One Fish, Two Fish, No Fish
A new approach tries to save the sea's bounty—and those whose jobs depend on it
But cooperatives may not always mean more control. In New Zealand, fishermen opted to sell their quota shares. Twenty years after the program started, five companies control 85 percent of the catch. "That's where we are headed once we start down this road," Goethel says, "and we will be there in my lifetime."
Officials say that won't happen in this country, since the new Magnuson Act includes antitrust provisions to maintain competition. Still, some fishermen are wary. And many experts believe that consolidation is not only inevitable but necessary. "Frankly, that's the point" of government efforts, Rosenberg says. "If [fishermen] think they're going to get a plan that lets everybody fish, they're dreaming."
Ideally, cooperatives should provide a sustainable balance of fish and fishermen. That will mean fewer fish brought to market, but it should also have the effect of boosting the price, turning a cheap frozen commodity into gourmet food. That's bad for consumers but good for fish and for the guys braving high seas to catch them. Yet, many old-time fishermen say they can manage the fisheries without pressure from the government and environmentalists. "Who is more environmentally sound and who is a better steward of a resource than the podunks and tough guys like me and David [Goethel]?" Sherman asks. "This is the life we love. If there's no more fish, there's no more life for us."
But many regulators and environmentalists contend that the fishing industry had as many chances to right itself as there are fish in the sea. And now both are running out.