Many years ago, during the mid seventies, I worked on a boat named the Atlantic Twin that was chartered by the NMFS to do trawl surveys up and down the east coast. I’m not quite sure how they chose the exact place to tow a net to retrieve their samples, but they assured us that the spots that we had to tow the nets were “Scientifically” predetermined. Before each watch, (which were 6 hours long 24 hours a day) the captain and the first mate were given the coordinates. (Loran “A” back in those days) and it was up to them to put us on the exact spot.
We departed Sandy hook and went from the end of Long Island to St. Augustine Florida over the next month making 15 minute tows in an attempt to get real information on fish stocks. Some of the planed sample areas were clearly in areas where it was impossible to drag nets on the sea floor because of wrecks, rocks or other obstructions. Many nets were torn up (rim wracked) and lost. One such encounter brought forth the first bit of genius from a scientist that truly floored me. After loosing two complete rigs on the ocean floor the head scientist asked if we could make the same tow but instead of north to south try it from east to west! …So we did…Yep, one more lost rig!!
In the fall of the year commercial fluke fishing is usually pretty good down around Cape May and the Delaware river and we looked forward to catching some so we could fillet some for ourselves to freeze and take home, although everything that came up in the net was thrown back after measurements were taken by the Scientists. We were determined to bring some home to eat. I asked the head guy if maybe we should go near one of the commercial boats and try a tow or two for they surely knew where the fish were. I was reminded that the spots were predetermined and we could not vary. We were, probably the only boat in that area that couldn’t catch enough for dinner. A couple of days later I overheard two of, “Them,” say that they thought fluke stocks were in serious trouble since they didn’t see many of them, yet there were 20 to 30 commercial boats in that same area that were making a living. One of those boats was from Point Pleasant and we later found out the fishing was terrific.
It became clear to me that common sense was not then, and is not now part of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Only a few years ago a government research boat was doing the same kind of trawl surveys and their results were very poor on some fish. When questioned on their research they became very arrogant and said their surveys were sound science. A local fisherman challenged their research and and convinced them to tow next to each other and the results were nothing short of astonishing. The local fisherman caught many times more than the research vessel. It was later found out that the towing cables on the research boat were improperly marked which made it impossible for the net to open properly! You can’t make these stories up. More to come on NMFS incompetence….remember, “Hookemandhackem.”