By Jim Keding
I've been a commercial fisherman for 28 years. Last year, I was forced to sell my boat, my home and my truck, and am now working on a fellow fisherman's boat just to make ends meet. That's not easy when you have two young boys age 9 and 11.
My take home pay is off by 65 percent working for someone else, not myself. The simple fact is that mistakes made by federal regulators have made it much more difficult for me to make a living doing what I love.
It all started when I bought a new boat in April 2008. I relied on a landing history letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service that the previous owner requested for the sale of the vessel. Based on that landing history, I thought this boat would be worth my investment because the information from NMFS led me to believe that the permit history would be enough to make a living when the catch share quotas were implemented.
But when I got my catch allocation for the next year, it was well below what I was promised -- and frankly, what I needed. In fact, now NMFS was telling me that my boat had an entirely different landing history -- flatly contradicting their original letter.
I understand the rules, and I've always done my best to follow them. We all do. Now under the new catch shares program, too many fishermen I know have watched their livelihoods thrown into danger. But we're trying to follow those rules, too, and like it or not, we've all made business decisions based on this new system. Scrapping it now could mean even more chaos for all of our families, without a viable second option. This transition has been extremely hard for the small boat fleet. In fact, it has been tragic. The simple fact is that regulators didn't have the right information on hand when they launched the new system. So now we're facing real consequences for our bottom lines every time they make an administrative error. I don't think it's too much to ask that they make those mistakes right.
I think we can all agree that our government should help us, not hurt us, when it comes to putting in a hard day's work and providing for our families. I've asked time and again for them to fix their mistake that cost me my boat, with no luck. I even called Sen. John Kerry for help, and I'm glad I did. Once I made the call to Kerry's office, I was connected to Amy Kerrigan. Since that first phone call she has been investigating my situation tirelessly. It's nice to have someone that fights for you like it's their own fight. Not only has Sen. Kerry been there for me, so has his staff. I know the federal regulators in Washington haven't always been up front on these issues, but Kerry convinced me that he gets what we're up against and he's taking this issue very seriously and personally to get a just resolution to my case.
In my case, I couldn't have asked for more. Kerry has practically made my fight his own, and he's still standing by my side to help get the fair deal I deserve. I also know he's made the phone calls, written the letters, insisted on the meetings and forced the right people to get together, and he's been relentless in his bottom line that we need to do more to protect the New England fishery and stop the death of the small boat fleet.
As fishermen, we know the fish are out there because we see them each day with our own eyes and sacrificed all of the closures and low trip limits over the last 15 years to bring them back. Now Kerry's working to get more money for research so regulators will have the information we do, and the best data available so they can adjust allocations to keep up with stocks that are growing. And most importantly, he wants to make sure the decisions on how to use those funds are made at the local level, by those of us who know fishing first-hand.
John Kerry's been out on the front lines for us on this one, and I'm glad he is. He's doing what a senior senator should do, using his clout, and the work he's doing on our behalf in Washington may be my last best shot to getting back to what I love.