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Fishing's decline looms; will fish eaters notice?
But prices will likely change little after the cuts because substitutes are plentiful, said Chris Fream, senior sales executive at North Atlantic Inc., a processor in Portland, Maine.
"The sky certainly isn't falling because a) we knew it was coming and b) we've prepared for it and there's other species that are around," he said.
The remaining fishermen have limited options. The Northeast's groundfish fleet had 420 boats in 2011, a drop of 150 in just two years, and many of those who continue to fish do so because they have no choice.
Scituate fisherman Frank Mirarchi noted wryly that, at 69, he has few employment options. The fishermen he cooperates with, pooling quota and resources, have discussed taking even more boats out of the water and trying to hang in with whatever they can catch.
"This is not a long-term strategy," Mirarchi said. "Something needs to happen before 2014 or we all go down the tubes."
The crew on Gloucester fisherman Richard Burgess's two boats is family, and he said he hasn't considered selling out of the business.
"I put them out on the street, where are they going to get a goddamn job?" he said. "And these are men who have devoted their lives to feeding the country fresh fish. And now the country is stabbing us in the heart."
Groundfish accounts for 50 percent of the business for Richie Canastra, co-owner at the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction in New Bedford. He can still depend on the port's robust scallop catch, but he said he's already laid off four of 30 workers and anticipates another 10 layoffs when the cuts kick in in May.
There's talk of government aid for fishermen, after the fishery was declared an economic disaster last year. But the best hope for many in the industry seems to be a correction in the science that fishermen view as deeply flawed. There's also a belief that natural fluctuations have made fish scarce this year, and those same fluctuations can bring them back.
Canastra recalls the story about a 1928 Massachusetts license plate that featured a symbol of codfish that appears to be swimming away from the plate's abbreviation for the state. The cod catch suddenly dropped that year, prompting superstitious fishermen to demand the plate be changed to show the fish swimming toward the state name.
It was, and the cod came back to Massachusetts. It can again, Canastra said.
"My point is, there are cycles," he said.
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