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Jay pulling in the nets aboard the F/V Karenlyn

Food Voices: The Interviews

Jay Driscoll, Fisherman
Rye Harbor, New Hampshire

Jay Driscoll has been fishing for twenty years out of New Hampshire. He is a groundfish fisherman. He gillnets for cod, pollock. haddock, hake, and flounders on the Fishing Vessel Karenlyn.

I started 20 years ago when I was 19 years old. I was fresh out of boat building school and I needed a job. I begged my uncle for a job. He was a long time fisherman.  And he fishes on the boat that my grandfather had built, still to this day. That was my first job fishing. After about a week of it, I knew I was probably going to do it for the rest of my life. I loved it. It was the hard work, the freedom of it all. I always looked at it like I knew I could always do that job and I would be okay doing it. I felt I was just naturally good at it as soon as I started.

Catch shares are basically a fancy way of an individual fishing quota. The fishermen in our area pooled all our fish together and the government gave a quota of the amount of fish that you can catch based on history, based on the last ten years. Unfortunately, the greediest of fishermen are the ones with the highest allocations. For instance, we had an 800 pound cod limit for a long time. Well, 800 pounds of cod, I could make a living on and so could my crew. The ones that kept on working and almost harming the resource, the ones that greedily went about their ways, the most copious, strongest, biggest vessels are the ones that will be able to survive a catch share system because they have the most allocation today. I don’t understand that and I never will. Here’s a fisherman who worked harder and greedier and there’s another fisherman who worked sustainably and within the limits. Why does this guy over here deserve more fish than the guy over there? That’s how the system is set up. It is set up for the strongest, greediest boats to survive.

Small family owned boats cannot survive a system like this. The younger people that are going to get into this business will always have to work for a little less. And that’s going to be tough on the next generation of fishermen. Our youngest fisherman is 33 years old. He has his own boat, a very small quota and I really don’t know how he’s going to stay in business. There just isn’t enough quota to go around. The bigger boats can always work cheaper. They are more efficient. There is less labor involved. I’ll take my small boats and employ three people. These bigger boats can also employ just three people and they can catch their fish a lot quicker and more efficient than I can. The bigger you are, the more efficient you can be.

It is going to have to take change from the government. Without a change in the administration, I don’t see any solutions. It’s going to have to start from the top down. This is where I see the future of the fishery. I see one or two boats - big, big, boats. They’re going to have giant nets and will make a tow and haul this stuff back and drop everything into the boat. It’s probably going to be one or two people on the boat running it at all times. They are going to have huge quotas and are going to be able to buy up everybody’s quota. It will just be a few people owning the fishery at that point. That’s where the future is going to be in a fishery like this. Unless they do some kind of limits on how much you can take per boat. I can see some people will survive, but a system how its set up today is the guy with the most money wins.

Fish populations are not plummeting. When I was first captain on my offshore vessel, I fished 12 miles worth of netting on 24 hour soaks. I would say there probably was overfishing back in the early 90’s. There are more fish today then there was then. If I put 12 miles of netting out today, it would take me two weeks to get through all the fish and I would sink my boat with the amount of fish in it. The old system worked. The days at sea system worked.

I think it [local marketing] will help the next generation of fishermen. I don’t think it will help me. This food movement going on now is big. You might see 50 to 100,000 pounds of fish come in a day. That has to be moved and if that is going to stay local, people are going to need to eat it. As much as I would like to see it stay local, it would have to work more regionally, because of the volume of fish that come in each day. If I can catch fish and sell maybe 20% here in this state and the rest of the 80% goes elsewhere, I don’t see any problem with that. It is a fresh quality fish that needs to be marketed that way. We would need a manager or a team of people whose whole job is to market local fish. That’s what we need to do.

I love fish. I have a passion for fish.  It has nothing to do with money for me. I look at a codfish today. It is the most gorgeous, beautiful animal I have ever seen in my entire life. And I care very much about its well being, to the point I want to let small ones go. I do not want to let these things die. I want a future for my fishery. Those things to me are my children’s education, they are food on the table, they are my life and when someone says to me, I am overfishing or something like that, they are so far away from how I really feel about fish.