E. Gale Huntington was a writer, folksinger and teacher who spent plenty of time on the waterfront. He was also the founding editor of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s publication the Intelligencer. In February of 1971, he published in it an article he had written in 1934 when he was in his early 30s about fishing in the waters of the Vineyard with members of the Tilton family. Mr. Huntington died at the age of 91 in December of 1993.
The winter 2012 issue of the Intelligencer is a retrospective and reprints Mr. Huntington’s article, called Dragging — 1934: Out Early, Home Late, Rough Weather on a Hunt for Fluke and Flounder. The article is about the dangers of dragging, and although written over 40 years ago, it is prescient considering the issues fisherman face today.
Within Mr. Huntington’s story, he wrote: “I’d been dragging some. Mostly with Reginald Norton, and it’s a mean kind of business. Ask any handliner, ask any lobsterman, ask any fisherman except a dragger and he’ll tell you that. It ruins the bottom and it drives the fish and kills them. Eventually dragging will kill itself for when there are no more fish, there’ll be no more dragging. Then maybe the bottom will come back and the fish with it and there’ll be a chance for handliners and the trap fishermen once more.
“Dragging is a broad term, and there are many types of draggers, from the little two-man boats such as the Artemesia to the great steam trawlers that fish Georges and the Grand Banks and the Greenland grounds. But they all have one thing in common. They drag the bottom and catch every kind of bottom fish for which there is a market. Of course they catch the fish for which there is no market, too, and fish that are too small for market, and kill them.
“Perhaps dragging does not hurt the free-swimming fish, the mackerel, swordfish, tuna and many more. But I think it does hurt them. I think dragging hurts every fish and every type of fishing there is, for it destroys the natural balance of ocean life. And what it’s doing to the groundfish, cod, haddock, flounders of all kinds and the like, is an open book. And dragging will not be stopped until the fish are all gone, for it is too big an industry.”
“ When I was a boy, and that’s not too many years ago, there were men who went off the beach in dories in the spring and fall for cod and made a good living at it. They couldn’t now.” Since the time of Mr. Huntington’s article, dragging has become far more selective. With changing mesh size, a dragger’s net no longer catches the smallest of fish. But the principles of the fishery remain the same.
Susan Wilson has been the editor of the Intelligencer since 2008. She said the winter 2012 issue is a look back at three editors who wrote for the journal. In addition to Mr. Huntington, this 64-page issue includes the writings of Arthur Railton and John Walter.
“Mr. Huntington wrote quite a bit,” Ms. Wilson said. “This one jumped out at me, partly because it is a narrative. It is different from a research article. It is a personal essay. It is amusing and educational and it did everything we want the Intelligencer to do; to educate, illuminate and entertain.”
The article does something else, too. It has the potential to continue the conversation that fishermen and scientists need to have about fish habitat restoration.