JIM FORD, Fisherman
“I don’t do it for a paycheck, I do it because I love it.” Meet Jim Ford, a full-time dragger based out of Newburyport, Massachusetts and a resident of East Kingston, New Hampshire where he lives with his 2 kids and his wife, a science teacher at Exeter Junior high School. Fishing off of his 60 foot, 2003 custom-built boat from Alabama, Jim trawls off the coast of Massachusetts fishing just off the bottom of the ocean floor with semi-pelagic doors. Fishing since 1985, Jim was first introduced to working on the water when he began a job on a party boat in 7th grade, and later began fishing starting out gillnetting out of Portsmouth, later switching to dragging. “I knew I wouldn’t want to be a gillnetter longterm; it’s hard work. I don’t know how those guys do it.” Today Jim Ford is the only full-time dragger out of Newburyport with no other draggers around for nearly 25 miles. “Back in the 80’s you’d look out and see maybe 30 other draggers, nowadays I’m lucky if I even see another dragger,” shares Jim with regards to the dying industry.
For Jim Ford, an average day dragging consists of 4-6 tows, some days 10-12, each lasting from 1-3 hours, 5 days a week, and 7 days a week in the winter. “Some of our best fishing is when all the part-timers are done for the year,” shares Jim. With approximately half a million pounds of quota altogether, Jim Ford’s operation is forever growing due to his purchasing of other local fishermen’s quota each year. Today, Jim Ford’s operation alone consists of around 2% of the fish quota within the Gulf of Maine, a very large percentage considering the amount of fishermen throughout the Gulf.
15,000 pounds of fish landed a day can be expected aboard Lisa Ann II, consisting of mainly cod and dogfish sharks. Jim Ford has a state-of-the-art operation with a great deal of advanced technology onboard, which he is continually updating. A great example of this being a catch sensor he acquired 4 years ago, that is hooked up to his net. It’s purpose being to alert the captain by means of a red light, when the net has reached it’s maximum holding capacity so no additional time is wasted dragging, saving on fuel costs among other things, a good thing considering an operation such as Jim’s can cost around $80,000 in fuel a year. The last time Jim fueled up his 60,000 gallon tank, he spent $10,000 lasting him 45 days of fishing. And fuel is not the only big expense when fishing at this scale. An operation such as his can cost an upwards of $50,000 a year on gear alone, repairing general wear and tear, as well as updating equipment and tow wires.
Jim Ford is a strong believer in selling directly to a company opposed to working through a fishermen’s cooperative. Jim argues that once you catch the fish, gut them, and package them, it can be difficult to turn around and worry about marketing your own fish. Because of this he went out and bought a truck of his own, which one of his deck hands for additional pay, drives south an hour to the Legal Seafood chain’s processing plant. Jim Ford’s fish is the only supplier for the entire chain and what he can’t provide, they buy at the fish auction. He used to sell to Whole Foods, but as of lately the line of stores have boycotted Atlantic Cod fished via dragging methods, and are now only selling line-caught cod. Though Jim respects Whole Foods mission of supporting sustainable practices he argues that they still sell trawl-caught haddock, which means cod is most likely being caught as bycatch and is therefore, just as unsustainable as selling trawl-caught cod. Whole Foods now imports the majority of their cod from Norway, which begs the question of sustainability considering the additional fuel costs. “I think Whole Foods is good at what they do, but they’re not always as green as they let people believe,” shares Jim. As a food source, draggers are known to provide 90% of all fish within the nation.
You can read more about this controversy in the New York Times’ article here.
When asked about his hobbies, Jim responds, “I go fishing. My wife thinks I’m crazy because I come back from fishing and go fishing.” He also mentions he enjoys spending time at his camp in Barrington, New Hampshire as well as jet skiing. Often times Jim offers up his boat for various research projects such as the tagging of wolf fish for a project conducted through the University of New Hampshire as well as the tagging of female dogfish through a program run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study is being conducted in order to better understand the migration patterns of dogfish sharks. Scientists used to believe they migrated south to north each year within the Gulf of Maine, but now there is reason to believe that perhaps they are migrating west to east.
“We have to maintain a sustainable fishery,” states Jim, “otherwise we’re all going to be out of business.” With regards to the amount of fish compared to past years he claims, “This year feels like there’s less fish.” He pauses, “If you had asked me that question last year I would have said no way, but now I’m just not sure.” With regards to the number of sink gillnetters throughout the seacoast he simply states, “When we go home, our gears not fishing anymore.” Jim worries about the future of fishing due to the amount it costs just to get started. He claims a permit can’t be bought for under $350,000 now because of the value of the distributed quotas, however he points out, once you buy quota you own it. “It costs so much, that young people aren’t able to afford to even start.” When asked if he could share anything with seafood consumers, without a pause he responds, “Eat at Legal Seafood.”