The old wooden sailboat up on blocks inside the shed at the
Martha's Vineyard Historical Society in Edgartown doesn't
look like much.
The white lapstrake boat, less than 20 feet in length, has not been
in the water since it was brought to the society in December 1936 from
Menemsha Creek. The paint has come off in many places. There is little
chance she will ever float again.
Georges Bank is a huge underwater island - 20,000 square miles and as large as the state of Massachusetts - that lies just below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
The bank is part of the continental shelf. More than 10,000 years ago, geologists believe, the bank was a high and dry island.
As the ocean rose, the island was submerged. Fish love the bank because it is a great source for food. Water depths are not much more than 100 feet and sometimes as shallow as 20 feet. Light from the sun penetrates to the bottom and supports a world of microscopic plankton that fish eat.
Pots and pans rattle. The television slides back and forth. Each time the bow of the Albatross IV slides up over the crest of a wave, something inside the 187-foot vessel bangs or rolls.
Twenty seconds later, when the bow descends into the valley of the next wave, the pots and pans bang back and forth again.
On this day, Sunday, April 3, the ship is on Georges Bank, more than 100 miles east of Cape Cod, so far from land it is not worth seeking shelter. The ship rides the waves at Cultivator Shoal, once a prime fishing area.
Capt. Gregory Mayhew, a Vineyard native and lifelong resident of Chilmark, runs the 75-foot steel dragger Unicorn out of Menemsha. This summer, for the first time in more than 20 years, he went sea scalloping. The reason, he said, is economics.
The question of how cod stocks fell so low in the waters off New
England is almost as perplexing as the question of how to bring about
The favorite reason - too much fishing pressure - is
followed by other explanations, including changes in ocean temperature
and degradation of the environment. Perhaps it is a combination of these
Pinpointing the cause or causes of plummeting cod stocks is key to
The Quitsa Strider II sits rusting at the dock in Menemsha. Her skipper Jonathan Mayhew, who has devoted his life to commercial fishing, has sold his days at sea. A Gloucester fishing cooperative has bought the permits that allow him to fish in federal waters.