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Sunday, March 28, 2010

When I returned to that place I called home, Monhegan, I had a job on a fishing boat.We went off on the 4th of July gill-netting ground fish.Thats hake,pollack,cod,cusk,some monkfish,a shark occasionally.These fish live close to the bottom so the net was rigged to sink then stand up off the bottom so the fish would swim into them and be caught by the head..gill-netting.We would make one day trips to start when the fish were close to the mainland.Then the dogfish would come in and we would move offshore taking two day trips.
We would have the pens full on deck when we were day tripping.So just for fun we would grab our fishing poles and sit on the picking table as the party fishing boats passed by.They would see us and six or eight thousand pounds of fish and think we had jigged them all.I'm sure the boat captain set them straight though.We sold mostly in Boothbay Harbor.Many trips were ended with us shacking (gutting)fish till the early morning hours.If we had ten thousand or more pounds we would hire a couple of gutters to speed up the process.Then we would go down to a little eatery that served breakfast at two o'clock in the morning.Then back to the boat for a couple hours sleep to awaken to the sound of the engine as we steamed out to the gear.This routine lasted only till the voracious dogfish arrived on the grounds to drive the fish off.
The routine of offshore fishing was less hectic but exhausting in it's own way.We had three strings of gear and to keep the fish fresh we would haul the gear then shack the fish and ice them in the fish hold below deck. As  times changed and fish prices rose quality became paramount.We cut between strings and iced the fish below.This process made for a longer day although as the years progressed the catch diminished so it didn't make much difference.We mostly ran to Portland to land our catch at the fish exchange.I had bought my first boat and married in 1983.Katy and I moved into our first house on Monhegan and suddenly trip fishing lost it's allure.Of course It had also lost it's profitability as the fish grew scarce.I can't begin to estimate the tons of fish we had landed in the few years I was in the fishery.I knew something was going to change when the captain of the vessel I worked on showed me a computer printout(back when computers spit out reams of paper reports)that listed frozen fish stocks.The freezers were full of fish bought at pennies per pound (our boat prices)to be sold at dollars per pound.That was the final nail in the coffin for the few boats still in the fishery as the meager catch was devalued by frozen inventory to the point of being worthless.My last day came as I pitched roughly two thousand pounds of beautiful hake over the side because there was no market for them.That was the story.Not that the fish weren't there,but the market was glutted and there started to be quotas for the boats so as to stretch the limited market to include all the boats.That was the end of that.Now just about every species of fish is so regulated you need a reference book to know how many and what size on which days of the week you can land them.Now with automatic identification systems (bought by the boat owner) observers at the dockside,and( I hear) video cameras on the boat I'd be surprised if any small boats will last long.I envision only large factory freezer trawlers will be left soon.Although I heard the theory that this created greater access to the fishery because shareholders of the corporations that own these behemoths will be counted as fishermen.I wonder how many pairs of boots and gloves and oil gear they will be purchasing?

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