Federal Regulators And Climate Alarmists Are Killing America’s Oldest, Most Iconic Industry

Federal Regulators And Climate Alarmists Are Killing America’s Oldest, Most Iconic Industry

By Jerry Leeman

American fishermen are the most regulated in the world, and it’s driving experienced captains off the water and young people away from their homes in search of opportunities elsewhere.

At 41, I’m one of the younger fishing boat captains in New England. I’m grateful Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, met with me last week to discuss helping fishermen get a seat at the table with regulators. We who work the water, the same waters our families worked for generations, now find ourselves at the mercy of the “Faucis of fishing” — self-assured bureaucrats who sit behind desks with no sense of the harm they’re causing.

Tracking, catching, and landing fish while looking to the safety of our boats and crews is job enough. But to assure compliance with the regulatory regime, we have to be part lawyer and even part shrink. Extreme conditions at sea subject people to stress they would never otherwise encounter. When the skies darken and the swells rise, a new fisherman or a federal observer joining us for a voyage are sometimes overwhelmed with panic.

You might wonder what I mean by a “federal observer.” I’m referring to federal employees who board my vessel and monitor our onboard activities while we’re at sea. They check our compliance with quotas, keep track of what we discard, and log our interactions with aquatic life, among so many other things. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes them, with needless hostility, as the agency’s “eyes and ears on the water.” Evidently, the Faucis of fishing think American workers making a living need surveillance.

I don’t question the goodwill of the observers. They are mission-oriented professionals who, like me, are passionate about good stewardship of the ocean. But they embody the suffocating regulation American fishermen face. Imagine doing your job for hours at a time in harrowing situations with a stranger peering severely over your shoulder, making careful notes as to all of your activities, waiting for you to make a mistake.

Rather than plant spies on our boats, the agencies might seek input from fishermen like me. We know the migration patterns of fish better than anyone. We know the ocean floor like others know streets. And I’d venture to say that we have a better sense of the health of the fish stocks than anyone, including regulators.

For example, NOAA is reducing the quota for haddock and white hake — the main fish species I pursue — by 82 percent and 5 percent respectively. They claim, based on a limited survey, that these populations are in precipitous decline. I have to disagree. Here’s an example of our haddock and white hake landings from just this week.

But despite decades of practical experience informed by the knowledge of our fathers and grandfathers, fishermen have no voice in the regulatory process.

Take a body called the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), a committee that gives advice to NOAA about catch quotas and other basic rules that directly affect my livelihood. NEFMC has 18 voting members. Not a single one of them is a commercial fisherman, or a lobsterman, or a tuna boat captain.

This must change in the interest of sound policy, the fleet, and the communities that depend on us to sustain them. Our elected representatives in New England must ensure we fishermen can participate on NEFMC in a meaningful way.

Involving fishermen might help regulators better appreciate the ways their actions are undercutting American workers. For example, regulators require us to use nets with a 6.5-inch diamond-shaped mesh. But Canadian fishermen, who are working the same general area and pursuing the same body of fish, can use 5.2-inch meshes. This sounds technical, but the difference is enormous. Canadian nets have a much higher yield per landing, with much less discarded product.

Worse yet, we have to compete with Canadian products as soon as we get to shore. The Faucis of fishing make us land less product than the Canadians, and then we have to compete with Canada in the same market.

The population of American fishermen is dwindling and aging, owing to hostile regulators and green energy companies that are driving us off the water. The prevailing trend will be fatal to our heritage and to coastal communities who count on the fleet.

This is being done to us by choice. It doesn’t have to be this way. We should start by treating fishermen as good faith partners and collaborators, not hostiles to be surveilled. I hope Sen. Collins and our elected representatives will help.

Jerry Leeman is a commercial fishing boat captain with over twenty years of experience. He comes from a long line of fishermen and lobstermen, who are proud to practice the nation’s founding craft. Jerry lives in Maine, and he sails out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. 


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