconic cold-water fish like cod, haddock and flounders.

Looking south, we can see where we might be in three decades. Maybe we’ll be shrimp ports, hard as that is to accept; shrimping has already traveled north from the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and Georgia as far as Virginia. Black sea bass will be a staple not as plentiful as codfish of old but still plenty.

I see us continuing to have a lucrative scallop fishery, but instead of being in the middle of prolific scallop grounds that run from the mid-Atlantic to the Gulf of Maine, we will be at the southern boundary of the fishery.

How about lobsters, another profitable target? My prediction is that our backshore lobster fishery, meaning east of the arm of the Cape, will stay strong because lobsters out there belong to a big cohort that reaches all the way to Georges Bank and deep-water canyons. Warming waters will create more challenges in Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound.

Speaking of warmer, one byproduct of climate change is going to be increasing tension between commercial fishing and recreational fishing. Down south that friction already is serious, and recreational guys have more money and political clout so they have been driving rules and regs. Around here commercial fleets work all year, but recreational fleets don’t like to (or need to) freeze. As the recreational season lengthens conflicts are bound to get worse. We need to get ahead of this and do a better job finding mutual benefit rather than always focusing on resource competition.

All this prognosticating reminds me of an appropriate book right about now, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” You’ll remember that the third ghost visiting Scrooge was the Ghost of Christmas Future, and the visions he offered were depressing to say the least. But he made sure Scrooge understood that these were glimpses of what might be, not what had to be. Scrooge had the capacity to change that future, and he did, by changing the present.

For 30 years, we’ve been trying to change the present as a way of improving the future. My crystal ball shows me clearly that – with your support — this is the path we will travel for decades to come.

In the meantime, here’s a hope much closer to now: enjoy a wonderful holiday season, and a joyous New Year.


e-Magazine PDF’s