C’mon Man

Marketing will likely not solve the current groundfish crisis in New England

gloucesterAs I was sitting at my desk as wave number 2 of the “Big Freeze” of 2014 washed over New England, I wondered if this cold would bring back a more normal temperature regime to the Gulf of Maine (GOM). Some in the commercial fishing industry who participated in the past debates over the status of the groundfish stocks at the New England Fishery Management Council meetings said that the disappearance of fish was totally temperature driven. As soon as the water cooled down, the fish would be back. I hope like Hell that they are correct. Certainly, the NOAA Fisheries landing summaries do not point to huge numbers of groundfish out there. Nor do the anecdotal reports from the party/charter fleets that fish for cod in the GOM. While ocean temperatures are driven by currents, as well as ambient temperatures, this unreasonably cold winter should have a positive effect on ocean cooling.

In the past few years, quotas for the important groundfish species have been cut by as much as 90% and commercial fishermen are still not landing all their quota. Also, because of this unprecedented drop in numbers of fish, the Secretary of Commerce declared the New England groundfishery a disaster. Given all of these factors, would you think that a bill promoting the marketing of locally caught seafood as a way to support the groundfish industry would make a lot of sense? C’mon man! Maybe my promotional education is lacking, but I was always under the impression that marketing’s job was to push or pull more product through the pipeline. When you don’t have any product, that is a little hard.

That minor detail hasn’t deterred some of Massachusetts’s pols. A coalition of state Senators and Representatives from Gloucester, perhaps Massachusetts’s best known commercial fishing port and New Bedford, the nations top dollar fishing port, has formed to promote this effort. Together they have filed a bill to establish a Massachusetts Seafood Marketing Program. The very thought of the government getting into the business of promoting business makes me very nervous, but that aside, I still think you have to have something to promote. Now don’t get me wrong, under normal circumstances there are some beneficial aspects to what is being proposed. The program would help make people aware of the health benefits of eating seafood. Okay, okay, I know that you’d probably have to be living under a rock not to know this already. The program would try to brand Massachusetts landed fish, although most of those fish are not caught in state waters. A minor technicality, I’m sure. The program will also look for funding sources to increase the industry promotion. Thank God, they won’t be spending taxpayer dollars. Wrong. The program will have a State allocated fund to support it and will be administered by the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries, which is already stretched a little thin.

So, we’re going to pump money into a program to promote the consumption of something that really isn’t there in order to help the struggling groundfish industry in New England. Huh? Is there no concern about increased demand leading to consumption of imported product? Is there no concern about the actual source of a product that will be branded as a Massachusetts product? C’mon man! Now, I do have to admit that there may be a benefit to promoting the consumption of less desired species, such as dogfish, but that will not be a direct benefit to those who target groundfish.

I’ll have to go over the bill with a very fine tooth comb as I must have missed the part where the taxpayers dollars will also be used to promote the party/charter recreational industry or the individual recreational experience, where one can have a great day on the water and bring home locally caught seafood for healthy consumption. I’m sure it has to be in there somewhere.

If the folks on Beacon Hill (Mass’ Great & General Court) want to do something to truly help the struggling fishing industry, then they should be looking at funding fisheries research, so we can figure out and hopefully fix the current depleted status of the stocks. Marketing just isn’t going to do it.


"Rip" Cunningham, who owned, published and edited Salt Water Sportsman for 32 years, is also an accomplished writer and photographer. Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray's Sporting Journal, Australian Boating and the Boston Globe Magazine. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association, the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts, The Billfish Foundation and Federation of Fly Fishers. "I've earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It's rewarding every single day." Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dogs in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he's not fishing or working through the items on his wife's "honey-do" list, Cunningham does some hunting and skiing.

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