For years I worked with commercial fishermen toward a better future for commercial fisheries in America.
Being in my late 20s when I started working in fisheries, I was ever hopeful that forward-thinking fishermen and policies like catch shares would prevail, improving fishing conditions, keeping fishermen working and providing fish for the future.
Now six or seven years and a love story later, I have taken on a new role. While my fisherman husband works to keep boats afloat and crew employed while also attending South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings, talking with local leaders and Congress, and trying to get fishermen involved, I work on the “books” side of fishing to make sure the income-to-bills equation keeps food on the table for our family of four, and to keep all vessel reports, dealer reports, electronic reports, and other paperwork up to date.
In this role, the true weight of keeping a fishing business alive really hits home.
It is not just the infamous “regulations” that make fishing hard; it is the steady stream of yellow notices, blue notices, permit renewals, logbooks, dealer reports, safety inspections and more that make fishing a nearly impossible web of red tape.
Last week alone I filled out over 20 forms reporting on the same fish four different times to federal and state agencies.
In the course of this quadruple reporting for our catch, I noted different reports ask for the information in different forms, making it impossible to provide data that is consistent and making it likely that fish will be double counted.
I have a masters level education and find it difficult to keep up with the requirements. What do regulators expect of full-time fishermen? This complex and inconsistent system of reporting combined with draconian regulations seem to be making criminals out of generally law-abiding fishermen who are trying to make a living in a business that many have spent decades building from scratch.
Much of the reporting (except for the monthly “no fish reports”) is soon to grind to a halt as regulations (trip limits, closures, endorsements — the standard regulatory buffet for the South Atlantic Council) will shut down much of the commercial fishery by mid-September with a near complete closure likely by early fall.
My husband and I are battening down the hatches, making good on debts, working with our crews to understand what the closures mean for them and their families, and finding jobs for crew in the Gulf of Mexico, where their well-managed catch-share fisheries are open year-round. At the same time, we are both looking for other work.
For years I’ve heard the South Atlantic Council say that conditions in the fishery are not bad enough for catch shares. Well, here it is. Now’s the time.
The council is meeting in Charleston from Monday through Friday. I encourage anyone who can attend, to tell the council that you support your local fishermen and catch shares, and that closures do not work. I wouldn’t expect many fishermen to be there, because they’re going to be on the water trying to make a last pay check.
I, myself, would be there, but alas, I’ll be filling out paperwork.
Waccamaw Producers Inc.