What follows is the text of recent remarks made by Captain Vanderhoop of Aquinnah before the New England Fisheries Management Council.
My name is Captain Buddy Vanderhoop and I am a Wampanoag Native American charter captain and commercial fisherman. I have run the Aquinnah Wampanoag herring run for 35 years.
Just to give you a little insight: the alewife is an anadromous fish that annually makes the trek from offshore waters to the fresh water estuaries where they were born, to spawn beginning in April until the end of June throughout New England. These alewives are followed to their estuaries by striped bass, bluefish and certain whales because this is their main staple in the early spring when they are also on their way to spawn. After the alewives have spawned and are headed out of the runs in June to go back out to sea they are met by tuna, marlin and other gamefish east of Cape Cod and south of the Vineyard. So you can call these alewives, which mix with blueback herring and mackerel, a forage fish. They are a vital foundation of the New Endland marine environment with many other species dependent on them for survival.
The numbers of alewives at our herring run — which is certainly one of the most productive runs in Massachusetts, perhaps even in New England — has drastically dropped because of the fishing activity of a fleet of commercial midwater trawlers in the area. It is unbelievable the decline of the herring at the runs these days. During the height of our herring season in past years, in May we would see over sixty thousand fish per morning. Now we are lucky to observe five or six thousand in early light.
So what does the state do in response to this herring decline? It bans the use of blueback herring and alewives and prohibits the taking of herring in the runs by the small, private herring operations like ours. It does absolutely nothing about the millions of pounds of herring which are taken by the big offshore factory trawlers. Which only serves to hurt the small guy like me. And rapidly continues the decline of herring throughout New England. What kind of sense does this make? Sounds like messed-up politics as usual, as well as pandering to big commercial lobbyists to me.
Being a Native American, we were the only people that could sell herring to the bait stores, so we would sell about five thousand herring three days per week to the bait stores on the Cape and the Island. My brother and I would stock our fishing coolers with herring as well. After that we would let the remaining herring run and spawn four days per week. The Gay Head herring run has always been a well run operations for centuries. We are smart enough to know that in order to have plentiful herring there has to be balance. You cannot take all of the fish. You must let many of them go in order to reproduce and come back again the following season. Nature has balance. And if you violate that balance you end up destroying the resource. This is just plain good old common sense and proper stewardship of the environment.
It is unconscionable that the government allows these factory trawlers. It is a totally mismanaged fishery and it is devastating the herring stocks. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. A case in point: there are usually no observers aboard these midwater trawlers (even though there are supposed to be) to oversee their activity and bycatch. This only gives them free rein to do anything they want — legal or illegal. They are raping and pillaging the ocean, our resources. Hey, you take away the forage fish and you will have no gamefish. It’s that simple.
If midwater trawlers are going to be allowed to operate, the government should make these trawlers pay for observers every trip. If they have any more than one per cent alewife or blueback herring bycatch, fine them or suspend their permits. Also prohibit landing of any herring during their spawning season which is April 1 through June 30.
With all of the modern-day sophistication of fishing gear these days the fish don’t stand a chance against this factory trawler type of fishing. Sonar, television cameras on the net heads, GPS and other high-tech gear make it easy for these trawlers to find and take every fish. There is always major bycatch with this type of fishing. I also say stop this kind of high-tech fishing and go back to weirfishing. With weirfishing you don’t kill your bycatch. You just let it go. That is what they are doing in Canada because the Canadians are smart enough to know what kind of damage the midwater trawlers are doing to the fishing industry. As a last thought, I ask that the midwater trawler activity be suspended within 50 miles of the Cape during October and November when the striped bass are on their migration south at that time. For the last three years, reports and pictures of thousands and thousands of dead striped bass (that extend for miles) have been documented during tuna fishing season east of Cape Cod. These bass were killed and thrown out of the scuppers of these midwater trawlers. What a tragedy that is, particularly given all of the hard work and efforts that were put into bringing the striped bass back.
Things have to change — and soon — before it is too late. Because these midwater trawlers are literally getting away with murder, for their own greedy profit. The price being the devastation of a priceless natural resource and the inevitable collapse of the marine environment. It’s the big guys — these factory fishing boats — not the little guys like me that are the problem. Get your priorities straight, stop caving in to big monied lobbyists and do the right thing. Before it is too late, and believe me there isn’t too much time left.