Over the past twenty or so years most of what I've done -- and what I most enjoy doing-- is taking passengers for hire. Fishing, scuba diving, whalewatching, sightseeing. If I had my druthers, I'd have a 100' expedition vessel that slept a dozen or so people, and I'd run adventure expeditions to Labrador and back. Unfortunately, with family obligations, I just can't be away from home for extended periods of time. I need something smaller. A day boat.
Whalewatching and fishing are out. The whales have moved offshore to search for food and/or avoid the maze of fixed lobster gear inside, and new gov't regs on cod now limit anglers to two fish of 24" or better. You can't take people 50 miles offshore, reel up and then discard twenty small cod (they don't survive the trip up from depths of 40 or 50 fathoms), just to come home with two fish. It's just plain stupid. Think about it. The regs force anglers to discard and kill the small ones in order to get their two big fish. Read the Where is the Cod? report below to see how crazy this policy really is.
There's also the herring issue. While the feds have put an end to pair trawling, pressure remains severe on this ocean staple as a lobster bait. Lobstermen are now paying as much as $30 a bushel for bait, and whales, tuna, and other marine predators are getting skinnier every year. The pogies are gone. Maybe we're looking at the same fate for herring.
Unfortunately, it's not like much can be done about it. Lobstering is a multi million dollar industry. It supports tens of thousands of people. It's also highly managed and regulated, and, in many ways, a model for fish harvesting around the world. Efficient, productive and yet sustained. Why? Because it's not as much a fishery as it is an aquaculture. When you essentially throw back more than you take, you are essentially growing them in a semi-controlled environment.
This is great for the lobster fishery but probably not so great for biodiversity.
Lobstermen, and herring seiners, don't really like to talk about biodiversity. It makes them nervous. Fishermen are already under extreme pressure from whale protectionists and conservation activists. The last thing they want or need is for proponents of biodiversity getting into the act.
And yet, where does all this leave an operator like me? I'm not about to change careers and become a lobsterman. Even if I wanted to, there's a waiting list, I'd have to apprentice with someone for two years, then wait for an old timer to die. A time consuming and morbid way to find a new career.
I could rig up for scallops, or shrimp, but scalloping hit the skids last season, with catches averaging less then 40 pounds, locally, and shrimp prices practically at an all time low, around $.30 per pound. Hardly made sense to go.
Urchins used to be good, but I let my permit expire years ago and now I can't get it back. Besides, urchins are also few and far between. (Try this for a little piece of urchin fiction.)
If it sounds to you like I'm whining, you're right. I am whining. Just a little. I'm having a very hard time figuring out how to re-invest my money in a marine business without losing my shirt at the same time.
The way it looks now, I'm leaning toward a boat that will allow me to do some light salvage and mooring work in the spring, dive charters in the summer, and scallop dragging in the winter. Stay tuned. I'll let you know what happens.