Calif., Maine fishermen share views on success of Port Clyde’s co-op

Posted Aug. 06, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.

ST. GEORGE, Maine — Fishermen from California visited the village of Port Clyde on Thursday to see how a group of fishermen there came together to form a successful co-op. The Californians also talked with local residents about new regulations being implemented on both coasts.

Glen Libby, president of the Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative, which runs the Port Clyde Fresh Catch seafood company, spoke to about 15 people Thursday outside the co-op’s processing warehouse. The co-op catches, processes, packages, markets and transports fish. The cooperative is made up of Port Clyde fishermen who say they used to have to accept low auction prices for their catches. Now, however, they sell their product for better prices, which they have a hand in setting.

But their independence and success require a lot of time and hard work, Libby said.

“The one thing — anyone considering doing this: You have to be committed. You’re tired? So what,” he said.

Libby said that in the summer of 2008 gas prices had skyrocketed and fish prices plummeted. He worried whether the peninsula’s fishermen could survive the tough times individually.

“Prices went down. Fuel went up. It was almost the end of fishing in Port Clyde,” he said. “When gas went to $5 and fish prices dropped, we said, ‘That is it. It is either this [co-op] or we’re out.’”

The visitors — two fishermen, a town harbor consultant and an official with the California Nature Conservancy — come from Morro Bay, a town of 10,000 people in California that is facing similar worries.

On the West Coast, they said, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sends an observer on each fishing vessel to monitor and report each fisherman’s catch. NOAA is expected to stop paying for the observers in 2012, which might put the financial burden on the fishermen.

During the visit, Michael Bell, a marine projects director from the California Nature Conservancy, discussed the idea of replacing human observers with video cameras on the boats.

Bill Blue, a Morro Bay fisherman who catches groundfish, said he is in a pilot program that uses both a human and a video camera. According to Blue, the camera counts each fish he hooks and drags into his boat. Then, when he gets to the dock and unloads his fish, they are counted again. The numbers should be the same.

“If one doesn’t match, I’m guilty,” he said.

Maine fishermen also are dealing with regulation changes that were implemented in May. The changes created sectors, or groups of fishermen, that have catch quotas for each type of fish. The California regulations give a quota to each fisherman instead of to groups.

“The concerns are exactly the same, but the language of the regulatory structure is different,” said Rick Algert, a former harbor director for Morro Bay, who now works as a consultant on fishery issues there. “It’s very interesting to us. We’ve learned people have the same big issues, but how they deal with them is different.”

Algert painted a sad picture of his harbor town’s fishing industry where the nearest boatyard is 100 miles away. Algert said Morro Bay used to be a fishing town, but now tourism is its economic engine.

“We are a bigger city, but we don’t have the fishery activity of even Port Clyde,” he said. “There is not the local support in Morro Bay that there is here — it permeates everything.”

The program that brought California fishermen to Maine was funded by grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. New England fishermen were flown to California for similar discussions and seminars in April.

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