Winds cause some tense moments in sailboat race


By DOUG FRASER
Cape Cod Times Wind data at Horseshoe shoals graphed for 8/18/04 (courtesy IWindsurf)
HARWICH - (09/19/04)The remnants of Hurricane Ivan hit the Cape yesterday with high winds, downpours and lightning. For some, the storm meant minor flooding of roads, downed trees and limbs, and scattered power outages. But for 16 boats in the 26th annual Richard T. Wales sailboat race yesterday, it meant a sudden test of seamanship in the battle to get safely back to port. Everything from go-cart to power boat races were canceled yesterday, but the sailboat race's director, Joseph McParland, said his committee had been closely monitoring weather on various Web sites and agreed the fleet of boats ranging from 20 to 40-plus feet could handle what was forecast.

When the fleet set out at 11:20 a.m. from Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich, the wind was light at less than 17 mph. Depending on the size of the boat, the morning sail of 12- and 16-mile triangular courses should have taken about three hours. Halfway into the race, with boats at their furthest distance from port, the storm came on full force. "At 1:32, the wind changed, came out of north sheeting rain and blowing a stink," McParland said.

Wind gusted to 70 mph(?). The ferocity of the rain disrupted radio communication with the boats, and McParland called upon the Harwich harbor master's office for help locating at least seven vessels that were not checking in. Both the Harwich and Chatham harbor masters' boats battled 5- to 6-foot seas and high winds looking for the sailboats. One vessel's crew radioed they were taking on water and were towed to port by a fishing boat. One by one, the vessels straggled back to port. Harwich harbor master Tom Leach was in the race and was "knocked down" twice on his own J/24 sailboat SPITFIRE near Handerkerchief Shoal marker N'14' when the wind shifted and the waves came on. After laying hove too for a while and looking up at 8-10 foot-high seas decided to put the waves behind them and make a run for Nantucket with the safety of a larger vessel Neil Tomkinson's Sabre 34 CHINOOK, rather then beat home.

McParland eventually had to call the Coast Guard for the Zephyr, a 22-foot catboat that was five hours overdue with darkness closing in. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter and two vessels to join in the search. Around 7 p.m., Zephyr captain Bob Chase radioed he'd made it back to Bass River and all participants were home safe.

Lana Rogers, an operations specialist with the Coast Guard said it was a very busy day for them at the Coast Guard's Woods Hole Operations Center. "We had 35-knot winds almost all day," she said. "We didn't expect anyone to be out in this weather."

McParland said he wasn't worried about the skills of the sailors in the fleet, but he did grow concerned when they couldn't be contacted. "It's been a long day, and we're happy they're home," said McParland. (Published: September 19, 2004)


The following statement was part of the COASTAL WATERS FORECAST NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAUNTON MA given for 445 PM EDT FRI SEP 17 2004:

COASTAL WATERS FROM PROVINCETOWN MA TO CHATHAM MA TO NANTUCKET MA
OUT 20 NM-
445 PM EDT FRI SEP 17 2004

...SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY MAY BE REQUIRED SAT... .

TONIGHT...S WIND 5 TO 10 KT. SEAS 2 TO 4 FT. A CHANCE OF RAIN EARLY THIS EVENING. RAIN LATE THIS EVENING AND OVERNIGHT. AREAS OF FOG LATE THIS EVENING AND EARLY MORNING. VSBY 1 TO 3 NM. .

SAT...SE WIND 5 TO 10 KT...BECOMING NE 15 TO 20 KT IN THE AFTERNOON. SEAS 2 TO 4 FT...BUILDING TO 4 TO 6 FT IN THE AFTERNOON. AREAS OF FOG. RAIN WITH A CHANCE OF TSTMS. VSBY 1 TO 3 NM. .

SAT NIGHT...N WIND 20 TO 25 KT WITH GUSTS TO 30 KT. SEAS 4 TO 7 FT. RAIN LIKELY IN THE EVENING. VSBY 1 TO 3 NM IN THE EVENING.

SUN...N WIND 20 TO 25 KT WITH GUSTS TO 30 KT. SEAS 5 TO 8 FT. .

SUN NIGHT...N WIND 15 TO 20 KT...DECREASING TO 10 TO 15 KT AFTER MIDNIGHT. GUSTS UP TO 30 KT. SEAS 5 TO 8 FT. .

MON...N WIND 15 TO 20 KT. GUSTS UP TO 30 KT IN THE MORNING. SEAS 4 TO 7 FT. .

MON NIGHT...N WIND 15 TO 20 KT...DECREASING TO 5 TO 10 KT AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEAS 4 TO 6 FT. .

TUE...NW WIND 5 TO 10 KT...BECOMING W 10 TO 15 KT IN THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING...THEN INCREASING TO 15 TO 20 KT AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEAS 4 TO 7 FT. .

WED...NW WIND 10 TO 15 KT. SEAS 3 TO 5 FT.

Cape fishermen set up plan to manage cod quota

Group aims to save fishery from collapse

By DOUG FRASER
Cape Cod Times
CHATHAM - (09/20/04) Think of it this way. Instead of being able to work 365 days a year, the government limits you to work 50 or less. And instead of making $2,000 or more per day, you can earn only $1,000 or less, and at least a third of that goes to work-related expenses. Oh, and you still have to pay taxes.

That's the squeeze Cape Cod's hook fishermen faced this year when new fishing regulations in May cut all fishermen's fishing days by 25 percent to a maximum of 50 days a year and limited their daily Georges Bank cod catch to 1,000 pounds per day. The years coming up weren't looking any better as regulators struggle to comply with a court order to stop overfishing of Georges Bank cod, something even this year's drastic regulations didn't accomplish. More cuts to fishing days, additional closed fishing grounds, and lower daily cod limits seemed likely. "The species (Georges Bank cod) we depend on is the one that is in the worst shape," said John Pappalardo, policy analyst for the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association and a New England Fishery Management Council member. "Additional area closures and trip limits would make the hook fishery not a realistic option," he said.

The new Georges Bank Hook Sector plan, drafted by the Cape hook association, could be the answer. The group decided their only way to survive was to band together and ask regulators to allow them to manage the percentage of the cod quota that their boats landed annually. In return, the fishermen agreed to land cod only in specific Cape ports and to police themselves with a committee empowered to assess fines up to $50,000 and a one-year loss of fishing privileges. Most important, they agreed to stop all fishing on all groundfish species as soon as the hook cod quota was used up. At that point, they would be done for the year, regardless of when they ran out of cod quota. They would then be left to catch striped bass or tuna, or other non-groundfish species. (Groundfish are bottom-feeding fish such as cod, haddock and flounder.)

Historic lows
This plan was unprecedented in New England groundfishing, which has resisted efforts to impose an Alaskan-style hard quota system that shuts down fishing automatically when the quota of one species is reached. Instead New England fishery managers have tried to control fishing effort, reducing opportunities to catch fish by cutting back on fishing days and the amount of fish that can be caught each day. With no ability to shut off the tap, however, fishermen drained the well until most species reached historic lows in population in the mid-90s. Even with this year's drastic effort controls, five species are still being fished at unsustainable levels. Chatham and Harwich fishermen were afraid that their small community fishery could get squeezed out of what was becoming a steadily more competitive race to catch enough fish to survive until cod stocks come back.

At the same time, larger fish trawlers working out of New Bedford and Gloucester had a few more options. They could get to offshore areas that remained open most of the year, and were less dependent on Georges Bank cod. New England fishery council analysis last year showed Chatham/Harwich Port as the New England port most dependent on groundfish, accounting for 71 percent of fishermen's income. Gloucester was third with a 61.7 percent dependence and New Bed-ford/Fairhaven 11th at 22.3 percent. For Chatham/Harwich fishermen, that total is almost all Georges Bank cod.

Breaking away
Fishermen saw imposing a hard quota in return for a guaranteed amount of fish as a way to break away from a system that was resulting in a race to catch fish, a race that they felt they would surely lose to the larger boats that could travel further and catch more species than the small 40-foot day boats used by longline and jig fishermen. "It's a ray of hope," said Bill Chaparalles, one of 58 Chatham/Harwich fishermen who signed contracts to participate in the plan for this fishing year. The Georges Bank Hook Sector plan was approved this summer by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries service. The 58 hook sector members who signed on split 12.57 percent of the annual New England Georges Bank cod quota, of 371 metric tons (around 820,000 pounds).

Controlling destiny
"It's something we can, more or less depend on," said Chaparalles. "We all feel it kind of gives us a chance to control our own destiny." For Chatham fisherman Mike Abdow, his destiny in fishing seems to be beyond his control even after signing onto the Hook Sector plan. Like many fishermen, Abdow has always had to cobble together a few fisheries to make a year's pay. Jigging with baited hook on rod and reel was only one part of a fishing year that included striped bass, dogfish and sometimes shellfishing. He's even tried his hand at taking tourists out on fishing trips, but found out how tight vacationers can get about spending money in a flat economy.

Fishing regulations and poor fishery management have whittled down his options. The once-profitable striped bass season is now less than three weeks long, whereas he used to be able to fish from April to November. Dogfish were once easy pickings in summer, and Abdow had to go just three to four miles offshore to load his boat with the small sharks and make $1,200 a day. But overfishing killed off the dogfish fishery, which is not expected to recover for decades.

So far this year, tuna and cod have stayed too far out to sea - 50 or more miles offshore - for him to get them in his small boat. There hasn't been enough cod around to use up even a single day of the 15 groundfish days he is entitled to in the Hook Sector plan. "Business for me is not very good. It's tough, the worst year I ever had," said Abdow, who has been fishing for 20 years. "I have to go out and get a job for the first time in 20 years."

Shark's allure proves irresistible
State environmental officials work to keep 1,700-pound great white safe from curious boaters and spectators.

By ERIC GERSHON
STAFF WRITER
NAUSHON ISLAND - The shark now living in West Gutter, a salty lagoon near this private island, is without doubt a big fish in a small pond.


A 14-foot female great white shark was still swimming around a lagoon off Naushon Island yesterday. State environmental officials may try again to shepherd her to the open Atlantic.
(MASS. DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES)

And the pond, by the way, was a popular swimming hole before the 14-foot, 1,700-pound lady great white arrived last week.

"No swimming today," said Raymond Pontieri of Woods Hole, who idled near the site in his boat, Cory's Toy, with his 10-year-old son, Cory.

In fact, since the shark first appeared early last week, someone had posted a bright yellow sign on the private pedestrian bridge overlooking the lagoon.

"No Swimming," it says above the unmistakable outline of a predaceous-looking fish. "Risk!"

The shark has quickly become an irresistible curiosity for the privileged few with access to the private island and for the greater number of people with boats.

By 10 a.m. yesterday, more than two dozen people lined First Bridge and faced the lagoon. Behind them, a half-dozen boats floated above a sweeping tide that flowed beneath their hulls. "It's probably going to be a zoo later," said Ralph McCracken as he and a friend departed the site in a rubber inflatable that was much smaller than the shark they'd just seen.




Water Log

Tuesday: First known sighting of shark off the Elizabeth Islands.

Thursday: State official becomes first to tag a great white in the Atlantic.

Also Thursday: An emergency regulation enacted forbidding the attempted taking of a great white shark in Massachusetts waters.



Throughout the morning the shark, as yet nameless, put on a show, exposing its trademark dorsal fin and long lash of a tail every few minutes.

It thrashed against the base of the pedestrian bridge once, but mostly it swam circular laps of the lagoon.

"It's like Disneyland," said Greg Joyce, 31. Although he may have mixed up his theme parks. The mechanical great white used in the "Jaws" movies is actually an amusement park thrill in the Universal Studios parks.

Gregory Skomal, a shark expert with the state Division of Marine Fisheries, identified the fish as a great white shark, and later tagged it with a data-gathering device. It was the first time an Atlantic great white shark had been tagged with such a gadget.

Skomal and a crew of other scientists and experts arrived at the lagoon mid-morning yesterday to continue observing the shark.

They hope it will escape to open ocean on its own, but may try to herd it out if necessary. An early attempt to drive the animal back to ocean water failed.


A 1,700-pound great white shark has drawn many curious onlookers since her appearance off Naushon Island last week. Yesterday, spectators watched her swim around a lagoon that is 20-feet deep at its lowest point.
(Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP)

"I bet you he's stuck," said Bob Robbins of Falmouth, a spectator who said he often swam in the lagoon as a child. "The island kids still do," he said.

Scientists speculate the shark chased prey into the lagoon - which is 20 feet deep at its deepest point - on a high tide and will probably need another unusually high tide to get out.

Although the shark - which has apparently not been able to find its way out to Martha's Vineyard Sound, or has not wanted to - may find enough to eat inside the lagoon, local waters will eventually become too cold for comfort.

The travels of great white sharks are a relative mystery, but experts say it is not uncommon for the sharks to follow their prey to North Atlantic waters in August and September, when the water temperatures are to their liking. Then it is likely they travel south to more temperate waters. The sharks are found year-round in waters off Australia and South Africa.

It is hoped that the device Skomal tagged this shark with will reveal more about the behavior of great white sharks in the Atlantic.

With yesterday morning's tide, the shark could have slid beneath the bridge, out of the lagoon, and into adjacent Hadley Harbor, though this would only have worsened its situation. The shark would then have to take a more roundabout route to the ocean.

Joyce expressed sympathy for the sea creature.

"It's got to be pretty scary for her, especially with all the boats," he said from the deck of his 21-foot Sea Craft.

Massachusetts Environmental Police are trying to minimize stress on the shark by keeping spectators out of the lagoon. Only scientists and state environmental officials are allowed inside that perimeter.

Joyce and a friend, Joe Pearce, 30, were on their way from Woods Hole to a campsite on Washburn Island in Waquoit Bay and decided to take the detour to Naushon to check out the shark.

Pearce gleefully described a recent nighttime encounter with three large bucks on a Colorado highway. Now he imagined a photo-op with a great white for his collection of nature photographs.

And lo and behold, he got it.

(Published: September 26, 2004)

Scientists foresee lobstering 'collapse'
As the harvest continues to decline, many experts are in an 'I told you so' mood.

By DOUG FRASER
STAFF WRITER
One by one, the states are falling. In 1999 it was New York, where lobstermen off Long Island pulled up traps filled with dead lobsters, and harvests fell by more than 4 million pounds, nearly 60 percent, in one year.

Then it was Connecticut, whose lobster harvest dropped by nearly half between 1999 and 2000 and kept plummeting to less than a million pounds, or 75 percent less than caught in 1998.

In Rhode Island, the lobster fishery boomed along in the high-flying 1990s, with record catches of 6 million to 7.5 million pounds every year until 2001, when the catch suddenly dropped to 4.8 million pounds. It fell to 3.7 million pounds in 2002 and continued its slide to less than 3.5 million pounds last year.

Bad news continued to march up the coast to Massachusetts waters, where lobster stocks crashed in Buzzards Bay two years ago, putting many lobstermen out of work.

Still, the real heavy lifters when it comes to lobster fishing are in the waters of northern Massachusetts and on up into Maine, with more than 70 percent of the harvest taking place in the Gulf of Maine.

Until recently, the bedrock lobstering states seemed sound. Maine, in particular, leapfrogged from one record year to the next from 1994 to 2002, when more than 62 million pounds of lobster were landed, more than twice that caught in 1993.

But last year, the lobster world shuddered as Maine's harvest dropped by nearly 10 million pounds. It looks to be falling again this year.

Massachusetts' harvest dropped by 1.4 million pounds between 2001 and 2003 and has had a slow season this year as well.

So, what's going on?

Some lobster scientists have been predicting for nearly two decades that the lobster fishery is headed for trouble. They've been saying that fishermen are catching so many lobsters - the vast majority before the lobsters are sexually mature - that the population was headed off the edge of a cliff that would require a long recovery time.

"I think for the last decade there's been a remarkable lack of responsible harvesting. I think (lobsters) have been overfished for a long time and we're beginning to see a decline because of that," said Josef Idoine, a lobster biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in Woods Hole.

Idoine compares the lobster industry with the stock market of the '90s. With stocks booming, more people entered the market expecting greater and greater profits. Ultimately it collapsed in part because the reality of the market could not support the expectations.

Up and down the Atlantic coast, the total number of lobster traps and landings has increased threefold since the late 1960s. In Maine alone, the number of fishermen dependent on lobsters rose from around 3,000 in the 1940s to more than 10,000 by the 1970s, and a little more than 7,300 today. The numbers of lobster traps also increased dramatically, from less than a million through the '60s to just a bit more than 3 million in 2002.

"Not much has been done to curb the gold rush," Idoine said. "You can't expect the natural population to be limitless, but that's just what we've done."

Too young to reproduce
Fifty years ago, the average lobster caught weighed 2 to 3 pounds. Now, 80 percent or more of the lobsters caught are within one molt of attaining legal size, a little over a pound. To Idoine that means not many lobsters are living to reproduce. In Maine, for example, scientists believe as few as 11 percent of the female lobsters caught there have attained sexual maturity.

In fish markets, Idoine sees that many female lobsters, split open after they've been cooked, are sexually immature - with the eggs still inside them, never having moved to the outside of their shell where they can be fertilized by a male lobster.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., is charged with regulating fish species that occur in more than one state's waters for 15 coastal states from Maine to Florida. Since over 80 percent of all lobsters are caught in state waters, the commission also regulates lobsters.

Idoine is critical of ASMFC plans, formulated by fishermen, that didn't go far enough in reining in an industry that was catching 80 percent of the lobsters by setting more and more traps. Some say it is eerily reminiscent of the New England groundfish collapse in 1994 where the fishery management council, mostly fishermen and industry representatives, didn't institute meaningful measures until after stocks had hit record lows.

"Bring on the collapse," said a disillusioned Steve Smith, president of the Outer Cape Lobstermen's Association. "That's the only way they'll do something."

Smith prodded his association to come up with a plan to cut their trap levels by one-quarter as well as institute progressive minimum-size increases over the next few years. Then he found that his area was the only one that had instituted measures that were meaningful enough.

In Buzzards Bay's collapsed lobster fishery, the fishermen came up with a plan that reduced the amount of traps they could use to 400, but only when selling the license to someone else. Until then, anyone who had caught more than 2,000 pounds of lobsters could still fish 800 traps.

"If going to 400 traps is such a good idea, why not do it now? Why pass the burden on to the next guy?" Smith asked. "If one person owned all the lobster stocks out here, and he was a farmer, he wouldn't be doing this."

Not all blame overfishing
But not everyone is convinced that lobster woes lie at the feet of overfishing.

"There's no real indication we've fallen off the cliff," said Rick Wahle, a senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in West Boothbay, Maine.

Wahle started a project monitoring the lobster larval stage when it settles on the bottom after floating around for months as a plankton-sized animal. His research has tentatively established a correlation between the number of lobsters who survive to settle onto the bottom and the number that survive to reach legal size. It takes around eight years for a lobster to mature and the recent downturn in harvests in Maine correspond to a four-year drop in "settlement" lobsters eight years ago.

At the same time, Wahle did not see a corresponding drop in settlement numbers at stations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The collapse of the Rhode Island fishery may have more to do with a bacterial disease that weakened the lobsters' shells and an increase in predation by fish stocks such as striped bass and cod that have made a comeback and eat small lobsters. The boom years in Rhode Island and Maine also corresponded with times of historically low New England fish populations.

Increasingly warmer water temperatures have also been blamed for the shell disease that has ravaged lobster populations from Rhode Island to Buzzards Bay. Maine's Division of Marine Resources has recorded a more than 3-degree increase in average water temperature since 1970. Wahle said warmer water temperatures stress lobsters and also enable more disease-causing pathogens to flourish.

Wahle said the big divide in lobster science is between those who believe that the amount of lobsters in the ocean is largely responsible for the number of lobsters that survive each year to reach legal size and a different theory that lobsters thrive when the right conditions are present even if there are fewer lobsters to produce eggs. Right now, Wahle said, there seem to be plenty of larvae out there settling to the bottom.

But Idoine said conditions that have been favorable for successful lobster propagation and survival may change. And then, the presence of so many traps and the lack of any way to throttle down fishing efforts could spell disaster.

Collapse would be huge
A collapse of the lobster fishery would be huge. More than 10,000 fishermen are permitted to catch lobster, and it is the single most valuable species on the Atlantic seaboard, with more than $300 million paid to fishermen annually.

"If you are wrong, to hold a public hearing you'd have to rent out the FleetCenter, and the impact along the shoreline and in all of these communities would be huge," Smith said.

Maine Division of Marine Resources commissioner George LaPointe knows there's been a huge increase in fishing efforts on lobster, but he said some of that was necessary to take advantage of the huge population boom in Maine lobsters in recent years.

He said his biologists tell him there are a lot of females with eggs that aren't yet legal-sized and a lot of female lobsters over 3 pounds that are protected under the ASMFC fishing regulations.

Still, given that a lot of Down East Maine consists of small fishing villages almost wholly dependent on lobster for their survival, LaPointe thinks it's time to get precautionary and talk about scaling back.

"That's why we're having the discussion (with fishermen)," LaPointe said. "An important part, and a difficult one will be convincing people in those villages that it's in their self interest."

The first comprehensive lobster population study in four years is due next spring. Many want to wait until then to see if additional regulations need to be put in place.

(Published: October 11, 2004)