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Future for fishermen bleak under cod ban

GLOUCESTER — On the cusp of what is effectively a six-month ban on cod fishing, Russell Sherman could have spent Tuesday on the Gulf of Maine trying to catch what he could.

Instead, he never left Jodrey State Pier, opting to work on repairs to the 72-foot fishing vessel he wants to sell, rather than make a final run for cod. And he had harsh words for the federal officials who oversee the fishing industry.

“They say, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry, boys. We got to do this. We got to do it for the fish,’ ” Sherman, 66, said from the Lady Jane. “ ‘Now go out of business quietly, will you.’ ”


The death knell, Sherman and other fishermen said, was sounded Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which announced emergency measures intended to protect cod populations from further decline. The new rules go into effect Thursday.

That left fishermen, the day-boat operators who cannot venture beyond restricted areas, wondering about their futures as they hauled to port what were probably their last cod catches.

“We make these plans to maximize our investment and try to eke what little bit we can out of this business, and they cut it right off at the knees,” Sherman said. “Boom.”

The veteran fisherman said he came to Gloucester after graduating from Harvard College. Sherman was a “scholarship kid” and said he was desperate to get a job so he wouldn’t have to return to his parents’ home in Putnam, Conn.

He found he enjoyed fishing. And even better — the job paid well.

“I was making more money than my dad was, and I was working half the time,” Sherman said.

Now Sherman said he hasn’t earned more than $50,000 annually in a decade and wants to sell the Lady Jane, named for his mother.


“I’ve had to leave the boat in disrepair cosmetically for four years. Now we’re trying to desperately sell the boat, so we’re putting a little lipstick on it,” he said as two friends helped him with repairs. “This [boat] was going to take me into a retirement. But I’m not going to have a retirement.”

Across the harbor, Al Cottone pulled up to the docks aboard the Sabrina Maria with cod and yellowtail flounder.

Cottone, who has been fishing for 30 years, said he caught nearly 1,200 pounds of cod in about an hour and 15 minutes.

“I’m pretty much done for the year with my allocation. I caught it all in three days,” Cottone said.

With the ban, Cottone said, his future is unclear.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Cottone’s friend, Joe Orlando, was aghast. How could regulators claim the cod population was in freefall when Cottone caught so much in just over an hour, he asked.

“It’s unbelievable,” Orlando said as Cottone’s catch was unloaded at Ocean Crest Seafoods Inc. “We got proof. We can prove it. But yet they disregard that proof, you know. They’re God and jury, and that’s it. We’re nothing.”

Facing tougher regulations, Orlando said he sold a 65-foot fishing vessel last year and downsized to a 50-foot vessel. His son, who had been fishing with him for 14 years, quit and got a “shore job.”

As Orlando was getting the smaller boat ready, he said, he started hearing rumors that even more stringent rules were coming.


So he put the 50-foot boat up for sale and started looking for an even smaller vessel that he could take out by himself, Orlando said. Now he says he could lose it all.

“I stand to lose my house, my boat,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.’’

While announcing the emergency restrictions on cod, federal regulators tried to soften the blow by increasing quotas for haddock, which also feeds along the ocean floor. But local fishermen said limiting cod catches to 200 pounds per boat also prohibits them from fishing other species, including haddock.

“It’s cod that they’re shutting us off on. But cod swims with the other species,” Sherman said. “The areas that they closed are the areas where we’d access the Gulf of Maine haddock, and so there could be umpteen millions of them swimming out there and we can’t touch them.”

Mayor Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester said the emergency measures will hit day-boat fishermen the hardest. The boats they use make up the largest portion of the fleet on the city’s waterfront and aren’t designed to venture beyond the restricted areas.

“They’re really at the end of their line,” she said.

Still, she said the city’s economy and waterfront have diversified to include more recreational fishing and charter boats. The city has two cultural districts and plans to mark the opening of a hotel this week, Kirk said.

“This impact will be felt on the families,” she said. “It’s something that we hate to see because we’ve seen it so many times.”


Since federal regulators announced the restrictions, local fishermen said the price for cod has plummeted, giving them even less incentive to fish for it.

Fishermen aboard the Capt. Novello, for example, said they spent part of Tuesday fishing for gray sole, not cod, which is selling for $1.25 per pound.

“It’s the last day,” Marc Frontiero said. “We’re done for the year.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com.