Finding Ways to Save an Ancient Industry

Greg Walinski
Greg Walinski, who has been fishing off the coast of Cape Cod for 30 years.

Two years after a study warned that overfishing could cause the world's seafood stocks to collapse by mid-century, a new report this week has some encouraging news. It found that five of the 10 major fishing areas in the world have taken steps to curb the problem. That includes New England, the focus of tonight's Weekend Journal: Finding ways to save an ancient industry - and their stock in trade.

By any measure, management of the fishing industry in New England over the last two decades has been a mess.

"All the paperwork, all the regulations// it's almost impossible not to break some kind of rule at one point or another," said Greg Walinski, a fisherman. "There's always something new coming down the pike."

Walinski has been fishing off Cape Cod for 30 years and he's never seen fish stocks of cod so depleted. He's never had to go so far out to sea in his small boat to catch them, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.

"We're actually fishing 129 miles off shore," Walinski said. "A lot of people think we're nuts."

Since 1994, the number of boats in New England looking for groundfish, cod, haddock, pollock and flounder has plunged from 1,000 to 574. Over the same period, revenue has dropped from $116 million to $52 million and the supply of cod has been nearly destroyed.

"The Georges Bank cod that is so famed it sits above the state house in Massachusetts is at only 10 percent of what scientists consider a sustainable biomass," said Peter Baker with the Pew Environment Group. "It's a sad number. That's what decades of over fishing does."

Eric Brazer is part of a new solution that fishermen and conservationists think will save the fish and the industry. Operating from Chatham, he runs the only two New England fisherman's cooperatives, or sectors, as they are known.

"New England has a poor track record of managing their fisheries and their fishermen," Brazer said.

Under the existing system, a federal license limits the amount of fish a fisherman can land and how many days he can go to sea. It's a number which has shrunk to only 20 days a year for many. That means fishermen have to put in longer, harder days and sail in bad weather.

The sectors allow the fishermen to pool their individual quotas and divide them up as they see fit. Smaller fisherman can stay in business because they don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on extra licenses that would permit more days at sea.

"How big a deal are the cooperatives?" Glor asked.

"Without the hook sector right now I would probably be out of business," Walinkski said. "So it's a big deal."

The Cape Cod cooperatives have proved so successful that they 're now expanding from the two on Cape Cod to a total of 19 next May, for fisherman working from Maine to Long Island.

"They decide how to catch it, when to catch it, where to catch it," Brazer said.

And for Greg Walinski, being able to make those decisions makes all the difference.

"Could you imagine doing anything else?" Glor asked.

"No I've tried," Walinski said. "I went back on land for a little bit and it just doesn't work."

Conservationists believe if the sector strategy works, the stocks of cod could be replenished in 15 years.