When the numbers of fish decreased, the federal government put landing limits on American fishing crews with the hope of rebuilding.
It is unclear whether the numerical limits have worked, but it did a number on the small-boat fleet in New England.
Scores of boats have stopped going out, and those that remain have often converted to taking out bait-and-beer fishing parties and/or entertaining kids and families.
It is difficult to engage in a conversation with an old salt who does not fulminate against managers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who set the limits on how many days boats can go out and what can be caught.
Yeomans has done commercial fishing but now is more of a consumer captain. Still, a lack of fish can be problematic for a helmsman taking out a boatload of hopeful anglers.
“In past years there were a lot of tuna,” said Yeomans, who blames large trawlers for taking baitfish (herring) out of the sea these days. “Now there aren’t many.
“And the whales have gone somewhere else. Local captains have to go out much farther into the ocean to show them to passengers; sometimes there are whalewatching ships in our waters that come all the way up from Boston because there aren’t any to be seen there.”
When taking out a party of a dozen fishermen, bringing in 80 fish (perhaps cod and haddock) would be a fair day. Filling the ice chests with 220, as has been done, is cause for celebration.
Lee Yeomans, Bob’s wife who helps run the business, said, “When the baitfish disappear, the larger fish don’t stay in the area.”
She said that huge ships come into port in Gloucester and use vacuum hoses to transfer enormous hauls of baitfish to waiting carriers.