After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, he said, oil and chemical companies took major hits for the impacts their products had on the oceans. Lovgren believes they have proactively tried to paint fishermen as the ones doing the most damage to the seas.
“One hundred million dollars (in public relations) later, we’re the bad guys,” he said. “Meanwhile, Exxon still hasn’t paid the commercial fishermen in Alaska for what they lost due to the oil spill.”
Lovgren blames some of his own brethren for allowing the fisherman-as-bad-guy image to be developed without much fighting back.
“Our biggest strength as fishermen, that we’re fiercely independent, is also our biggest weakness,” he said. “It’s kept us from becoming unified, so we can’t get enough support on a national level to get anything done. Some of our people are just like the rest of the country. As long as they’re making money, they just sit in front of their TV, drink their beer and say, ‘I’m happy.’”
Lovgren is optimistic that within five or six years fishing limits in the Mid-Atlantic region will loosen up and the industry will be more robust.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, the foreign countries wiped out our fishing grounds,” he said. “Then in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act kicked the foreigners out. Then the American fleet expanded and we started wiping the fish out. By the time we realized what we were doing, it was really late in the game.”
However, management practices since then have brought the fish back.
“Fish in the Mid-Atlantic are coming back gangbusters,” Lovgren said. “We’re seeing the benefits of proper management.”
The fisherman hopes such a turnaround can spark interest among a younger generation to at least explore the career. Besides his own sons, Lovgren’s fishermen brothers Dennis and Billy, have two and three sons respectively, but none seems interested yet.
“It’s a long way away, so you don’t know what will happen,” Lovgren said. “It is hard work, and it can be dangerous work. But at the end of the day, it’s an honest living and you’ve fed people.”
In centuries past, fishermen like Lovgren weren’t likely to wonder if their offspring would enter the industry. The life was so ingrained in the nature of the towns that sprung up around fishing villages that just about everyone who lived in those towns made their living in some way, either directly or indirectly, from the fisheries.