June 1999 News & Comment for and by the Fishermen of Maine SUBSCRIBE NOW!!
by Mike Crowe
As tough occupations go, dory fishing has got to have been among the handful of most difficult and dangerous, maybe ever. Long hours, heavy work, great fatigue, small working space, extremes of weather and rapidly changing seas, were the more predictable aspects of the job. What may have been a minor screw up on land, too often was a fatal mistake under these conditions. Fatal results were not limited to human error. The sudden change in seas and weather could bring disaster upon the most diligent doryman.
Captain John Cary, of Essex, Massachusetts, who fished out of dories and skippered his own dory schooners in the 1930s and 1940s out of Gloucester and Portland, recently recalled those days when going out on a (dory schooner) trip "you left knowing you may not come back." On the other hand, he mentioned how beautiful it could be on Georges Bank in good weather, which included snowy days. Cary skippered, among others, the engineless Winifred M. and the Dorothy and Kay.
Though the dory had been around earlier, it came into its own when schooners began taking them out to the banks to fish for haddock and cod in the mid-1800s. Lapstrake planked, painted a pale orange color with dark green cap rails and a large numeral on the bow, the dory was unmistakable in its time.
Dory fishermen worked out of 18' boats, sometimes 120 miles offshore. Measured by the bottom length, a 14' dory was 18' overall. Its beam was about 5 feet. Designed to carry fish, they were rugged, seaworthy, cheap and easily stacked on deck. The rocker bottom helped it roll up on oncoming waves. High ends and great outward flare amidship made them more seaworthy and easier to handle when loaded. Dories were double ended, though the stern does have a wedge shaped transom dorymen call the tombstone.
Through the stern was a hole, left unplugged while stacked, allowing for drainage. The plug for this hole also had a hole, through which a length of 1/4" rope was passed and shaped into a loop outside the hull. This gave the doryman something to grasp in a capsize.
A typical dory schooner of 120' might have about ten dories. They were stacked, nested, on both sides of the boat amidship. A day of fishing began when the skipper would call out "bait up." The fishermen would gulp down a cup of coffee, grab a piece of bread and begin cutting bait. Baiting hooks was done before dawn by candlelight or oil lamp. In winter it was done in the fish hold. In summer cutting stages were also set up on the cabin top and men stood at the sides cutting bait.
A normal daylight set was 3-4 tubs of trawl. The tub, a wooden barrel that had been cut in half measured about 30" in diameter and 24" high. A tub held 10 ground lines that were 55 fathoms each and tied end to end. Each ground line had about 55 branch lines with hooks at the ends. The hooks were baited and coiled into the tub. Two good dorymen could bait 1500 in about 2 hours.
The baited tubs were then moved forward to the nested dories just as first light came into the east. Dorymen jumped into the top dories preparing them by driving the plug, loading oars, sail and gear. Trawl tubs, anchors, lines and buoys were stored in the ends. They also brought a water bottle and bait-butt (a wooden or leather box that held a compass, spare nippers, a piece of pemmican or hardtack and maybe tobacco). The dory carried a cone-shaped fog horn for use in fog. Each dory had its own signal as did the schooner. The trick to being found in thick fog was to stay in one place signaling to the schooner.
Fishing in all but the most extreme weather required special gear. Back then, they dressed the same summer and winter; long underwear, wool pants and flannel shirt under a wool shirt. The sleeves of all shirts were staked, cut off to mid-forearm. This was done to prevent boils or fish sores caused by fish slime and sand in a shirt cuff. This gurry (slime and sand) would irritate the skin, close the pores and cause infection. Some dorymen wore two or three turns of copper chain around the wrists. The sulfides in the metal were an antidote to infections from the fish slime. Wristers, a knit band that slipped over the wrist, were also used.
In winter they added an extra flannel shirt, an extra pair of socks and sheepskin boot moccasins. Boots were two sizes too big so they could be kicked off easily if a man went overboard.
Skins, probably the most specialized and universal of the gear, were linen suits treated with shellac and sometimes fish oil. These and the sou'westers they wore to keep water off their head and neck, had to be re-painted every couple of months.
The prepared dories were hoisted outboard and held in slings. The ground line was attached to an anchor with a buoy line off it, a 100-pound nail keg for a buoy, and a shaft on the buoy so weighted that the numbered flag on that shaft remained upright. This last part was called the "high flier."
When the skipper blew the whistle the high flier buoy was thrown overboard. As the line ran out the remaining coils of buoy line, the anchor and the first of the baited line were thrown out board. The dory was then lowered and the set was begun.
While the bowman rowed to leeward, the sternman set trawl. A 20" stick called a lifter was inserted under one or two coils in the tub. He would lift them up and with a circular motion flick them out, one after another. The last line of one tub was tied to the first of the next tub. At the end of the last tub another anchor was attached, another buoy line and another numbered buoy. The two buoys with anchors and ground line between was the trawl.
After the set, the dories went back to the vessel where they were hoisted aboard and stacked on deck. At this time, just after sunrise, the cook would yell "breakfast" or ring a bell. The cook was an important member of the crew. Breakfast was eggs, potatoes, meat, fish, finnan haddies, bread, muffins ("dory plugs") and left over cake. They ate as much as they could as fast as they could. They would rinse off their dish and mug and the next group of crew would come down to eat.
There was not much water to wash. Most didn't wash themselves until the trip home. Living conditions aboard the schooner may have been rough by today's antibiotic hand soap and high powered dish washer standards, but germs were not the big threat for these guys.
The skipper would have brought the vessel up to weather for dropping off dories to haul the first set and for setting the second. Dories were dropped 80 yards upwind of the lee buoy. Drifting upon the buoy, the line was gaffed and drawn into the sheave of the dory roller. This hardwood roller wheel was set into the forward starboard cap rail.
Both dorymen stood, the forward man hauling as fast as he could, the aft man coiling the line. The kid boards, boards set under the second and the stern thwart, then held against the frames with cleats, were in place. Kid boards held the fish as they were caught in a pen in the dory waist and kept them from sloshing loose under foot.
The bowman hauled line, flipping baits off empty hooks. He may have used nippers to do this. Nippers were fabric wrapped around rope, folded into a vee and held around the line while hauling, to protect the hands. When he came to a branch line with a fish he reached down the line, grasped it and would swing it aboard over his right hip snapping or slatting the fish loose.
With the average cod or haddock this was routine; but larger cod or in particular, halibut covered with slime as they were and explosive with attitude as they could be, presented variables. The small mouthed halibut liked cod. To get around the small mouth problem John Cary said, "they throw themselves on a cod and thrash it on the bottom until it has suffocated or has been knocked out. The halibut can then leisurely tear up the cod into small bites." One of these 200-pound monsters bursting out of the water to confront two guys in a small boat could break the rhythm of an early morning haul.
Hauling was hard work, particularly in a strong tide or rough sea. Dory schooners fished in rough weather - 20 mph winds and 8 foot seas. It was exhausting work in rough weather and dory mates switched positions frequently.
The weather could turn foul quickly. Some dories may be several miles from the vessel at times. The vessel was sometimes among the dories with the skipper watching for signs of change. Men cutting cod might begin seeing stones in the guts. This was read as bad weather on the way. How bad or how near they couldn't say, it might be more than a day. Cod would swallow stones to weight themselves on the bottom and ride out the storm.
Naturally, flat calm and clear weather was preferred, but the combination was too rare. John Cary said his "favorite fishing conditions were in a snowfall. The water was calm and the atmosphere so peaceful. Particularly on Georges, rain could flatten the water, too."
While setting or hauling, dorymen ran into dorymen from other vessels, traded news, rumors or information on what vessels a doryman might get aboard after his has been filled.
A dory would hold 1000 pounds in bad weather and 2000 pounds when the weather was good. A ten dory vessel with dories fishing 1800 pounds a set, going for a second and a third short set, could fill the vessel in 3 or 4 days. When a dory was full or all of a trawl hauled, it was rowed or sailed to the vessel to be unloaded.
Fish were forked into pens on deck. It was then cut, gutted and washed in tubs. Hold men set up wooden chutes the dressed fish would be slid down. The fish was iced and neatly stacked in pens head to tail. Gutters dropped the entrails into water filled tubs and retrieved the livers that floated to the top. These were barreled, some times a dozen barrels per trip, and sold to companies that extracted the cod liver oil.
Depending on what amount was in the hold, a third set may be made. At 5 p.m. it had been a 14-hour day and another set may be in the works. Dory schooners went out and fished until the vessel was full or they ran out of food. In the summer there would be enough light for a third set. In winter a kerosene lantern was carried in the dory. It would be 9 p.m. by the time they got back from a third set. Then they dressed down the fish.
Trips averaged 4 to 6 days in summer and 6 to 8 in winter. Skippers varied in attitude and ability. Owners varied in the pressure put on skippers and crews.
The trip was wrapped up with a race home. Sail was loaded on with the hope of gaining a market advantage and getting the fish back in the best shape possible. This part of the trip, on its own, is another story.
Working for the Man
by Paul Molyneaux
Four hundred years ago, the fishing industry in North America consisted of a few monopolies. At one point, almost all English fishermen on the Grand Bank worked for the London and Bristol Company. In 1608 men like Sir Francis Popham controlled the fishing rights over large areas of New England, and fishermen chartered vessels and fishing rights from his companies. At that time, governments granted merchants exclusive fishing rights to protect profits.
Over the years, fishermen successfully broke the monopolies of what became known in New England as the Codfish Aristocracy. But with the moratorium on Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) due to expire in the year 2000, regulators are considering granting exclusive fishing rights again, this time to protect depleted resources.
Welcome to fisheries management for the next millennium, and the rebirth of the Codfish Aristocracy.
IFQs more commonly referred to as ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas) allocate rights to a certain portion of the total allowable catch in a fishery. In 1996, after instituting the moratorium on this controversial management tool, Congress also called for the National Research Council (NRC) to produce a report on ITQs by October 1, 1998. That report has recently been released and it takes an objective look at what ITQs have looked like in the U.S. and other countries, what these programs have to offer and what their pitfalls are.
The arguments over Individual Fishing Quotas are between the longstanding New England tradition of free fishing, already diminished by management measures, and what many consider a sure fire way to control fishing mortality.
The recent NRC report, titled "Sharing the Fish: Toward a National Policy on Individual Fishing Quotas," basically outlines the pros and cons of IFQ programs. On the plus side the report argues that with ITQs fishermen have a vested interest in the resource and are more motivated to conserve. They can also be choosier about when they fish and, by playing the market, derive more income from the resource; and regulators working with fewer, more cooperative, players can more easily keep landings below the total allowable catch (TAC).
The buzz among many leading conservation groups, academics, and regulators is all about making ITQs work for U.S. fisheries. Although some are concerned with equitable allocation of quota, and measures to insure that quota does not get concentrated into the hands of a few fishing operations, others are content to let the market determine the future structure of the fishing industry. Retired San Diego State University professor, Elmer Keen, author of a book titled Ownership and Productivity of Marine Fishery Resources, has been advocating a single entity owning entire resources with fishermen buying shares and becoming stockholders.
"With a corporate framework as I suggest," said Keen, "the incentives will be to manage the stocks to maximize benefits from the ecosystem as a whole by managing it as a whole. Stockholders who are responsible for electing officials of the corporation will, out of self-interest, retain control of the corporation. All will have the incentive to work toward maximum benefits from the whole, not from individual rights to fish before they are caught."
Although Keen sees ITQs as the "heal all" for fisheries management and protection of the ecosystem, many of Maine's industry leaders do not agree. "ITQs will destroy Downeast Maine," said Portland, Maine vessel owner and New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) member, Barbara Stevenson. "I'd probably make money with ITQs but it's not all about making money." Stevenson believes the management efficiency and potential profits ITQs offer are not worth the social destruction they would cause in Maine's small fishing communities.
NEFMC member John Williamson is also "uncomfortable with ITQs." According to Williamson, "ITQs look good on paper. They're a straight forward and attractive way to control effort and fishing mortality, but they can look very different in reality."
Two years ago Williamson spent time in Iceland, where ITQs have been in place for twenty years. "Over time, access to quota has been bought up by a few corporations and consolidated onto larger vessels operating out of Reykjavik, the only city in the country with a deep water port," said Williamson. "They've taken landings out of small communities, and the fishing infrastructures in those communities are collapsing. In fact, now they're scrapping the big otter trawlers they consolidated that quota onto and are transferring it to factory trawlers. The fishing is becoming more and more industrialized, more under corporate control."
The NRC report addresses the issues raised by Williamson. Under many ITQ programs there has been increasing incentive for small boat owners, struggling to make a living in the face of other management measures, to cash in their quota and leave the fishery. The more highly capitalized, urban centered, operations tend to grow at the expense of small communities. The report offers some ways to remedy that, among them Community Development Quotas, now in use in Alaska and Iceland. Local fishermen's associations are given quota to be managed jointly. Where fishermen own the quota as a group it becomes impossible for individuals to sell out one by one, and the quota stays in the community.
Despite trends that have seen fishing effort in Maine shifting toward Portland over the years, Williamson said he is working hard to keep the industry spread out. Rather than ITQs he favors other management measures such as closed areas, and what he called "more discrete management regimes, recognizing that all areas are not homogeneous and need to be dealt with differently."
Some Maine fisheries, however, seem to fit the criteria, outlined in the NRC report, as those best managed by an ITQ system. In the lobster fishery for instance, there is an increase in traps without a corresponding increase in catch. According to the NRC this inefficient redundancy could be eliminated with ITQs. In the bluefin tuna harpoon fishery the "derby" that drives fishermen to push the weather and rely on planes would become unnecessary. If all fishermen knew they had a fixed quota for the season, they could relax and play the market better. These are some of the considerations proponents of ITQs offer, but the reality, as John Williamson put it, "looks very different."
"Maine has everything to lose and nothing to gain from ITQs," said Williamson. "They will only degrade the social structure of the small communities that rely on fishing."
The use of Community Development Quota to keep the landings spread out along the coast might help; in fact some argue that CDQs would actually help preserve small communities.
But the corporate mentality is widespread throughout the NRC report, where efficiency is identified as the ultimate goal of management. According to the report, "IFQs and steps toward them (e.g., getting rid of small boat 'marginal' fishers; using trip limits and vessel quotas) are ways to increase the chances of making a living from a scarce resource." Although the report promotes fairness in initial allocations, the ensuing concentration of quota is sometimes seen as desirable for the sake of efficiency. Besides a reportedly failsafe way of regulating the industry, what ITQs appear to offer is something New England has not seen since the 1600s, total control of the fisheries by a few corporations.