The strengths of this industry, and community
For a long time now, I’ve been reacting against a certain perspective about our fishing industry as a whole, and the men and women who make it work.
We hear it a lot, from well-intentioned, sympathetic people around the community, around the country, who don’t mean to be negative or condescending. Sometimes I even hear echoes of it from within the fleet.
Here’s how it goes: The fisheries are a shadow of what they used to be. The poor people who still fish for a living are stubborn throwbacks, living on borrowed time, an endangered species, battling an inevitable economic tide, still trying to do something that worked 50 or 100 years ago but now is a romantic relic. They are the last of the hunters in a society that no longer celebrates or supports the hunt. They try to remain independent in a society that no longer celebrates or supports independence.
Funny, but when I look around at the people and businesses we work with at the Fishermen’s Alliance, I see something profoundly different.
I see hardworking entrepreneurs, independent business people who are making a go of it.
I see a steady stream of major investments in boats, gear, quota, and infrastructure, often in the six-figure range, which means that I see smart business plans that satisfy lenders, qualify for good loans, and create access to capital.
I see nimble people diversifying their businesses, focusing on smarter tactics, more profitable species, better marketing, and stronger relationships with wholesale and retail buyers.
I see mortgages getting paid, truck loans covered, enough income to support a nice vacation now and then or even a down payment on a cabin in the woods somewhere special.
I see guys (mostly, because the industry is mostly men) who have become very sophisticated about using technology to track trips and locate fish, reporting to and satisfying government regulators who oversee their industry (much as government regulators oversee many industries).
I see politically savvy individuals who come together to advocate for their immediate business interests in public hearings, as well as looking ahead a decade, a generation, pushing for what the green folks refer to as “sustainability.”
Of course I see issues and problems. Yes, the stocks of some of our popular species are at historic lows, and that void is being filled by other species that are not as valuable or popular. Yes, climate changes and government management continue to create uncertainty about the future. Yes, it’s harder now to find a boat, jump onboard, grab the wheel, go fishing, work hard, and make a good living without having a bankroll to start.
But the “good old days” weren’t always so great either. And throughout, the intelligence and creativity of the fleet has not waned. If anything, this generation of fishermen is, of necessity, sharper and quicker to adapt to challenges that in some ways are new but in many ways remain constant as tides.
Does this sound like a pitiful tale of woe? Far from it. This is an industry and a way of life that persists, and will survive. It contributes more to our economy, culture, history, and self-image than any other industry on Cape Cod.
So a sympathetic pat on the back is not what’s in order. What’s called for is support, celebration, appreciation, and respect.