One of my earliest memories is of halyards clanging against masts at a marina on the Connecticut shore. I was definitely younger than eight. I don’t have a recollection of my little brothers in that episode of my life so I’m guessing I was about five. It was the first time I remember being at ocean’s edge and the first time I had a romantic notion of life’s endless possibilities. Later, my parents divorced and we moved to the coast of Maine where I was enchanted by the fishing boats steaming down the narrows past our house. For a long while, before I realized I wouldn’t be able to wash my long hair every day offshore, I wanted to fish in the Canadian fishing fleet. I worked in fish processing factories through school and summer vacations. To this day, I love the smell of rotting fish and low tide.
I have always had one foot in the sea and the other on the shore. I’ve never been seriously romantically involved with anyone who did not share my love of the ocean. When I met my husband, he was trip fishing between the Hague Line, the North Atlantic boundary between the US and Canada in the Gulf of Maine, and out to the Atlantic Canyons of the Continental Shelf. It was a good life when we were relatively young, an indescribably romantic time in our lives. When my husband stopped fishing, over ten years ago, the writing was on the wall. Fisheries management in the U.S. imposed restrictions that were necessary, to preserve the resource, but would ultimately terminate a way of life.
The accuracy of technology created circumstances that led to the over fishing of some species until stocks dwindled alarmingly. I remember navigating with a sextant, compass and chart, then with LORAN, and now GPS technology has emerged as the only way to navigate. The fish didn’t stand a chance. Human nature being what it is, historic amounts of fish were caught. Women hoping to relieve lonely, good natured, fisherman of large amounts of cash were outrageously transparent and surprisingly successful. When catches were huge, fishermen would rent stretch limos and party like rock stars. Often they’d sail for the next trip with only the change in their pockets to show for all the hard work of the previous trip. There had been a demand for fish to feed the planet’s population. No demand, no market. The market created over fishing. Fishermen were thrilled to be making big money. Bankers couldn’t wait to get their smelly cash and finance larger boats, homes and trucks. I worked on some of those commercial loans. The fishermen put everything they owned up as collateral.
On the evening news, I heard a report that the cod and yellowtail fisheries will be reduced by 77% from last year’s catch limits. The smaller boats will not survive the cutback. They’ll never be able to make it; fuel prices alone will keep them from making a profit. I am profoundly sad to be witnessing this part of the economy disappear. If you’re unfamiliar with fishing communities then you wouldn’t notice the decline in actual working waterfront. Some of the places I’ve loved best have been gentrified beyond recognition. The world does not need another Company C store on the waterfront; it needs a vibrant working economy that produces food and jobs. I don’t have the answer to managing sustainable fisheries. I know that regulation has been successful for some species. I also know that lobsters are shedding far earlier than they used to, a likely symptom of climate change or global warming- whatever the more palatable term is. I wonder, too, if the most recent fisheries regulations have anything to do with proposed oil exploration at the Atlantic Canyons.
There was a piece about a local dairy selling its herd in this morning’s paper. It was the last dairy in town to cease operations; squeezed shut between the costs of fuel and grain to feed the cows. The barn echos in emptiness, vacated by the last generation of cows that had been in residence for 60 years. The farmers said, “We’ve been lucky, we’ve bought what we needed as we went and tried to pay for it. Some of them guys are buried so deep, I don’t know how they’re ever going to get out.” Before they called it quits they spent every penny of their savings to keep the farm working. Our choices for local food will disappear completely before long.
While I was at the post office this morning I overheard two working class men, in their late 50’s, talking. One said to the other, “I’m working harder than I ever have. I’m tired but I have to keep at it because a lot of people aren’t working.” We’re working harder for less. The costs of doing business are increasing and profits are shrinking for micro businesses, resulting in less for more-less wages for more workers, less jobs for more people, less security for everyone.
Rather than face the realities of the not so distant future, Americans are sidetracked by March Madness, never questioning why it is that college coaches are grossly overpaid and, until recently, why student athletes were only required to maintain a 2.0 GPA. I heard a basketball player slaughter the English language in an interview today. Don’t fritter your time away with a rebuttal in defense of the NCAA. One of the kids in my life wasted a partial athletic scholarship and was, sadly, one of many student athletes, I observed, who squandered space a student with academic aspirations could have made good use of. If we’re to be sidetracked, it may behoove us to be sidetracked by the grand theft perpetrated on the Cypriots. For the citizens of the U.S.A. that parable came a bit late. We’ve been rolled already.
Perhaps we will be better able to concentrate on the unfortunate reality of our national situation toward the end of April. Spring will have arrived and our attention will be diverted by pleasant thoughts. As hopeful as a change of seasons may be, it will not improve current conditions. Food and energy costs will not decrease. It does not seem that we can work our way out of the hole we’ve dug. Optimism is certainly more pleasant but it is also unwarranted.