"Perfect Storm" Lobster Tags found 20 years later
December 2, 2011 4:42 PM   Subscribe

Perfect Storm lobster tags wash up 3000 miles and 20 years later. Here's the US version of the story. Ocean currents hero Curt Ebbesmeyer (previously), "studier of flotsam," believes the tags were likely stuck in mud, then meandered around the Atlantic until arriving last year in Waterville, County Kerry, Ireland. There is a monument to the lives of fisherman lost in Gloucester and includes over 10,000 names dating back to 1716, including those from the Andrea Gail.
posted by eggman (31 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Just a quick note related to the Andrea Gail, this seems as good a place as any to leave it for posterity...if anything ever happens to me and I get played by Marky Mark in a movie that ends with "there is only love" I swear to all above and below that I will spend the afterlife stalking those responsible.
posted by trackofalljades at 4:59 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I happen to have very few celebrity crushes, but one of them is on Marky Mark, so really, I could imagine a worser fate.

That monument in Gloucester is well worth a few moments' dwelling. Gloucester has lost more people in fishing than in all America's wars combined. You stand there and look at the names, one year after the next, and just marvel that despite the constant annual tragedy for so many families, despite knowing all too well the risks and consequences, they kept.on.going.out. They still do.
posted by Miko at 5:12 PM on December 2, 2011

Sebastian Junger's original article, "The Storm", and some of his other adventure narratives. Worth a revisit.
posted by Scoop at 5:41 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

What gave me chills is -- they found the buoy in Ireland. ....Count how many names on that monument are Irish ones.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:45 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you think that memorial to the fisherman is a long list, you should see the one for the fish!
posted by Sys Rq at 5:57 PM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Looking at the memorial list, has fishing really gotten that much safer in the past 50 years or is it just that less common a profession? (Waters fished out, more efficient practices, less profit, etc.)
posted by maryr at 6:17 PM on December 2, 2011

Maryr that's a fantastic question . . . Scoop, good call on the revisit on the original article . . .

In related Marky Mark news (although I much prefer the new school Mark Wahlberg) . . . he recently opened Wahlburgers in Hingham, MA (near his hometown of Dorchester) with his brothers. Early reviews seem to point to a successful venture.

Even better . . . if you're a fan of Marky Mark and Jimmy Kimmel Live--his appearence recently along with his buddy Nacho is absolutely hysterical (five parts in total)--slyt . . .

Not bad for my first FPP (after 2+ years as a MeFite) though, right?!?
posted by eggman at 8:04 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Drifter work is fascinating. There is an international global scale project called Argo that puts profiling drifters in the ocean all over the world to sample the currents, temperature, and salinity structure of the world ocean. Enhanced drifters now being deployed include oxygen sensors, and some will even have sensors for biological parameters like chlorophyll fluorescence and particulate backscattering. There will still be a place for flotsam because there tends to be a lot more of them deployed from a single point at one time than Argo floats.
posted by zomg at 8:58 PM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

maryr, one of the major factors is automation and the change to drift nets, which require less manpower overall. I'm sure that modern radar, GPS, and communications, not to mention some of the more advanced safety equipment (much of it discussed in the Junger article and/or book) has also played a role.
posted by dhartung at 9:04 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

maryr, i live in gloucester - there are catch shares and such in place, so much less fishing (and unfortunately not many jobs to replace that), and a very angry backlash against the marine fisheries and the environmental police that's a little disconcerting to me since i didn't grow up here. my neighbor across the street has calvin peeing on a NMFS logo. he hangs out at the crow's nest a lot and screams at his girlfriend. he's lovely.

i still haven't ever seen the Perfect Storm, though i read the book.
posted by kpht at 9:41 PM on December 2, 2011

i originally wrote "much less fisting", which could also be true but i have no statistics on that.
posted by kpht at 9:43 PM on December 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

also, i just realized the online memorial hasn't been updated, two or three years ago another ship sank, and three men died - one's wife was three months pregnant at the time, and her father died as well. it's incredibly sad, and it does just keep happening here, even though the fleet has shrank considerably.
posted by kpht at 9:53 PM on December 2, 2011

. . . he hangs out at the crow's nest a lot

Said Crow's Nest (the bar where the crew from the AG actually boozed), it should be noted, is a total shithole . . . i.e., perfect if you're looking for a fight (men), to be hit on by a disgusting, sloe-eyed creepy dude (ladies), or just grunge it up in general (gender irrelevant).
posted by eggman at 10:02 PM on December 2, 2011

Boston write-up is much better than the Daily Mail one, which reads somewhat markovian.
posted by arcticseal at 10:12 PM on December 2, 2011

There is an international global scale project called Argo

I salute this.
posted by argonauta at 4:22 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

eggman, you couldn't be more right. i always kind of laugh when i see some tourist family including little kids wander in there, but they do dress it up like a tourist joint so i can't blame them. i've never been in: i'd stick out like a sore thumb. i won't even go near the House of Mitch, a hilariously named similar establishment.

i'm glad that gloucester is otherwise rich in pretty neat little bistros and bars, a brewery, a distillery, etc. there's this fisherman-whitetrashy element, especially in the blue-collar neighborhood i live in (an episode of intervention had a shot framed literally from the driveway across the street from mine - i missed them shooting, but saw it in the episode.)

it's totally worth a visit, and i'm working on getting insurance for our used bike company to offer bike rentals - the city's community development manager wants pedicabs, but that's probably a few years off at best.
posted by kpht at 5:38 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Historically, the single most major factor in the reduction of deaths was simply the switch from 20+-person cod and mackerel schooners to 2-4-ish-person diesel trawlers, a gradual changeover which took place from the 1920s through the 1950s. This reduced the crew size per boat so dramatically that there were just fewer people per boat around to potentially die. A single sinking or wreck could no longer take out up 20 people.

Another important factor improving survival over the last century was the improvement in communications technology, especially radar. One of the hazards for schooners on the Banks used to be getting run down - quite literally - by transatlantic ocean liners and cargo ships, which could turn a schooner into toothpicks in seconds. This happened more often than you'd expect, because the fog is so intense and there was no way to know where other vessels were, particularly at night. Radar, radio, and the subsequent developments that could tell you where other vessels were made a huge difference in mariners' ability to stay out of one another's way.

Improvements in safety since the deisel era dawned have been continuous. Fishing is still responsible for an incredible number of patents and experimentation is ongoing. Stabilizers, ballasting technologies, personal survival gear like the full-body survival suit, the EPIRB, fishing gear designed with safety features and power assist, and innovations in hull design have all incrementally made fishing a little bit safer. Even so, fishing still ranks as either the first or second most dangerous profession, usually toggling with mining for that distinction. There is a high injury rate and a high mortality rate.

But the other factor is also true - fewer individuals are fishing. The first reason is, again, reduction in the number of crew needed as mechanics made up the fishing power of individual people - in other words, technology meant that fewer people could bring in an equal or greater number of fish. Fish population decline, and the corollary of increased competition for fewer fish, plays a part. Rising costs to run fishing vessels, particularly for insurance and for new gear often required by rapidly changing regulations, also cause vessel owners to leave the industry.

Much of this is simple economics. One of the difficulties with the animosity felt by fishermen to the regulatory environment is simply a misplaced anger within an industry that was unable to deal with the changing environment. Many people have tried to hang on, but between changes required by regulation and rising costs and the decimated fish populations, no one is doing as well, and a few changes in regulation greatly impact the profitability of the venture. The fishermen have some legitimate beefs, but they also - particularly in New England - have an independent, somewhat libertarian sense that they should not be regulated at all. Now that regulations have indeed gotten rather heavy, some of them are really chafing. But these regulations are the very last straw in a large pile that was spelling the decline of fisheries - whether through the decline in fish stocks, economic pressures on individual owners, or superior fishing production elsewhere, that was a long time in coming anyway. It doesn't hurt any less when it comes time to throw in the towel, but attrition of the fleet is one specific goal of the current legislation, and the idea is to protect fish stocks. If you're the one being attrition-ed, you will indeed be angry.

Catch shares, as currently structured, are also a problematic model. They don't take fishing methods into account and they are designed to allow for consolidation of permitting in order to favor large conglomerates which can become publicly traded commodities - a big change from the fish being considered to some extent wild food, part of the commons, even when governed by state boundaries. That's not so hot from any perspective as it removes interest in and control of fishing activity from local and state and regional bodies and places it in the hands of shareholders. But the basic catch share concept is not a bad one, if it's community-managed. It requires fishermen to work together and distribute a scarce resource in the fairest way they can figure out, but places an overall limit on number of fish taken. If we had that kind of system in place, it would still be painful because there's just less fish. But we have the first kind of system, which does legitimately suck.

I've been doing some local-food activism with fishermen in MA and NH for the last few years, and this is the tricky scenario. It's true that we need to have a future in which fewer people are fishing the grounds off New England. And it's also true that the current catch share system is a bad idea because it privatizes a formerly publicly accessible resource. The hard part for a lot of fishermen to swallow is that even if we successfully repealed the current catch share structure, we would still need to find ways to reduce fishing pressure. One of the best groups working on this issue is the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, which is working with local fishing communities to keep access to fishing public and local, develop systems for banking permits for community ownership, and supporting small-scale fishermen in various ways, including finding ways to transition fishing activity to still-abundant fish and shellfish stocks.

So - tl;dr, technology and economics were responsible for 90% of the drop in crew loss over the last 150 years. Today, scarcity of fish stock, regulatory pressure and privatization are responsible for continuing incremental drops, though the fewer fishermen there, the more anger each feels as the industry shrinks, and the more pain to communities as industry infrastructure is lost.
posted by Miko at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2011 [13 favorites]

the city's community development manager wants pedicabs,

On preview: what is it with the pedicabs? Sorry for the derail, but this has been on my mind as the damn things have proliferated everywhere I've lived. I've taken to calling them the bedbugs of New England. First, how are they profitable? Just ad sales? Second, who the heck takes them? Tourists, for a lark - usually they aren't going anywhere they couldn't walk? Is this a service with real utilty? Third, don't other people find their constant aggressive solicitation irritating? They're worse than spare-changers. Anyway, /rant. I've just been wondering why anyone would think they're a positive development for a community, and how long the trend is going to last.

I suppose if they actually replaced fuel-powered cabs that would be a positive development. But I'm not sure whether anyone has done the research it would take to demonstrate that it actually impacts cab usage rather than replacing walking.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2011

This did not happen. This is a hoax.

I am sure of this because it is a Daily Mail link, which by all appearances is a sort of News of the World or Onion site.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2011

I'm not so sure. There are images of the tag and of the woman in Ireland who says she found it. The son is quoted in several stories as having talked to her. It's not unusual for flotsam to make its way over there. And one lobsterman can have thousands of pots. I don't see much reason to doubt it.
posted by Miko at 11:39 AM on December 3, 2011

I'm not so sure. There are images of the tag and of the woman in Ireland who says she found it. The son is quoted in several stories as having talked to her.

Well, yeah. How else would any news establishment get wind of such a story in the first place? It's pretty obvious that these people called up the Daily Mail themselves, which raises the question: Why?

Might as well headline the article, "Area woman gets picture in paper."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:02 PM on December 3, 2011

It's pretty obvious that these people called up the Daily Mail themselves

How is that obvious?

Even if they did, why is that reason to doubt the story? A large number of feature stories are reported this way.
posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on December 3, 2011

The other thing is, the story has been widely reported and independently verified by several different major news organizations. You wouldn't normally expect reporting on a hoax to be so replicable. It's not as if the Mail authored a story that got picked up by the news wire and spread everywhere - each of these stories represents a rewrite by a new reporter.

Also, I just don't understand why it should be so not believable. Be sure you noted that the lobster pot tags are not from the same vessel or the same fishermen who were the subject of The Perfect Storm. They're not even the same kind of fishermen. They're just people who lost fishing gear in that gale, and now their gear has turned up across the Atlantic, which is now not that unusual. The only unusual part is that the woman who found the tag looked up the guy who had once owned the tag. I've found a ton of lobster gear and never thought to do that, though if I found a piece that appeared to originate in Ireland, I certainly might, because that's interesting. And the only thing the oceanographer calls out as remarklable is not that it arrived in Ireland at all, but that it just took so long to show up there - normally items don't take that long to make the trip on the Gulf Stream.

All in all, I see no reason to doubt. It's neither unusual enough or sensational enough to make up with the expectation that you could interest the media in it.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on December 3, 2011

Miko, I guess because Newburyport is doing pedicabs - and there's a lot of people coming in by cruise ship to Gloucester and it's a bit far to walk for some of them, but cabs aren't prolific and the cabs are kind of ... townie. Old cars that smell of smoke, that sort of thing. It's really a long shot for that plan to come to fruition as we're the only bike shop in town and we're not even at the level of renting bikes yet. He was envisioning it more as a summer job for high school kids. This place has some hills, though...
posted by kpht at 12:32 PM on December 3, 2011

Well, that's just it, though: True or not, it's just harmless filler. Newspapers love that shit.

But all there is to go on is this woman's word that she found it where she found it when she found it. The only thing that's been "independently verified" is that it's theoretically possible that she could be telling the truth.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2011

@Sys Req: Do you stand around malls this time of year and tell little kids there's no Santa? Have a little faith in humanity, dude!

If there are those with enough time and energy to make this kinda shit up (time and energy I DO NOT HAVE) . . . I say: Have at it, and good on you . . .
posted by eggman at 1:16 PM on December 3, 2011

Do you stand around malls this time of year and tell little kids there's no Santa? Have a little faith in humanity, dude!

Huh? I'm not really sure how I bet you don't even participate in the elaborate society-wide lie we tell our own children! is supposed to support the notion that all of humanity should be presumed honest.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on December 3, 2011

But all there is to go on is this woman's word that she found it where she found it when she found it

And a random woman in Ireland would make this particular story up why?

THanks, kpht. Newburyport does have them, where I used to live, and now Salem, where I live now, and in neither place do they seem to get a lot of use. Just wondering about the rationale.
posted by Miko at 2:59 PM on December 3, 2011

And a random woman in Ireland would make this particular story up why?

Attention? A slim chance of meeting the Funky Bunch?

Of course, even if it is made up, it's totally innocuous and isn't causing anyone any harm, so, whatever.

But the fact that it was in the paper -- let alone that paper -- isn't any reason to believe it.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:48 PM on December 4, 2011

The mental contortions you'd have to do to believe this was a made up event to get attention in the newspaper result in a far less believable tale than that which has been reported. Your speculations as to why someone would make it up are pretty far afield - why settle on this story? Why would she even believe she could meet movie stars because of something that didn't even involve the real people played by the movie stars? It doesn't add up. It would have required several parties to conspire internationally on a story that ultimately just isn't remarkable enough to compel that kind of effort, and which they had absolutely no guarantee would even interest the media.

I'm usually the first to recommend skepticism, but honestly, expect horses. Even if someone made this up, they could never ensure that the news would be interested. It happened to hit at a relatively slow news time, and we were interested enough to go "huh, ocean currents, they sure are crazy and don't respect our temporal and political boundaries." But in order to believe this is a hoax, you really have to make many more unsupported assumptions than you do to take the story at face value. Knowing where to apply skepticism is important, too. This story is very likely true because (a) it's been multiply independently verified by more than a few different news outlets (b) it's not an unlikely event or in any way hard to believe, and (c) there's no percentage in claiming it to be true if it's not - no meaningful profit to the individuals involved.
posted by Miko at 6:14 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

@Sys Rq

Huh? I'm not really sure how I bet you don't even participate in the elaborate society-wide lie we tell our own children! is supposed to support the notion that all of humanity should be presumed honest.

Sorry man . . . if you don't get it by now I've got nothing for you. You win . . . but your loss.
posted by eggman at 12:50 PM on December 6, 2011

« Older Just relax a little bit.   |   Sun Microsystems? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments