New England fishermen are facing growing regulations—from the amount of fish they are allowed to catch to large sections of ocean they can no longer work because of “offshore wind development.”
“The New England fishermen are the most regulated fishermen in the world,” Jerry Leeman says. Leeman has been fishing in Maine his entire life. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all fishermen.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collects data and determines how much of a certain kind of fish the fishermen are allowed to process, Leeman says, but the limits have been so greatly reduced in some categories of fish that it is “making it so unviable for us to even make a profit.”
It’s forcing boats either out of the industry or forcing them to lease their quota just to make ends meet.
Federal regulations have now reduced the amount of haddock landings for commercial fishermen by more than 80%, Leeman said.
The reduction in fish that fishermen are allowed to catch and “offshore wind development,” which is taking over “just under 10 million acres” of ocean, prompted Leeman, along with fisherman Dustin Delano, to create the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association to advocate for the region’s fishermen.
The association launched in May to “keep the resource viable for our heritage, for the next generation to be able to process a resource for the U.S. consumer,” Leeman says. If something doesn’t change, Leeman says, America will be further “dependent on other nations to feed us with protein resources.”
Leeman and Delano join “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain how New England fishermen are being regulated out of their industry, and what they are doing to preserve commercial fishing for the next generation of New Englanders.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by two New England fishermen and the leaders of New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association, Jerry Leeman and Dustin Delano. Gentlemen, thanks so much for being here and joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.“
Jerry Leeman: Thank you.
Dustin Delano: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Allen: Well, as a fellow New Englander, I do have to start by asking you all, where are you from in New England?
Leeman: Well, I’m from Harpswell, Maine. Just below Brunswick.
Allen: Yeah, I know Harpswell well. It’s a very cute little town and great views of the ocean.
Delano: And I’m from Friendship, Maine.
Allen: OK, wonderful. So two Mainers. I love that, and how long have you guys been fishing?
Leeman: I’ve been fishing my entire life.
Allen: OK. Wow.
Dustin Delano: Yeah, I’m 32 now, but I’ve been fishing since I could walk, pretty much.
Allen: Jerry, was your father a fisher?
Leeman: My father was a fisherman. His father was a fisherman. His father was a fisherman. Brothers, cousins, everybody in the family, pretty much.
Allen: Wow, and Dustin, is that a similar story for you? Does it go back generations, that fishing gene?
Allen: Amazing. Well, let’s talk about the fact that you all have just founded the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association in May. This is a brand new organization, a nonprofit. The association of fishermen was founded. This is, in your own words, to fight against needless regulation and offshore wind development, threatening the viability of the American fishing fleet. Jerry, how are fishermen being regulated right now? Just walk us through that a little bit.
Leeman: Well, right now we do surveys through NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They place their survey vessel out to collect data, and then we have a regulatory committee that assesses that data, and then assesses the catch limits that we are allowed to possess for fish, and then they’ve created “choke species,” which is being detrimental to all fisheries right now, making it so unviable for us to even make a profit.
It’s forcing boats either out of the industry or forcing them to lease their quota just to make ends meet.
Allen: Give us just some examples of how this affects you all on a day-to-day basis. Dustin, for you, has your ability to do your job been affected by new regulations?
Delano: Absolutely. Jerry and I are in different fisheries, but part of [the association], that’s why it was created to bring people in all the different fisheries around New England together under one umbrella. I’ve been a lobster fisherman my whole life, and Jerry’s been a ground fisherman.
The lobster industry has definitely faced some serious challenges over the last couple of years, specifically to do with the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and the government had a plan that they were implementing, a 10-year whale plan, which would all but eliminate the fishery, basically. It was a reduction by 98%.
Allen: And part of that has to do with the traps that you’re allowed to use. Is that correct?
Delano: Yeah, each fisherman has allowed 800 traps, but in Maine, we don’t really have any interactions with right whales in the last 20 years. About 19 years ago, there was an entanglement that they found some Maine lobster rope on, but the whale was disentangled and set free, so there has never been any direct links of Maine gear on any right whales.
Allen: Well, I was really fascinated by the fact that you all released a documentary when you launched this new association, and it’s a full length documentary that really goes in depth as to what is happening, and you all are sharing your personal stories, you’re sharing the effects, so I want to take a minute and just play a clip of this documentary.
Allen: One of the things that you talk about in the documentary is these wind turbines that are being installed in the ocean. How large of a space are we talking about here, and who is installing these wind turbines?
Leeman: Right now, it’s foreign nations that are taking most of the jobs for the development and the implementation of the offshore wind development. The roll call area right now is just under 10 million acres, which pretty much takes up almost, I would say, most of the Gulf of Maine and right into Georges Bank. [Georges Bank is a large, elevated area of the sea floor between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. It separates the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean.]
Allen: Wow, and what does that mean for you?
Leeman: That means we’re kicked out of the area. These are viable fishing grounds that have provided our U.S. consumers with a high-end protein resource, and now we’re going to be kicked right out of the area, so there will be no viable resource for the fishing industry to even implement for the U.S. consumer.
Allen: Who made that call that these areas that previously have been areas where fishermen have worked are now going to be turned into these essentially wind turbine fields in the ocean?
Leeman: Well, that would be the BOEM, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Allen: OK, so those individuals, they make the call, and then you said it’s foreign nations for the most part that are actually installing these wind turbines in our oceans.
Leeman: Yeah, a lot of them are. Dustin?
Delano: Yeah, there’s a lot of foreign companies that are coming together with some of the groups here in the States as well, but a lot of them are majority-owned by foreign entities. A lot of these projects, there’s been a huge push in recent years to combat climate change with offshore wind.
Unfortunately, the people that are pushing this through see more of an urgency to combat climate change than they do in actually protecting the environment that these monstrosities are going to destroy.
Allen: OK. Well, I can see some people thinking, “Well, obviously, that’s challenging to not be able to fish in the same area, but the ocean is big, so why not just fish somewhere else?” Is it that simple?
Leeman: Well, no, because we have the [exclusive economic zone] line, which is the Canadian-U.S. border territory, and this roll call area goes pretty much outside of 20 nautical miles off our shores all the way to the EEZ line, which covers primarily all of the Northeast New England region; so, by implementing these things, we’re talking about 900-foot monstrosities that are going to require more than a mile variances between the anchoring chains, and there’s going to be no fishing viable inside these array areas, so you are literally taking the bottom away from all wild harvesters.
Delano: I just want to add that the New England waters are very deep, and so the technology that we’re talking about here is not the traditional piling-style wind farms that have already been developed in other places in the United States.
This is brand new technology that would be used here, that these are floating offshore wind turbines. You’re talking about a 300-foot by 300-foot cement base with a turbine on top of that at heights over 800 feet tall, maybe three times the size of the Statue of Liberty, and you’re talking about three sets of anchoring chains that will hold them in place, and each chain, the link is the size of a pickup bed and the scope necessary to hold these things in place.
It’s 7 to 1 or as much as 9 to 1, and so you’re going to have, with every tide change or every change in wind direction, you’re going to have these things. They’re going to be able to pivot a certain amount, and that chain is going to drag across the bottom and it’s going to destroy all the habitat in its path.
Allen: That seems like something that would be of concern to environmentalists, no?
Delano: You would think it would be a concern of environmentalists, but what we are noticing is that the only environmentalists that are present that are advocating for a healthy Gulf of Maine are fishermen.
Allen: I was interested, Jerry, as of May 1st, federal regulations will enforce what you say is an 82% reduction in haddock landings for commercial fishermen. Why are they regulating the amount of haddock, cutting it by 82%, that commercial fishermen can catch?
Leeman: Well, this is all based on their research vessel, the Bigelow. The Bigelow went out, like we said. We didn’t do any surveys. The last complete survey we’ve done here in New England was done in 2019. Now, prior to that, back in 2012, 2013, we had the largest abundance of haddock that our nation has ever seen.
Fast-forward a few years, and the assessments that were not completed showed they couldn’t catch a haddock because they really didn’t do any time doing any bottom trial surveys, and the protocols in which they ran them were, I call ludicrous, with no time and experience, and then when they didn’t catch the haddock, they just turned around and walked it back by 84%, which is devastating to the New England, the Gulf of Maine fishermen.
I’m talking to a lot of the Gulf of Maine fishermen, and they’re either going to be forced to tie up or they’re going to have to venture out further out to sea, and some of these boats are not built for that kind of distance, so you’re putting fishermen’s lives in jeopardy by forcing their hand to go further off offshore.
Allen: Dustin, I know one thing you all mentioned earlier was Canada, and obviously, Canada is a competitor when it comes to the fishing industry, especially between New England and Canada. Regulators are forcing American fishermen to use nets with a lower yield than they are forced to use in Canada. What’s the result of that?
Delano: Well, that’s the biomass of our resource. Our fish resources freely swim from one side of the border to the other. They don’t know that there’s a border, so on the U.S. side, our U.S. fishermen are told to use a six-and-a-half inch net, and meanwhile, on the Canadian side, they use a 5.2 square bag, which they get a higher yield for less bottom tow, and not only are we restricting the U.S. fishermen from harvesting our biomass and resource, but the Canadians are catching it, processing it in Canada and selling it back to the U.S., which directly goes against the market here in the United States of our regulated fishermen.
Allen: All right. There’s so many factors here that you all are dealing with and working through. When did this increase in regulations start? When did you all really start to notice, oh, wait a second, we’re in an increasing amount, being told what we can and cannot do?
Leeman: Well, for the ground-fishing end, it’s been going on for 40 years. It’s just a little and a little, a little cut here, and a little added regulation there. Now, it’s gotten to the point where it’s choking the industry out and the viability for passing this heritage onto the next [generation], it’s become crazy. We have less fishermen now than back in Colonial days.
Delano: And as a lobsterman, it would appear to me that they’ve managed to almost destroy the ground-fish fleet, and now we’re next in line.
Allen: With this launch of your new association, the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association, what is your mission? What is your goal here?
Leeman: To keep the resource viable for our heritage, for the next generation to be able to process a resource for the U.S. consumer. We’re talking about our food security as a nation. Not only when they overtake the bottom with industrializing, we’re going to be dependent on other nations to feed us with protein resources, which will hurt us further along as a nation.
Delano: [The New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association] plans to spend a lot of time addressing the science and trying to come up with better data-collection methods and have more of a transparency between the fishing industry and the data that they’re using now.
Allen: More communication. How would you all describe your fishing community? What would you say about the fishing community in New England, how they operate, how fishermen think, and what they’re feeling right now as they’re watching their industry be really regulated?
Delano: I would say, speaking from someone who lives in a coastal community in Maine, 75% of the people in my town depend on the lobster industry, and most of the coastal communities are that way all across Maine. It’s not just about the fishing industry; it’s about the ripple effect. We have a 5,400 commercial lobster fishermen, but those are all independent businesses. Those are all small businesses that are owner-operator. It’s not a corporate structure. Lobstermen go out each day. They have to be on that boat for it to get any work done. The boat can’t go without them, and so, you’re talking about a ripple effect that would be devastating.
Allen: That’s huge. Now, what response have you all received? I love the fact that you’re very honest on your website. You say New England fishermen don’t have a reputation necessarily of all getting along, but your call really is to bridge a gap, and for fishermen to come together with the common goal of keeping your industry alive. Are you finding that New England fishermen are getting on board, and you all are able to lock arms on this?
Leeman: Yeah, we’ve noticed for generations, there’s always been petty differences between the fisheries, but the things that are coming down the pipeline now and the regulatory and the offshore wind industrializing, this scope is bigger than any one of us.
This is going to take every one of us to stand our ground. Just from an environmental impact and a resource impact for our nation and our families and the communities that are around these. Just like we said, our community alone, pretty much anybody who puts their hand in the water provides jobs for multiple families on the shores, so the outreach is like a tree of life coming from the sea going in shore.
Allen: If anyone wants to get involved, wants to support the work of New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association, how can they do that?
Delano: You can go on our website at nefishermen.org and join as a member for just $10. You don’t have to be a fisherman. We also have consumer memberships as well, and we have business memberships and association memberships.
Allen: Great. Well, I want to give you all the final word. Is there anything that you think individuals need to know as they’re going to the grocery store, and they’re buying their fish, as we move forward as a nation here? Is there anything you’d like to add?
Leeman: Yeah, you should always buy local, wild-caught domestic market. The New England fishermen are the most regulated fishermen in the world. We’re the most environmentally friendly. If we’re talking about carbon prints, footprints, on these, you’re not going to get a better product than you are here right in the U.S. Foreign nations don’t implement the regulatory part as we do here in the United States. It’s hard, healthy product. It’s not processed food. It’s good for you and your families.
Allen: Excellent. Jerry Leeman and Dustin Delano of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association. If you want to learn more, again, you can check out their website at nefishermen.org. There, you can find the full documentary. Thank you so much for your time today.
Delano: Thank you.
Leeman: Thank you for having us.
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