I’ve spoken at every scallop leasing meeting and webinar against consolidation, leasing, stacking. Whatever name they throw on it, it’s bad.
We can clearly see the negative impacts on crew and community in other fisheries, for example, ground fish. Many companies, including my father’s, suffered after changes were made in the ground fish industry. I myself witnessed the quick transition when I first started unloading boats. We would unload many draggers when I first started. And about three years later we didn’t have one left. And we transitioned mostly to scallops.
The scary part about the whole thing is the money behind it all. We as fishermen pour our hearts out to the committee. And they sit there with a straight face like they have already made their decision.
At the very first meeting in New Bedford, the committee started taking comments. “But first” they brought up a lobbyist who no one down on the waterfront has ever seen in their life. There’s a reason why many of the big players didn’t speak at that first meeting. They had someone speak for them.
They speak on flexibility, but these companies are flexible. They have plenty of boats. Plenty of captains. And with limited days at sea, plenty of time and flexibility to get their trips done.
This is a light year for limited-access trips, but we have been here before in 2014-2015. At that time we had a limit of 13,500 pounds on a closed area trip and I believe 30 days at sea. Scallops regenerate in a seven-year cycle, so here we are in 2021-2022 with a 15,000-pound limit on a closed area trip lasting 24 days. Scallops will be back. And as long as scallop leasing doesn’t go through, we will all be back too.
The big companies push for this every so many years. They come up with different angles every time. Flexibility, safety, efficiency. But it only comes down to greed. And the sad part is, every year there are less and less voices to speak up. Especially in a year like this. Many single boat owners are selling. And there are less voices to communicate the point we are trying to make.
Also, the committee says they will stick to the 5% cap that one company can lease. Which is nonsense. They made monopoly laws in the past when Eastern Fisheries had acquired a total of 17 boats and permits. Shortly after that they formed their partnership with O’Hara fisheries. And if they need to make another partnership when they are maxed out, it’ll be the next family member up to start leasing more quota under a new company name. But we all know where the money is coming from.
The companies that say they aren’t going to pass the fee on to the crew are lying. I’m a fisherman. I know many fishermen. Eastern does not have a good settlement when it comes to paying their guys. Blue Harvest never had a good settlement. Quinn doesn’t have a good settlement. And the list goes on. Atlantic Capes. You name it.
The bigger the company, the more bills they have, the more they take from their money makers: the boats. Even when they say they don’t take from the crew, they just take off the top. So it comes off the crew one way or another. So who’s to say they won’t pass off leasing costs? No one. All they do is add a little section on your settlement and call it “miscellaneous expense” and take whatever they want or need.
Justin Mello is captain of the F/V Temptress.