Your halibut steak, fresh flounder fillet and plump sea scallops sometimes come with a price that’s not reflected at the cash register.
The deaths of three fishermen in the sinking of the scalloper Leonardo out of New Bedford this week reminds us that not all fish come from “farms” in an industry where injury and deaths are no strangers.
Every time a boat sinks and more names are added to the roll of fishermen lost to the sea, we read how commercial fishing ranks near the top of the most deadly ways to make a living. Take a walk past the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial and read tablets listing thousands of names of fishermen who have died at sea trying to bring home the bounty that feeds us and paid their bills.
In New Bedford, the names of Mark Cormier Jr., 35, Jerry Bretal, 51, and his stepson Xavier Vega, 29, have been added to the grim roll in a city that has mourned often over the last three centuries. The walls of the Seamen’s Bethel – visited by Herman Melville and his fictional seaman Ishmael — hold marble plaques bearing witness to hundreds lost on whalers in the 19th century and fishing boats in more recent times.
Even with survival suits, emergency locator beacons and onboard weather forecasting computers, fishing is still a dangerous trade. As the fish get scarce and boats venture farther offshore in unpredictable weather, the risk only grows. Aging equipment — the Leonardo was 52 years old – and the pressure to fill the nets and dredges with seafood to pay for fuel, insurance, licenses, bait and shares for the crew push captains and their boats to the limit.
Sometimes, we don’t know what happened, as with the loss of Lady Luck out of Newburyport on Feb. 1, 2007, taking the lives of Capt. Sean Cone, 24, a North Andover native, and crewman Dan Miller, 21, of North Hampton, New Hampshire. But with the sinking of Leonardo, investigators have a lot to go on, especially with the words of survivor Ernesto Garcia and his account of the wild weather and towering seas that apparently swamped and sank the boat.
But whatever the cause, men and women will still go down to the sea in ships to supply America’s consumers with seafood. We should remember how high a price they sometimes pay to keep us fed.