Cape Cod

'Why is the world so old?'

On a beach in the Cape Cod National Seashore.

On a beach in the Cape Cod National Seashore.

“The low sandy beach and the thin scrub pine,

The wide reach of bay and the long sky line,—

O, I am sick for home!

The salt, salt smell of the thick sea air,

And the smooth round stones that the ebbtides wear,—

When will the good ship come?

The wretched stumps all charred and burned,

And the deep soft rut where the cartwheel turned,—

Why is the world so old?

The lapping wave, and the broad gray sky

Where the cawing crows and the slow gulls fly,

Where are the dead untold?

The thin, slant willows by the flooded bog,

The huge stranded hulk and the floating log,

Sorrow with life began!

And among the dark pines, and along the flat shore,

O the wind, and the wind, for evermore!

What will become of man?’’

— “Cape Cod,’’ by George Santayana

Photo taken around the turn of the 20th Century.

Photo taken around the turn of the 20th Century.

James P. Freeman:Tuesdays are big opioid-overdose days on the Cape


The news this past Aug. 22, a Tuesday, seemed promising. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health released its quarterly report showing a 5 percent decline in opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2017 compared with the like period last year (978 deaths, as opposed to 1,031 deaths; January to June). The statistics led The Boston Globe to conclude this was “the strongest indication to date that the state’s overdose crisis might have started to abate.”

But the news was a tantalizing chimera. The Barnstable police already knew. August was cruel.

With overwhelming preponderance and without overlooking prejudice, the opioid crisis still rages unabated in Massachusetts. Especially on Cape Cod.

Figures provided by the Barnstable Police Department, the largest police force on the Cape, reveal a massive spike in opioid overdoses this past August compared with August 2016 (41 overdoses this year as opposed to 8 overdoses last year). Through the end of September, opioid-related overdoses in Barnstable, which at about 45,000 people is the largest town on the Cape, stood at 148. During the like period last year that number was 82.

Overdoses for the combined two months of August and September (61) were the highest for back-to-back months since January and February 2015 (51), when the Barnstable police first began keeping opioid-specific records. That’s when things seemed really bad. In many ways, now they’re worse.

Except for May, every month this year in Barnstable has seen an increase in overdoses compared to corresponding months in 2016. Already, there have been more overdoses in just nine months of 2017 than during all of 2016. And if current trends continue — nothing suggests that they won’t — this year will see more overdoses than in 2015, the year many thought was the high-water mark.

The death rate on the Cape isn’t encouraging, either. It is rising, not declining. Barnstable police report that 19 people have died due to overdoses through Oct.  10 of this year. In the like period, just nine people died through the end of October 2016. It is nearly certain that, beginning with respective Januarys, more lives will be lost by the end of October 2017 than were lost by October 2015 and October 2016, combined. This is progress in reverse.

Officer Eric W. Drifmeyer oversees the Research and Analysis Unit of the Barnstable Police Department. He is a busy man. Before 2015, the department, like many Massachusetts law-enforcement agencies, did not have adequate reporting mechanisms to track and maintain useful information relating to opioid-specific activity. In the past, Drifmeyer says, any data collected were categorized as generic “medical events.” But as the opioid crisis escalated — it is estimated that 85 percent of crimes on Cape Cod are opiate-related — the need for more accurate crime data increased, too.

So Drifmeyer and his colleagues built their own database.

Data-driven information provides police with intelligence. With superior intelligence trends become apparent — such as populations at risk in an opioid crisis. Here, that means young adults who are prone to abusing opioids. In Barnstable — an area of 76 square miles comprising seven villages of affluence and affliction — overdoses in 2017 disproportionately affect white males ages 20-29 and 30-39, far more than any other demographic group. Barnstable police statistics show that men are overdosing at nearly twice the rate of women. And for females, white women ages 20-29 and 30-39 show the highest levels of overdose in 2017. These have been trend lines for years.

A superior database of historical information doesn’t just reveal trends. Consistent trends become accurate predictors of criminal activity. Drifmeyer notes that a spike in overdoses correlates directly with an immediate surge in crimes, such as shoplifting and car and house break-ins. Accordingly, proceeds from illicit sales of ill-gotten goods finance the next purchase of heroin and other opioids on the street. And the cycle repeats itself. From this learning curve emerges better policing — devising effective strategies, dispatching efficacious resources, and thwarting criminal behavior.

Every day on Cape Cod, in a sad ritual, somewhere, someone is rolling up a sleeve, readying an arm for a taut elastic rubber tourniquet, anticipating the needle chill about to puncture a warm vein for perhaps the last sensationally euphoric high.

Tap. Tap. Tap …

Naloxone, the powerful opioid antidote, popularly known as Narcan, reverses the effects of overdose. Its widespread and immediate administration by first responders on those suspected of overdosing is probably the reason that the death rate has declined slightly this year in Massachusetts. Police in Barnstable have revived many people. Of the 148 officially designated overdoses this year, police have administered Narcan 46 times individually and another 25 times with assistance from a third party, such as a firefighter-emergency medical technician. In the short term Narcan saves lives. But Narcan solves nothing.

Stunningly, many addicts today have Narcan present while they are using, says Drifmeyer. Employing what one detective said was a “buddy system,” Narcan is administered by the corresponding partner in the event of overdose by the user. It is a bizarre insurance policy against a bad batch of drugs in this high-stakes risk/reward game; much heroin is now laced with the powerful additive fentanyl (itself a synthetic opiate), 50-100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin itself.

Today, Barnstable police cruisers are stocked with two 4-milligram doses of Narcan. Not long ago it was 2-milligram doses. Those lower doses were not effective at neutralizing higher concentrations of fentanyl increasingly found in heroin.

First responders are also at risk from exposure to just small quantities of fentanyl. It is so dangerous, in fact, that police and paramedics can effectively “accidently overdose” if they come into contact with only a bit of the drug. Today, Barnstable police dog units now carry Narcan because service dogs sometimes accidentally overdose, too, by inhaling fentanyl into their nasal passages or absorbing in into their paws while working a case. This unimaginable collateral damage is the newest alarming phenomenon in what PresidentTrump in August rightly called a “national emergency.”      

Last decade, the most covered story in The Cape Cod Times, the largest paper on the Cape, was the controversial off-shore wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound known as “Cape Wind.” By the end of this decade, depressingly, the opioid matter will likely be the top story. Since 2000, nearly 400 people have died on the Cape and Islands due to some form of opioid overdose. With crashing regularity, stories appear on a near-daily basis, one falling into the other, like cascading dominoes.

Click. Click. Click …

In the last month, these stories received front-page treatment:  Oct. 7, “Construction Workers Hard Hit by Opioid Addiction”; Oct.  4, “Study at McLean Hospital Reveals Marijuana’s Benefits in Lowering Opioid Usage”; Sept. 22, “Judge:  Drug Dealing Merits Homicide-Level Bail”; Sept. 17, “Addiction Experts Warn of Detox Dangers”; and Sept. 12, “Drop-In Night New Option for Drug Users.”

Obituaries in the paper are sad narratives of dying youth. They are all too frequent. Last year, 82 people on the Cape and Islands died because of opioid overdose. (Barnstable County ranked third statewide for fatal overdose rates in 2015 and 2016.) And all too often these announcements contain no cause of death, wrongly stating the deceased died “peacefully” or “quietly.” One was named Arianna Sheedy. She was 23 and a mother of two when she fatally overdosed on Feb.  16, 2015, one of seven who died of similar causes on Cape Cod that month.

Sheedy was featured in the 2015 HBO film Heroin:  Cape Cod, USA. The documentary portrays the day-to-day lives of eight young addicts. It is equally haunting and horrifying and must-viewing for anyone — everyone! — intent on understanding the mindset of people completely consumed emotionally, psychologically, and physically by this kind of addiction. (The film will be rebroadcast on HBO2 on Wednesday, Oct. 18.)

There are many memorable vignettes but one stands out. Opioid nirvana, one participant said, “felt like Christmas morning every time I shot up. Who wants to give that up?” Sheedy and another addict, Marissa, died before filming was finished. The film is dedicated to their memory.

Among the intriguing statistics in the Barnstable police database are 2017 overdoses by day-of-the-week. Surprisingly, Tuesdays rank second-highest, only slightly below Fridays. As Drifmeyer dryly concedes, heroin “is not a recreational drug,” so weekdays are just as active as weekends. (Heroin is a retail business; perhaps even big deliveries slow on Sundays.) Still, why Tuesdays figure so prominently is puzzling to police. But as time and statistics accumulate, it is likely that mystery will be solved by their unsung and noble work.

Most of the heroin on Cape Cod arrives from Fall River and New Bedford, transported along the I-195 corridor, what is considered a local Heroin Highway. Every day, anonymous lives, hopes and dreams travel that lonesome road. Until something desperately changes, they are slowly passing …

Gone. Gone. Gone.  

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.  This piece first ran in the New Boston Post. Besides that outlet and, his work has also appeared in The Providence Journal and


Sharks off the beach!

White shark cruising the surface.    Photo by Brocken Inaglory

White shark cruising the surface.

Photo by Brocken Inaglory

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's Digital Diary, in GoLocal

Every time there’s a very rare (and always much publicized) attack by a white shark on swimmers or surfers (or surfboards) off Cape Cod, there’s a  new proposal to kill as many of these creatures as possible off the Cape’s beaches.  Consider the proposal that surfaced last week to use drum line traps to kill the sharks. That’s a terrible idea. Sharks are part of the eco-system and wiping them out in certain waters will hurt other species, too. Everything in the sea is connected.

The best advice to swimmers and surfers in waters known to be occasionally visited by sharks is not to go out beyond the surf line. White sharks, the scariest ones, like deep water and usually attack prey from below. It’s good to remember how rare shark attacks on people are in New England, with no more than half a dozen in Massachusetts since 2000. (There’s some confusion about the exact number of documented attacks.) The last fatal attack in the state was off Mattapoisett, on Buzzards Bay, in 1936.

The seal population has swollen along the southeastern New England coast in recent years, attracting sharks. If you see seals, you might want to keep closer to the shore. At the same time, people are using the beaches more than ever. But that’s no excuse for humans to destroy yet another piece of the marine eco-system.

Meanwhile, with global warming, we may see more  white sharks on the New England coast.


My Cape Cod -- from rural to suburban

The Bourne Bridge, over the Cape Cod Canal, with the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge in the distan ce.

The Bourne Bridge, over the Cape Cod Canal, with the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge in the distance.

From Robert Whitcombs's "Digital Diary','' in GoLocal24com

We went down to the Cape the other day to stay with a cousin in a house on a harbor on Buzzards Bay. I thought of how much the Cape had changed since my boyhood, in the ‘50s. Then, much of it was truly rural, with small farms and many cranberry bogs. There were no superhighways. Approaching from Boston’s southeastern suburbs, you’d go down Route 3A, which would become increasingly rustic as you headed south, with farm stands and general stores. The closer we got to the Cape Cod Canal, the more the air smelled like pine, as we entered a state forest.

Then the excitement of crossing the Sagamore Bridge onto an island/peninsula then devoid of big box stores, malls and gated retirement communities and on to my paternal grandparents’ gray-shingled house in the village of West Falmouth,  the land of which some of my Quaker ancestors had bought from the Indians in the 1600’s.  Then, if there were still time, to the beach, where the water was much cleaner and warmer than in Massachusetts Bay, and where the private bathhouse would get destroyed from time to time in hurricanes, to whichBuzzards Bay is particularly vulnerable.

After that, getting some ice cream from the village’s one and only general store. Then maybe a trip to Woods Hole the next day to see the aquarium of the world-famous Oceanographic Institution there. Woods Hole was where some of my ancestors built boats and partnered in the Pacific Guano Co., where bird excrement from Pacific Islands was processed with fish meal to make what was considered in the 19th Century the best fertilizer. Nowadays, it’s hard to think of Woods Hole as a factory town. Rather, it’s now in effect a college town.

As for West Falmouth, while it’s still almost as pretty as it was 60 years, it’s a ghost town to me since virtually everyone I knew there has died or otherwise gone elsewhere.

Or we occasionally approached the Cape from the west, on Route 6, with its strips of clam shacks, cheap motels and kitschy tourist-oriented gift stores. Ugly, but delightful to young children. Now, of course, you miss the local and often tacky texture on the boring big divided highways. And these highways draw in so much out-of-region traffic that the traffic jams on the two road bridges (there’s also the beautiful railroad bridge) mean driving to the Cape can take considerably longer now than in the ‘50s.

Because of that and because too much of this glacial moraine now looks like exurbia or suburbia, we don’t makemany visits anymore to Olde Cape Cod. Still, the air down there still has a certain luminosity.

Lauren Owens Lambert: Trying to rescue sea turtles on Cape Cod beaches.

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.

Via ecoRI News (

Winters are harsh on the shores of Cape Cod. They’re not a place where you would expect to find tropical sea turtles. But each winter, greens, loggerheads and Kemp’s Ridleys wash up, stunned by the cold ocean temperatures and disoriented by the unfamiliar geography.

Tony LaCasse, of the New England Aquarium, calls the hook-like shape of the geography “The Deadly Bucket.”

With help from volunteers and biologists at Mass Audubon and the New England Aquarium, the turtles are rescued, rehabilitated and flown to warmer waters to be released. Turtle strandings averaged about 90 annually until 2014, when there was a record 700.

The most commonly found stranded species is also the most endangered, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

“We are not sure why we are seeing an increase in strandings while also noticing an overall decline in population of ridleys,” said Connie Merigo, director of the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country.

Sea turtles are some of the world’s great navigators, but for this part of their journey a little help is needed.

Massachusetts resident Lauren Owens Lambert runs a photo journalist Web site.





An island for opioid treament

Penikese Island from the southeast.

Penikese Island from the southeast.

Excerpted from Robert Whitcomb's Dec. 1 Digital Diary column in GoLocal24.

Tiny Penikese Island, off  southwestern Cape Cod and part of the Elizabeth Islands, has been turned into a beautiful if austere retreat for the treatment of opioid addiction, a staggering problem all over America. You can blame the addiction epidemic, in part, on pharmaceutical companies and their salespeople asserting that such newish opiates as OxyContin were not dangerously addictive and were needed to address an alleged American “pain crisis."

In the past, Penikese has hosted a leper colony, a school for troubled boys and a bird sanctuary. Its latest use is admirable, though, it should be emphasized, the facility can only take a few clients at a time – at this point only young men.

There must be some other New England islands that would serve as places where addicts can confront and overcome their demons with the help of tough but compassionate therapists and without the temptation, followed all too often by quick relapse, they’d have on a mainland. It’s hard to avoid the mindfulness and perspective you gain in such a quiet, if windy place. Not that you’d want to spend the rest of your life there.

James P. Freeman: The indomitable spirit of my Cape Cod aunt

On the Cape Cod National Seashore.

On the Cape Cod National Seashore.

My aunt, Irene Doane, lived a life that was uniquely Cape Cod -- where she lived her entire life -- but also recalled, in many ways,  the broader America of the 20th Century… full of ups and downs, hopes and heartbreaks, and vast change during her nearly 90 years on the Cape.

She was born in1927, in the Roaring Twenties,  which Scott Fitzgerald dubbed “The Jazz Age,’’ two years before October 1929 crash that led to the Great Depression. And like many Americans of that generation, her character was cemented by the Second World War. These events guided and informed her patriotism, independence, indomitable spirit, and, as would be evident later in life, her survival instincts. With gusto.

These traits were validated when she met my uncle, George, who himself embraced many of these values. Just as he had landed on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, he landed in her heart. For 50 years as a married couple. It is hard to believe that he died almost 20 years ago. Yet she fought on with her own brand of style and swagger.

When I moved to New England permanently, in late 2002, I got to know her much better. When I was living in Orleans that first winter; we had dinner together nearly every two weeks. I still marvel at her love of nature (it was merely coincidence that she lived on Chick-a-dee Lane and that the state bird in Massachusetts is the Black-capped Chickadee) and her dedication to the many social organizations -- her extended family – the guilds, lodges and women’s groups, not to mention aspiring public officials.

These were the days of real, actual human interaction, before the days that my generation would think of social interaction as the digital space of Twitter and Facebook. Coffee at her home base, “The Homeport,” in Orleans, will never be the same. Sunday suppers will lose some of their charm.

I will miss her at family gatherings like Christmas and the Fourth of July, where she was always checking on the family. And the stories. The Freeman gift of gab. One in particular is priceless and was recalled by a 1955 Cape Codder column entitled “Scuttlebutt.”

“George and Irene Doane of Orleans recently turned in their Ford for a new model. Last week Irene drove the new car to the center to do her marketing. She came out of the store loaded down with the makings for a good chicken dinner. And over in the parking lot sat the old Doane car, having been purchased by someone else. Well, you guessed it! Irene marched right up to the familiar vehicle, opened the back door and deposited her groceries on the seat. Then she went back to do some more shopping. Later, half way home in the new car, she noticed that there were no groceries on the back seat. Realizing what she had done, Irene hurried back to the center. But the other car had pulled out. Needless to say, George didn’t have chicken that night.”

We do not know God’s plan but in a way, God’s plan was entirely fitting this time, in that she passed away as fall began. With the approaching explosion of colors, a reminder of one of the thousands of rich, elegant bouquets she made down the road at Thayer’s Florist Shop, her passion and vocation.

The following passage from Gladys Taber’s My Own Cape Cod, captures beautifully her fondness for nature, literature and storytelling. Even in her last days she was sharing stories.

“Summer slides so gently into autumn on Cape Cod that it is easy to believe there will be no end. Day dreams toward twilight, skies are sapphire, the tide ebbs quietly. I begin to think time itself is arrested and the green leaves will stay forever on the trees. Gardens glow with color, with the roses and with carpets of zinnias and asters….

Times have changed but the Harvest Moon of September exerts the same magic, shines so bright. The fishing boats that are at anchor in the channel nudge the piling softly, perhaps dreaming of tomorrow.”

Our tomorrows will be a little sadder now that she has departed us. But we are comforted in knowing that she will see George soon and that means there will certainly be a good story somewhere too, a story, no doubt, rich with New England humor, imagery and traditions. We can all dream about that…  

James P. Freeman, a former banker, is a New England-based essayist.    

Cape Cod fishermen are challenged by huge mid-water herring trawlers

By Nicole St. Clair Knobloch

for ecoRI News (


Cape Cod fishermen may be on their way to some relief from sharing inshore fishing grounds with mid-water herring trawling, a practice they say is threatening their livelihoods. But a persistent lack of data on the impact of the trawls may hamper efforts to regulate them.

On Aug. 17, the Herring Oversight Committee of the New England Fisheries Management Council voted to send the council two options for establishing a buffer zone prohibiting mid-water trawling off Cape Cod. The zone would extend either 12 miles or 35 miles from shore — significantly farther than the 6-mile zone proposed by the herring industry and closer than the 50-mile mark sought by environmental groups. The council will consider the options when it meets in September.

Fishermen have been complaining for years about the industrial-sized ships landing on the back side of Cape Cod, scooping up millions of pounds of herring and leaving, they say, a temporary ocean “bio-desert” in their wake.

In 2015, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance collected hundreds of comments and individual letters from fisherman about the phenomenon called “localized depletion” — defined as “when harvesting takes more fish than can be replaced locally or through fish migrating into the catch area within a given time period.”

For those who fish bluefin tuna, striped bass, dogfish and are still recovering from drastic cuts to allowable catches of groundfish such as cod, competing with the large ships doesn’t feel like a fair fight.

“We have a problem on the back side of the Cape,” said striped bass fisherman Patrick Paquette at the recent committee hearing. “We have big industrial boats fishing in shallow water.”

The comments were part of a new look at how herring fishing should be managed. The New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) was tasked in 2007 with establishing a control rule for herring stocks. But in 2014, a lawsuit from environmental groups prompted an examination of the biological and ecological role of herring in the western Atlantic Ocean ecosystem, with the aim of establishing a stronger control rule reflecting the herring’s status as a forage species.

Even if the NEFMC is able to determine that role, and assign a new acceptable biological catch limit for herring, its science committee asserts that stronger stock-wide limits wouldn’t necessarily avoid local effects on the food web when trawlers come through.

A local dogfish fisherman, who didn’t want to use his name for fear of “retribution” from the herring companies, described the experience of encountering a mid-water trawler inshore.

“We go out and they’re out there with their lights off, inside of three miles (from shore),” he said at the Chatham dock two days before the Aug. 17 meeting. “They see us and turn their lights on, and plow right through our lines, leaving no groundfish. We might as well just go home and call it a season.”

The herring industry disputes such claims, as proving them has been problematic. At the August meeting, the task force charged with analyzing the impacts of midwater trawling on other species presented few results. Though it confirmed significant numbers of trawler landings in Area 114, a section of ocean on the “back” of Cape Cod, it didn’t show the effect of that activity on other species. NEFMC staff cited lack of reported data and noted the lack of an adequate computer model and the time to develop one.

The staff did find that both large and small schools of tuna, which prey on herring, are lower in New England now than in the 1980s, but suggested lack of prey as only one of several possible explanations for the decline.

“Year after year, we have no scientific basis for taking any action on herring. We have no evidence localized depletion exists,” said Herring Oversight Committee member Mary Beth Tooley, who is on the board of O’Hara Industries, a herring company operating two mid-water trawlers out of Rockport, Maine.

Herring fisherman Gerry O’Neill got up from the audience to agree with Tooley.

“I feel this whole thing is going forward based on perception, not based on facts,” he said. “The research — there are ways to do it. We’d like to see it done. If we are going to lose access to fish we would like some biological, scientific basis for it.”

Getting that level of proof in New England is difficult, according to John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

“We don’t have synced or simple data collection systems on each fishery,” he said. He pointed to Alaska, where herring fishing is intensely monitored and pair trawling is limited to a few areas. There, he said, “Industry is more involved in the collection of that data. It’s partly the (New England) culture, which is a resistance to being observed or monitored.”

Making that happen here, Pappalardo said, is up to Congress and the National Marine Fisheries Service. “Where is the political will?” he asked.

He expressed exasperation with the idea that a connection between herring trawls and other species had to be proved absolutely.

“These people will not draw a correlation,” he said. “(For them) there is always something else to eat in the ocean.”

Even without more data, NEFMC’s Atlantic herring management plan was amended in 2006 to ban midwater trawling in the summer in the inshore area for the entire Gulf of Maine. The ban ends just above the fishing area of Cape Cod. It came after thousands of comments from Gulf of Maine fishermen with similar complaints as their Cape Cod counterparts.

At the September meeting, the council is expected to hear the science committee’s findings on how much herring is needed to support the area’s ecosystem.

To some, herring’s role is obvious, even if acceptable catch levels are not.

“The ecosystem starts with herring,” said the Chatham dogfish fisherman. “Am I the only one that remembers that part in elementary school? When they drew a circle around a herring and said the food chain starts here.”

The Cape, distilled

"Chatham II (acrylic on canvas), by Brenda Horowitz, in her show at the Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown. She has a place in Truro, on Cape Cod,  where, the gallery says, she works on compositions "simplified to land, water, sky sometimes a house {to} explore the inherent character of the Cape landscape, where the quality of light reflected by the ocean intensifies the color of nature. The work in the current exhibition was created in plein air in the hills, dunes and marshland of Truro.....'

Peter Baker: Fish council ignores habitat needs


The New England Fishery Management Council recently dealt a serious blow to the region’s ocean health with a vote to sharply reduce the amount of seafloor set aside to protect marine habitat for fish.

If approved, the measure would remove protections for more than 5,400 square miles — an area the size of Connecticut — and open the habitat to damaging forms of bottom-trawl fishing and scallop dredging. The final decision rests with the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), whose officials should reject this risky action.

Over a decade in the making, the council’s Omnibus Habitat Amendment was meant to identify and protect essential fish habitat for all species managed by the council, in accordance with the law. Like all animals, fish need places where they can find food and shelter and reproduce. As I like to say, habitat is where fish make more fish, and New England needs more fish.

The region’s cod population has crashed to a historic low because of decades of overfishing and, more recently, the effects of warming waters stemming from a changing climate. New England is home to more overfished species than any other fishing region in the nation, largely as a result of risky management decisions that have undermined sustainability. The situation became so dire that New England’s fishery for cod and other bottom-dwelling fish was declared a federal disaster in 2012, and taxpayers have funded hundreds of millions of dollars in relief aid for fishermen.

Last December, some 140 noted marine scientists wrote to the council urging more habitat protection, to help recover depleted populations and make those fish more resilient to the stress brought by climate change. When the council’s omnibus amendment was open for public comment, more than 150,000 people spoke up for habitat protection. Unfortunately, the council rejected both scientific advice and public opinion in favor of short- term economic gains for the fishing and seafood-processing industries.

The numbers are striking. The council has voted to slash currently protected areas by about 60 percent throughout the region. East of Cape Cod on Georges Bank, the historically rich fishing grounds where cod and other fish are known to spawn and seek shelter, 81 percent of the areas closed to damaging fishing gear would be reopened.

Some of these closed areas have been in place for more than 20 years, and a large body of science documents their value as fish habitat. Closed areas in the Gulf of Maine are known to shelter some of the last remaining old female cod, which are crucial to the reproductive capacity of the population and the species’ ability to rebound in numbers. But the council’s vote would cut protections in the Gulf of Maine by nearly 15 percent.

The council’s habitat amendment also fails to adequately address the spawning areas where fish aggregate seasonally. The council ignored many of the spawning “hot spots” scientists had mapped out for a variety of species. Even the small closures the council left in place still allow many kinds of destructive fishing, including clam dredges, gill nets and giant mid-water trawl vessels. In addition to killing fish, these types of gear disrupt spawning behavior, dispersing aggregations of fish.

Further, the council did little to ensure an adequate supply of the prey animals that fish need for food. For example, it entirely ignored Atlantic herring in the decisions on spawning and habitat protection. These forage fish, which play a vital role in the ecosystem, are another essential element of healthy habitat as defined by both scientists and the law.

The  Northeast regional administrator  for  NOAA Fisheries,  John Bullard, took note of these many inadequacies as the habitat plan was nearing completion. In a sharply worded letter in April, Bullard warned that the council had “not made use of the best available scientific information” and might “reverse 20 years of habitat protection and recovery.” He concluded that the habitat amendment would probably not meet legal requirements without some major improvements.

The council didn’t heed his warning. As the members prepared for the final roll call vote on June 16, the person who had worked most closely on the habitat amendment throughout its long development, Rhode Island council member Dave Preble, offered a telling comment.

“This council has purposely ignored the science and produced an amendment that is indefensible,” he said. “If you want to have big fish, you have to feed and protect the small fish.”

The amendment will now go to NOAA Fisheries for consideration. I hope that the agency will reject it and send it back to the council demanding a habitat plan guided by science and the public interest. New England’s fish and fishing communities deserve better than what the council is offering.

Peter Baker directs ocean conservation in the Northeast for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

William Morgan: The Quaker Coast

  Photos (below) and commentary by WILLIAM MORGAN

It has been almost a decade since I published a book of photographs on the Cape Cod cottage. Since, then, I have been looking for another suitable topic.

My (more successful) photographer friends tell me no one is underwriting black and white photos taken with film. And my favorite publisher nixed the idea for a photographic study of what I call the Quaker Coast (the towns of Dartmouth and Westport in Massachusetts, and Little Compton, just over the border in Rhode Island), declaring  that there would be no market for such a book.

Yet there is something special – and not yet ruined – about those three towns. Fishing and agriculture still survive, if not actually thrive, there. And the mostly unspoiled landscape and the prevalence of a plain vernacular architecture, mostly wrapped in cedar shingles.

In lieu of the fantasy book, I offer the readers of New England Diary three images from the book proposal.


quaker2 quaker1



Addendum: Much of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket were also Quaker. I went to a few family memorial services in the Quaker meeting house in West Falmouth, on the Cape.

Many whalers were of Quaker background -- but that didn't make them gentle at all. Rather, many were tough and rapacious.  Many became very successful capitalists whose investments spanned the world.

-- Robert Whitcomb




Cape Sad

hutchinson "The Perfect Tree,'' by MARIELUISE HUTCHINSON,  in the "Small Works'' show at the Cahoon Museum of American Art, in Cotuit, Mass. (on Cape Cod) through Dec. 22. Green and white work well together. But usually  it is brown and gray on the Cape in the winter, as the salt air and relatively mild temperatures assure that the ground is usually bare there in the winter, but with near-constant wind because of the presence or nearness of storms coming up from the southwest. Rather grim, except for the light traffic compared to the summer.