‘They that go down to the sea in ships’

For centuries, New England fishermen have provided much of the seafood for the world’s dinner tables. In 1623, the nation’s first fishing port was started in Gloucester, which became synonymous with the industry, and its iconic fisherman statue stands as a stark reminder of the dangers of farming the seas.

While many have romanticized the fishing industry and its place in New England history, we once again add two more names to the thousands who have lost their lives in the risky profession. The Coast Guard has suspended its search for two fishermen lost Monday when the 69-foot clammer Misty Blue out of Fairhaven sunk about 10 miles off Nantucket. The captain and one of the other three crew members were rescued by a nearby fishing boat while two others are lost and presumed drowned.

Since colonists first started taking their nets out to sea in Gloucester, more than 10,000 fishermen have died on the job from that city’s port and at least 3,000 more from the New Bedford and Fairhaven ports have lost their lives since 1900. Those numbers don’t include other smaller working ports along the coast in Boston, Hyannis, Scituate, and Plymouth as well as Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, where the legacy of fishing is a family tradition.

The job of commercial fisherman is regularly ranked as the first or second most dangerous job in the country by federal labor officials. In 2016, there were 55 deaths for every 100,000 fishermen, ranking second only to logging for the year. One of the most famous fishing tragedies was the Andrea Gail, lost in 1991 and memorialized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and blockbuster movie entitled The Perfect Storm.

But what fishermen in the area will tell you is the dangers have been gradually – and exponentially – increased with the implementation of catch quotas by the federal government over the last few decades. The rules themselves are not to blame but the residual effects and economic impact have winnowed the number of experienced mates and forced reduction of crew size on many boats.

No one yet knows the reason the Misty Blue sank, though there are reports that the boat had issues with its water pumps four times in the last month. But in pre-quota days, a 69-footer such as the Misty Blue would have accommodated a larger crew, perhaps as many as eight or 10. And the tight revenues make maintenance and repairs of the aging fleet more sporadic.

The shrinking economics of a catch have forced a reduction of crews in order to keep the shares at a livable wage. The number of boats has decreased, which helps keep the industry afloat, but the reduced numbers of “sites” for crewmembers have pushed experienced fishermen out of the business. In their place, less-experienced – and cheaper – workers have taken their spots. But the inexperience carries risks. One of the missing Misty Blue deckhands did not know how to swim, a fact the boat owner said “surprised” him when he learned of it this week.

The quotas and the subsequent reduction in crews also raise the risks while at sea. Though the length and the number of trips have been cut back for boats because of the catch limits, the shifts get longer while out at sea. It’s not uncommon for crews to work 16- to 20-hour shifts on a 10-day steam, increasing the exhaustion level that, coupled with the lack of experience and fewer hands to share the workload, can result in lapses of attention and reaction.

Many of the recent incidents of fishermen lost at sea involve singular crew members falling overboard without the immediate knowledge of other crew. Most weren’t wearing life jackets or survival suits as urged by federal safety officials.

The money and demand for fish are still there and the lure of the sea will continue to draw fishermen. New Bedford continues to rank as the number one port in the country in terms of value of fish landing for 17 straight years. In 2016, New Bedford landed $327 million in seafood, primarily scallops, dwarfing the second-highest port, Dutch Harbor in Alaska, which landed $198 million worth of fish, according to federal data.

And with that, there will continue to be those who defy the risks, some often drawn by the dangers. The Gloucester fisherman plaque, nearly a century old now, acknowledges that lure – and that danger.

“They that go down to the sea in ships.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

The Senate Ethics Committee opens its investigation into allegations related to Stan Rosenberg. (Boston Globe) Is there a path back to the Senate presidency for Rosenberg? (Boston Globe) Was it a slip of the tongue? State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, who’s reportedly seeking support to win the presidency, told Jim Braude the Senate order to replace Rosenberg was “not temporary” but when pressed by Braude, did nothing to clarify her statement. (Greater Boston) Rosenberg is stripped of the stipend he receives for being Senate president. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Gov. Charlie Baker pledged his support to Worcester officials in trying to land the Pawtucket Red Sox. (MassLive)

A former Southborough selectman says a unilateral decision by the Board of Selectmen chairman to ban him from Town Hall without an appointment is a violation of the Open Meeting Law but the chairman says it’s a result of the former official’s “unwelcome and threatening behavior” toward town employees. (MetroWest Daily News)

After a decade of discussion, officials in Braintree, Randolph, and Holbrook have agreed to a plan to build a $50 million regional water treatment plant to replace the aging systems in the three towns. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump followed through on a campaign promise while upsetting countries in the Middle East by announcing the US embassy in Israel would move to Jerusalem and will formally recognize the divided city as the capital of the Jewish state. (New York Times)

Justice Anthony Kennedy is widely seen a the decisive swing vote in the Supreme Court case involving whether a bakery can decline to make a wedding cake for a gay couple — and he seemed torn on the issue in yesterday’s oral arguments, says Kimberly Atkins. (Boston Herald)

US Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, resigned his seat effective immediately amid swirling allegations of sexual misconduct and then endorsed his son as his successor. (U.S. News & World Report)

ELECTIONS

Republican Dean Tran of Fitchburg won a seat in the state Senate by defeating Democrat Chalifoux Zephir, giving Republicans six seats in the chamber. (Telegram & Gazette)

President Trump’s backing of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl while in his 30s, and support from the Republican National Committee, show the GOP is now a party “without a moral core,” says a Herald editorial. Far-right leader and former White House aide Steve Bannon lands in Alabama to rally the troops behind Moore. (Boston Globe)

Stoughton voters ousted three incumbent selectmen in a recall election that was triggered by the former elected officials decision to terminate the Town Manager and replace him with a former colleague. (The Enterprise)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Business leader Jeff Bussgang is using his contacts to help the city of Lawrence. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Connecticut company bought Crane Currency, which is headquartered in Boston but produces paper money for the federal government at a plant in Dalton. (Berkshire Eagle)

The developer of the Suffolk Downs site in East Boston wants state regulators to waive a lengthy environmental review process, part of the company’s bid to convince Amazon that it would be ready to build if selected for the company’s second headquarters. (Boston Globe)

The Trump administration has dramatically slowed approvals for H-1B visas that let tech workers enter the US. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

A Globe editorial rips Mayor Marty Walsh for repeatedly casting blame on things for Boston Public Schools superintendent Tommy Chang — even when not deserved — saying Chang must be getting weary of playing the part of scapegoat.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Researchers have begun a federally funded $8 million, five-year study of chemicals in drinking water in Hyannis and the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic to determine the health risks of perfluorinated chemicals found in the water sources. (Cape Cod Times)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial analyzes the pros and cons for western Massachusetts of the Eversource rate hike.

Jeff Jacoby says there are upsides, along with downsides, to climate change. (Boston Globe)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

The state Cannabis Commission, in meetings with its advisory board members, focuses on social consumption — think pot bars without the alcohol. (CommonWealth)

The first medical marijuana dispensary in Worcester County opened its doors in Leicester. (Telegram & Gazette)

A free valet parking project for businesses near the MGM casino project in Springfield has served 10,000 cars. Supporters want the valet parking, financed by casino revenues, to continue while construction continues. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Time named the “silence breakers,” those people who spoke out against sexual harassment, as the person(s) of the year.

The editor of the National Enquirer is accused of sexual misconduct. (Associated Press)

OLYMPICS

The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia and its teams from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea because of rampant doping in previous games but the IOC said individuals could be allowed to compete wearing neutral uniforms with no country affiliation. (New York Times)