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Aboard the nearby Western Breeze, twins Kenny and Randy Ripka say they have seen just two pounds of yelloweye fetch $500. The price demonstrates how the leasing market may squeeze fishermen in the system, some already working on narrow margins.
And the catch share has added costs. Fishermen now pay 1.5% of their revenue to NMFS to administer the catch share, plus 3% toward management and 5% to finance the cost of the 2003 boat buyback. They also pay $230 a day for human observers — most trips take five days — to make each boat accountable, resolving the problem of throwing back the too-small fish. Many of these are new costs. They’re a squeeze on any operation but are particularly hard on the less lucrative operations fishing nonwhiting groundfish.
“I think if shrimp weren’t so good right now, we’d be feeling it,” says Kenny Ripka, explaining the challenges have combined with the rising costs of the catch share to steer the Western Breeze to shrimp and crab instead.
And yet this squeeze works for conservation. Trawl fishermen see their environmental gains and take pride in them — even renters like Lapham, who, in spite of paying out 35% of his revenue to go fishing, has found a stable, profitable place in this industry as it shifts. Yet he knows what it took for him to buy in. And he knows it’s bound to get more expensive as values rise.
Looking at his son, Gangion, leaping after a crewman aboard the Michele Ann, he wonders if the good fortune he has enjoyed will be within reach for those who come next.
“That’s him,” he says. “He might not be a fisherman, I’m not going to try and make him be a fisherman. But like the guys who work for me — they’re all great guys and they are all perfectly capable of running their own vessels, but how can they even begin to try and afford it?”
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