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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

February 5, 1999

Air Date: February 5, 1999


Alien Invaders Beware / James Jones

The Clinton Administration wants to combat exotic species of plants and animals that are crowding out native species. They've proposed spending $29 million next year to get the job done. But that figure pales in comparison to the $123 billion that exotics are estimated to cost the U.S. economy each year. As reporter James Jones discovered, the alien invasion is especially visible in Rock Creek Park, in Washington, DC. (05:20)

Just How Cold is it In Alaska / Geo Beach

Living On Earth commentator Geo Beach speaks to host Laura Knoy from his home in frigid Homer, Alaska, where temperatures in the past week have dropped as low as 70 degrees below zero. (03:40)

Coal Town/Ghost Town

What's life like in Britain's coal fields 15 years after Margaret Thatcher's government declared war on the miners? We take you to Yorkshire, where the mine closings began, and profile Janet And Gary Hinchcliffe. The former miners say no one has stepped in to take the place of the mining industry, to supply a social fabric and conscience for the community. The residents don't talk about "coal field" regeneration as the government proposes, but "managed decline," in a town that sees little hope for the future. (11:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...blue moons, two in the first three months of 1999. (01:30)

The Gulf of Main Cod Stocks are Down

Host Laura Knoy speaks with author Mark Kurlansky about last week’s announcement of government restrictions on cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine, a move that has infuriated many fishermen. Recent studies have suggested that cod stocks there are on the verge of collapse. Kurlansky is the author of the book Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. (05:00)

Gloucester's Legacy of Loss / Sandy Tolan

Since its birth as the nation's first fishing port in 1623, men from Gloucester, Massachusetts, have been going down to the sea in their ships, and many have never returned. Those who keep track say more than ten thousand lives have been lost over the years in the hunt and harvest for seafood. In an encore installment of his series "Gloucester at the Crossroads," producer Sandy Tolan explains how this fishing port north of Boston has been shaped by a large sense of loss. (18:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Laura Knoy
REPORTERS: James Jones, Sarah Chayes, Sandy Tolan
GUESTS: Geo Beach, Mark Kurlansky

(Theme music intro)

KNOY: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

KNOY: I'm Laura Knoy.

The Federal Government declares war against foreign invaders. Exotic species of plants and animals are ruining ecosystems, costing the economy billions, and may be more insidious than pollution.

DEVINE: If you spill a gallon of oil, you've spilled a gallon of oil. That gallon of oil will not proliferate into 10 million gallons of oil. On the other hand, invasive species are alive. They reproduce, they spread, they crawl and swim and fly.

KNOY: And the human cost of the government's energy policy. We check in on Great Britain's once-great coal fields.

BERRY: You can nearly hear a pin drop. Just can't get anything. And it used to make a real noise, this place. It used to be buzzing.

KNOY: From coal town to ghost town, this week on Living on Earth. First, news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Alien Invaders Beware

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Steve Curwood. The Federal Government is on a search and destroy mission against alien species. The Clinton Administration has signed a new Executive Order to combat the spread of exotic and invasive plant and animal species, and is asking for nearly 30 million dollars to do the job. New studies now show predatory species are costing the US economy more than $100 billion each year. These so-called global hitchhikers are taking advantage of the growth of international trade and travel. As James Jones reports, battling back the bio-invaders is more than just a matter of throwing money at them.

(Footfalls through grasses)

JONES: Walking through one of the country's largest urban parks, Rock Creek National Park in Washington, DC, it's easy to see the footprints of the bio- invasion.

SALMONS: This is Japanese honeysuckle. And this is multi-floral rose.

JONES: Susan Salmons is the Vegetation Management Director at the park.

SALMONS: You can see the effects on these trees of the honeysuckle and porcelain berry. But mostly honeysuckle, in that trunks of these small trees are corkscrewed. They look like they've been twisted. Which they have been twisted by the vines themselves.

JONES: Two-hundred-forty-eight exotic species have made Rock Creek Park their home. Forty-one are considered invasive and pose a threat to the natural ecosystem. This park is surrounded by homes with gardens that include exotic plants, and human activity has made it easy for alien species to take up residence in the park.

(A running stream)

SALMONS: All of the exotics, all of the worst-affected areas are along this stream edge, where we've got lots of flooding. And along roads where there's high sunlight. We are in danger of seriously altering the ecosystems, especially in the flood plain, if we don't do something about it.

JONES: Rock Creek Park is just one example of how the exotic plants and animals that find their way to this country can alter the ecosystem. As world trade has increased, they've entered through the ballast tanks of ships, on packing crates, and in the backpacks of world travelers. Until recently, exotics haven't received much attention, but that's changing, according to Bob Devine, author of a book on exotic species called Alien Invasion.

DEVINE: Invasive species certainly are a serious problem. It's considered by most scientists now to be one of the major environmental problems in the United States and in the world. Ranks up there with habitat destruction and pollution.

JONES: And Devine says exotics pose some unique challenges.

DEVINE: If you spill a gallon of oil, you've spilled a gallon of oil. That gallon of oil will not proliferate into 10 million gallons of oil. On the other hand, invasive species are alive. They reproduce, they spread, they crawl and swim and fly.

JONES: That's exactly what's happened over the years, and Devine says the pace of invasion is rapidly accelerating. Zebra mussels imported from the Baltic Sea now clog water intake pipes in the Midwest. Sheet grass [name?] from China has completely taken over large sections of the Western Plains. And North America has returned the favor, exporting a jellyfish to the Black Sea that attacked the plankton there, decimating the region's fishing industry.

The invader species are imposing some steep costs on the US economy, according to Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell University, who recently tallied the price tag of the damage exotics cause and the expense of controlling them.

PIMENTEL: The final number that we had, and again this is a conservative estimate, was $123 billion annually as a cost to the nation. The costs relative to these biological invasions will continue to increase because there is no way that we can 100% assure that we'll have no more invasions.

JONES: The White House is directing the Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture Departments to cooperate in controlling the alien species. The new budget calls for nearly $29 million for a new Inter-Agency Task Force to combat the problem. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt calls the situation a crisis.

BABBITT: And what that means is we have to coordinate our efforts across these agencies to achieve modest goals of containment that will minimize the economic damage and the damage to the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they reside.

(Footfalls through grass)

JONES: Back in Rock Creek Park, Susan Salmons says the attention and more funding will help, but she says it will take more than money to stamp out exotic plants in her park.

SALMONS: We will never have enough money and resources and person-power to be able to address all the issues ourselves.

JONES: Salmons says the job can't be done without the help of people who live around the park, and scientists and educators say the problem won't be solved until people understand the value of the native landscape in their own back yard. For Living on Earth, I'm James Jones in Washington.

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(Footfalls continue)

Just How Cold is it In Alaska

KNOY: Okay, so it's winter and you'd expect it to be cold in Alaska, right? But lately it's been really, really cold in the 49th state. We called Living on Earth commentator Geo Beach at his home in Homer, Alaska, to ask the obvious question: Geo, just how cold is it?

BEACH: Well, Laura, it's not as cold as some places in Alaska, but it's still cold. This weekend I was helping my friends move into a house, moving some furniture along. I had a nice cup of coffee sitting up there on the dash in my pickup truck. Got out and moved a table into their dining room. Came back out about 5 minutes later, and I had what was something like one of those slush drinks they make at Starbuck's now. It was just half frozen. It was slush coffee. It was cold; my fingers were cold just from carrying the furniture from the driveway up into the house.

KNOY: So what are the meteorologists saying about the cause of this Arctic blast that you're having?

BEACH: Well, we're in the coldest weather that we've had in more than a decade in Alaska. Ten years ago, in 1989, they dubbed it The Omega Block, that sort of terrifying science fiction name of Fahrenheit -451 or something. But we're not afraid of the cold. I mean, this is a state where we have permanent glaciers and ice fields. A little cold doesn't usually impress us. But now, if you're up in interior Alaska, it's nothing to spit at because your spit'll freeze before it hits the ground. It's 50 below, 60 below, 70 degrees below zero along the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks up to the North Slope in Prudhoe Bay. And you don't want to stop and turn off your diesel rig, because you may be hoofing it in some cold weather. It might not start back up for you.

KNOY: Besides a lack of ability to spit, how else does the cold affect daily life for humans there?

BEACH: Well, here in Homer, they tease us that we're in the Banana Belt of Alaska. It's south central Alaska. It's on the gulf and it's moderated by the Japanese current. And so, we're not as used to this as folks in the interior. But talking to my friends around the state, regardless of where you are, this is the cold stuff.

KNOY: We heard that Alaska Governor Tony Knowles actually postponed his inaugural celebration because of the cold.

BEACH: Yeah, he has inaugural celebrations in a few different cities, but he has one in Fairbanks, and he postponed that one. It's a formal occasion, even up here in Alaska. Folks get up in their gowns and their tuxedos, and Tony thought it wouldn't be a good idea if people had to dance waltzes in tuxedos and bunny boots.

KNOY: Well, what's the forecast for the future? The weather forecast, Geo? What are they saying?

BEACH: The meteorologists told us that we were going to have a very cold winter, and made these predictions starting in the summer time. But at Halloween and Thanksgiving, which are often absolutely white holidays up here, we were laughing at them because it was even warmer than normal. And like many Alaskans, we were thumbing our nose at the experts. But we're not thumbing our noses now, because our noses are frozen and so are our thumbs.

KNOY: (Laughs) Geo Beach is a writer and commentator for Living on Earth. He spoke to us from his home in Homer, Alaska. Geo, stay warm.

BEACH: Warm regards to you, too, Laura.

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(Music up and under)

KNOY: Coming up: 15 years after their ill-fated strike, Britain's former coal miners tally the human cost of the decision to dismantle their industry. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Coal Town/Ghost Town

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. Fifteen years ago British coal miners began a strike that would change their nation's history. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered a mine in Yorkshire to be closed. It was the launch of a plan to wean Britain off native coal. The Tory government had prepared carefully for a drawn-out battle. The walk-out lasted a year. And when the beaten miners went back to work, the pits began closing. Five years later the British coal mining industry was effectively dead, and the Yorkshire coal mining villages licked their wounds and settled into a painful decline. Today the new Labor government says coal field regeneration is high on its domestic agenda, but as Sarah Chayes reports from Yorkshire, coal community residents see little hope for the future.

CHAYES: Janet and Gary Hinchcliffe live in a tidy brick house identical to its neighbors on Brierly Crescent in South Kirby, a mining village nestled in the green moors of Yorkshire. As Jan is unloading the groceries, their 9-year-old son walks through the door, spinning his yo-yo.

(Music in the background; ambient conversation)

CHAYES: Feisty good nature doesn't put food on the table, and it's been a struggle to keep going since Gary's mine, Frickly Collary [name?], closed 6 years ago. Like Gary, most men here worked either at Frickly, the toughest holdout during and after the 1984 strike, or at the other mine in town, South Kirby. When they shut, the community lost 1,800 mining jobs and 5 times as many in other sectors. And it's the same story for miles around. Since 1980, 63 out of northern England's 72 pits have been closed. The miners went home with about $50,000 in their pockets but few professional options. Coal was the only source of jobs. Mine owners, including the British government, wanted it that way, says Hinchcliffe. They wanted a captive work force. He realized that when he left school and couldn't find a bus to a town that had a factory, he says.

G. HINCHCLIFFE: The only buses that left there in the morning was to Frickly Pit, Askum Pit, or Kirby Pit. They wanted men to work in the pits; they didn't want them going anywhere else. So now, when they wonder why there's no other structure there, nothing there to support, to take its place, because for 30 years every government that came in power after the Second World War made sure that the men that lived in Octen worked at the pit.

CHAYES: The Thatcher government decided to end Britain's reliance on domestic coal. The reasons had to do partially with cost. Imported coal, often strip-mined or dug under poor working conditions, was cheaper than native coal. And London subsidized a nuclear energy program. But there were also ideological reasons. In 1974 a miner's strike over wages brought down a Tory government. Some say Thatcher was out for revenge. At least it was clear she wanted to crack Britain's trade union movement by defeating its strongest component. Yet there were few plans for the coal communities once that goal was achieved, and inevitably, South Kirby, like neighboring towns, has spiraled steadily downward, the Hinchcliffes say. After a burst of severance pay folly.

J. HINCHCLIFFE: People at trades went to America, Florida, you know. I mean, we didn't do anything like that, because we planned what we were going to do. But some [inaudible] really.

CHAYES: The Hinchcliffes had unusual foresight. Gary had been mining since his teens and Jan had had a numbing factory job. They decided to invest their meager severance windfall in education.

G. HINCHCLIFFE: I left pit, and we decided that I wanted to go to college and university. I wanted to train to be a teacher. So that's where my money went.

J. HINCHCLIFFE: He qualified in June. He was at a 3-month contract. He's got an interview on Tuesday, and if he don't get that job, he's no work to go to.

CHAYES: And meanwhile, it's Jan's turn to go to school, in social work. There will always be jobs in that field around here, she laughs. But a tally of their friends proves the Hinchcliffes are the exception. In Gary's view the town has hit bottom.

G. HINCHCLIFFE: The things that you see happening in this community, now, you would never, ever have seen in this community.

J. HINCHCLIFFE: For example, last night I went to pick my son up...

CHAYES: Jan turns to what's become one of the most common topics of conversation in the village: drugs.

(Traffic sounds)

CHAYES: The best way to see the decline the Hinchcliffes are talking about is to go down to Victor and Oxford Streets. "The Bronx," as locals have dubbed the spot, though it's in a country village. The trim row houses date to the turn of the century: low walls in front enclose tiny patches of garden. But the first 3 are empty. Sheets of plywood block the windows and angry slogans against the police scrawl across the facades. Mick Berry is head repairman for the public housing authority. He says it's criminal for these buildings to stand empty.

BERRY: I mean, we're on the street here, there's probably 200 properties. It looks like, something like, I don't know, 30 or 40 are actually boarded up and vacant. And one property sold to drugs another one down. This is the sort of area that causes us problems, and when it's on a downward spiral, it does attract the sort of less desirable people onto that estate. And it's just notorious for being an area that attracts drugs, you know, drug pushers and drug people.

CHAYES: Solid mining families used to live here, but their repossessed homes have been bought up by real estate concerns. At the end of the road a black slag heap cuts a sloping line across the sky. Mick Berry hasn't been up there since the mine closed. Even he is amazed at the vast emptiness of what used to be Frickly Collary

BERRY: You can nearly hear a pin drop. Just can't get anything. And it used to make a real noise, this place. It used to be buzzing.

CHAYES: When most people think back on that buzz, they don't just think of economic activity. The mines, they say, bound this tight community together. Gary Hinchcliffe.

G. HINCHCLIFFE: We set up a [inaudible] manage it at Frickly Collary. And he sorted out some pipes to make some goal posts, and stuff to get things up and running. You know, they weren't just there, property was in cove [phrase?]. They sold themselves as the provider of work in the community, and also part of the social life. They had a social conscience, you know what I mean.

CHAYES: And that social conscience included keeping people in line, Gary says.

G. HINCHCLIFFE: In effect, the community were policed by the men that worked there. If you did anything wrong, you didn't want the blokes put to know there were things wrong. I mean, for all the problems with it, women should be in house and chained to kitchen sink, this that and over, there were right and wrong, that's how we live our lives. That's gone, now, that kind of culture is gone.

TOUR GUIDE: Now, those that want, you can follow me through these [inaudible] where the miner works all day long, walking underneath these steel canopies...

CHAYES: About 10 miles from South Kirby is the 200-year-old Cap House Collary, which was fittingly converted into a museum in 1989. Former miners take visitors on tours, reciting a memorized script.

TOUR GUIDE: ... and that's where you get what's called mining soups [inaudible] from. Which means...

CHAYES: Manager Irwin Bottomly first went underground in 1951. He says given the Thatcher government's energy policy, there probably was no future for mining. Now he wonders what's ahead for the people mining would have employed.

BOTTOMLY: There were lads that worked down in the mines that couldn't write their name. No qualifications whatsoever. Some physically strong big lads that could get a pick and shovel and do a real good day's work. And have a sense of achievement, having done that. And were looked to by the rest of the lads. There are no jobs for those people any more, in any industry. You know, I feel very sorry for the lads now. I cannot see any future for them.

CHAYES: Yet those young peoples' future is just what the British government says it's concerned about. In December, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced over $550 million in new money, as he put it, to repair the damage done by sudden pit closures. The action plan focuses on housing and neighborhood renewal, infrastructure, education, the environment, and business incentives. It's based on the findings of a Coal Fields Task Force sent out last October to evaluate needs.

(Ambient voices, mingling)

CHAYES: The kind of micro-project this plan encourages is this enterprise center in South Kirby. Anyone can come into the cafeteria for an inexpensive meal and a cup of tea. There's a citizen's advice office, a miner's union bureau for health claims, computer courses, which Jan and Gary Hinchcliffe took before they applied to college, and cheap space for start-up businesses. Also, Dave Garbert's office. He's assistant director for the latest round of some 30 government-funded projects. He cites the road work in front of a new commercial zone as the kind of effort that's being made to lure jobs to the area. The needs are enormous, though, and while government allocations sound generous, everyone here knows just how limited spending really is. And so, a taboo has been broken. Officials have begun talking about sacrificing neighborhoods that are beyond hope, and concentrating resources elsewhere. Maggie Bellwood is from the housing office at Wakefield Metropolitan District Council.

BELLWOOD: You know, we all talk about it, almost behind closed doors. We talk about managing decline.

CHAYES: Managing decline. That notion gets a typically spirited response from Jan and Gary Hinchcliffe.

J. HINCHCLIFFE: That's a new one on me (laughs).

G. HINCHCLIFFE: What rat's deserting the sinking ship, is that what managed decline means now, then? (Laughs) An organized retreat. (Laughs)

CHAYES: Still, they have few hopes of new industry springing up here. They think the people will have to break out.

G. HINCHCLIFFE: What needs to be instilled into them is that all right, you can still live in Octen, South Kirby, and Amsel. But you're probably going to be working in Leeds. You know, I mean, what needs to be brought in is if you can't get industry into area, you need to get a better access to where there is work, you know. People who are at bottom in ways still can't afford cars.

CHAYES: Gary says public money is being mis-allocated and isn't trickling down to the grassroots. And local people aren't involved enough in the planning. He'd rather see funds spent on village train stations and bus lines to nearby cities. For 9-year-old Jack, mining is already alien, though he loves his village. But his parents' advice to him and his little sister Megan is to leave South Kirby behind.

J. HINCHCLIFFE: They're going to have to move. If they want to get on, they cannot stop round there. It's as simple as that.

CHAYES: For Living on Earth, I'm Sarah Chayes in Yorkshire, England.

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(Music up and under)

KNOY: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio. KNOY: Coming up, you could pay more for seafood as more restrictions on cod catches are set to go into place. This time, the Gulf of Maine is affected. And remembering the men who've gone down to the bottom of the sea in their ships. Fish stories from the North Atlantic are just ahead. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Johnny's Selected Seeds, supporting organic gardening since 1973. For a free catalogue, 207-437-4301, or www.johnnyseeds.com.

(Theme music up and under)

KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

KNOY: January had 2, there'll be none this month, but 2 again come March. This year's dance between the moon and the calendar puts us in the midst of a cycle of 2 full moons: the first a white full moon, the second blue. It takes the moon an average of 29-1/2 days to orbit the Earth, yet our months number in days from 28 to 31. That means blue moons happen only every 19 years. The blue moon is the second of the 2 full moons, and it's only appeared to be truly blue twice that we know of, once in the 1880s in the wake of Krakatoa's eruption, and again in the 1950s after a series of massive Canadian forest fires. The volcanic dust and smoky haze from those events scattered the moon's red light rays, leaving the blues and greens to shine through. The phenomenon of 2 blue moons in a year is a rare event indeed. The last time it occurred was in 1915, the same year Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity. And that was surely something that happens only once in a blue moon. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

The Gulf of Main Cod Stocks are Down

ROSENBERG: We're not talking about completely closing the fishery. Although, if we don't take action in the coming months, that probably will have to occur if we delay any longer. But the restrictions will be severe. People will be looking for other things to do.

KNOY: That's Andrew Rosenberg, Deputy Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, speaking to Living on Earth last September. He was predicting the government's response to warnings from scientists that cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine had reached dangerously low levels. Now those predictions have come true. Last week the New England Fisheries Management Council agreed to cut the cod catch by 80%, the strictest limit ever on the New England cod fishery. A series of fishing bans are set to go into effect starting in May, and are expected to cost the region $20 million and hundreds of jobs. Government officials say it's the only way to salvage the industry, but many of those who fish the waters maintain that the stocks are as plentiful as they've ever been. Mark Kurlansky is the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. He says the discrepancy between scientists' view and that of the fisher folk is nothing new.

KURLANSKY: The fundamental problem is that there is no 100% accurate way of counting fish stocks, so it's basically estimated from what's being caught. And that is not necessarily an indication of what's out there. You know, you can see what's in a net but you can't see what's left behind. The only time you know for sure what's going on is when you have a real tragedy and stocks are just completely gone. So the trick is to stop it some time before that.

KNOY: These restrictions are pretty tough, requiring that the catch be reduced by 80%. What's your sense of these restrictions? Are they too tough? Are they not tough enough?

KURLANSKY: Well, I wouldn't pretend to know what the shape of the stocks are. I think that you're better off being too conservative than allowing too much fishing and realizing you made a mistake. But I think there's also another side to this, and that's that, you know, you're talking about putting a lot of people out of work. You're talking about people who have a vessel that they're mortgaged to the hilt on, and they're paying $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year in insurance, and you're telling them that boat has to sit there tied up and they aren't earning any money. It will ruin them. And there isn't, there really isn't enough done to help these people. You know, there's a budget surplus this year, Clinton says that more should be spent on the military and the Republicans are saying it should be spent on a 10% tax break. But somehow, you know, there's no money to help fishermen.

KNOY: Is the government doing anything to help them?

KURLANSKY: There is no real program, like there is in Canada, to sustain fishermen over a limited period of time so that you could, as an environmental planner, you could say okay, this is what's happening to the fish stocks and we need to cut this down for maybe 6 months. And so for those 6 months we will take care of our fishermen. There's no mechanism like that. The social issue and the environmental issue are managed as though they weren't connected, and of course they're directly connected.

KNOY: Hm. In your book, Mark, about cod, you talk about the importance of cod to this region of the world, in particular. You say it's not just an industry, it's not just a fish. It's a culture.

KURLANSKY: Yeah, I mean, it's very much what New England is about, you know, and an essential component of American history. I mean, if you just think of New England without any fishing ports, without any working fishermen, and places like Point Judith and Gloucester and New Bedford having nothing tied up there but yachts, and no seafood companies and no families living off of the sea, then it would be a real deluding in the culture of New England.

KNOY: Do you think people elsewhere in the United States understand this? That it's not just a fish, it's a culture.

KURLANSKY: No, I don't think they do at all. I think that, you know, the rest of the country has no idea what this is all about, never thinks about fisheries or where fish comes from or who catches it. When I was giving talks in the Midwest people would say, "So, should we be boycotting cod?" And I'd say, (Laughs) "No, don't start boycotting fish. Start writing your Congressman and telling him you're concerned about this issue." I mean, if you can get Indiana and Illinois Congressmen involved in fishery issues, you know, then it would be treated as something of national importance. But unfortunately, right now, it's something of importance to the Pacific Northwest and New England.

KNOY: Mark Kurlansky is the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. He joined us from New York City. Thanks for talking with us, Mark.


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Gloucester's Legacy of Loss

KNOY: It's no fish you're buyin', it's men's lives. So wrote Sir Walter Scott in his 1860 novel The Antiquary. There is a price to pay for the seafood that graces your table. The lives of 10 men just this past month, for instance, in the cold waters off the New Jersey and Massachusetts coasts. The crews of the Adriatic, the Cape Fear, and the Bethy Bob were after clams, much in demand for chowder and chum. Even in times of bountiful harvests, thousands of families have had to endure the deaths of members of their community lost at sea. Many of them live in the nation's oldest fishery, Gloucester, Massachusetts. In an encore installment of our series, Gloucester at the Crossroads, producer and Gloucester resident Sandy Tolan considers how an overriding sense of loss has shaped the lives of the people in this fishing port north of Boston.

(Gulls and fog horns)

TOLAN: When I first moved to Gloucester, I'd jog along a path at the water's edge, past the fisherman's memorial statue. Past the old wooden houses with the rooftop widow's walks. Toward the field where the British set up the first fishing camp in the colonies. Every day I'd notice people parked along the boulevard just sitting in their cars, staring out to sea. I always wondered what they were doing.

(Crashing surf)

SANFILIPO: My son is 26. He got his education. He did everything but his love is in the ocean. As we speak he is out on Georges Bank and a storm is coming.

(Surf crashes)

TOLAN: Angela Sanfilipo, born to the seventh generation of Sicilian fisher families, came to Gloucester in 1965 when she was 15.

SANFILIPO: I'm very, I'm very angry at him. I keep telling to him, you know, I don't have to worry about your father being out there any more, why do I have to worry about you? Why can't you give me some peace? Why can you fish in shore? Why can't you go do something else? So after a long day I can go to bed and not worry, you out there.


TOLAN: For 375 years Gloucester fisherman have been going to sea and never coming back. Ten thousand men, they say, sailing from a deep harbor out between 2 sheltering arms of land past a long finger of granite breakwater that absorbs the thunder of the North Atlantic. And then into rough waters to hunt for fish and go down.

GARLAND: They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For he commandeth and raises the stormy wind...

TOLAN: In a house perched above the water's edge, Joe Garland reads from his book Down to the Sea. It begins with Psalm 107.

GARLAND: They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry onto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm calm so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet, so He bringest them unto their desired haven.

(A grandfather clock ticks in the background)

TOLAN: A frothing Atlantic lies beyond the breakwater to our left. Spires of Gloucester on our right. The path to the open sea before us. For nearly 40 years, Joe Garland has sat amidst his ticking clocks and written it down. In his 20 books, the old reporter turned historian has recorded the history here. Since 1623, when the British first set up their camp just across the harbor, perhaps 10,000 Gloucester men have gone down to the sea. That's one fisherman lost every 13 days for 375 years. It's been like war.

GARLAND: I immediately felt a kind of a kinship with the fishermen. That evokes the kind of kinship that I had had as a soldier with my buddies.

TOLAN: Joe Garland was on the winter line in Italy in '43 in a stalemate with the Germans, trench warfare up in the mountains. Under constant shell fire, young men were going down.

GARLAND: And it was nothing that I had ever encountered or seen. You know, ordinary life that was comparable to it. Until I sort of discovered what these guys had been going through in Gloucester. So I found a strange kind of brotherhood.

TOLAN: Joe Garland has dug up old records, long-lost diaries, fishing reports, newspaper clippings. Chronicling the life here and counting up the loss. Nearly 4,000 in one 60-year stretch in the 1800s, when the schooners were built for speed, not for safety. He reads from one account in the wake of a storm 136 winters past.

GARLAND: In a single storm, on the night of February 24th, 1862, 15 Gloucester vessels and 120 men were lost, leaving 70 widows and 140 fatherless children to mourn for the loved ones who would return no more.

(The clock ticks)

GARLAND: I mean, the old sea there, there isn't a damn thing that you can do. No matter how experienced you may be, no matter how much high tech you have, no matter how many drills you've been through. When you get out there and you hit the big wave or the big storm or the big rock (the clock chimes) or you make some goddamn miscalculation and bingo, you've had it.

(Ship bells chime)

TOLAN: The core of this town, the fishing heart of it, has a kinship with the loss. I can see it carefully tended all over town, through a picture window on the third floor of Gloucester City Hall, a gaze over rooftops past the fish dealers and small boats still moored on the inner harbor. Out to the breakwater and the open sea. Above that window frame, running along either side, thousands of names are inscribed: Gloucester men who've gone down to the sea.

(Papers shuffle)

RAY: Okay, this is...

KIPPIN: Ninety-six.

RAY: Ninety-six. (A loud shuffling sound) Names of men lost in the Gloucester fisheries for the year 1896.

TOLAN: Three floors below in a basement storage vault, the names have been carefully catalogued and folded away in boxes by a squad of volunteer archivists. Mary Ray and Priscilla Kippin check their index and locate a file marked Deaths: Men Lost at Sea.

RAY: And this man's name is Sherman Williams, 30 years old, from the Fortune Gloucester off of Cape Cod. He was lost off of Cape Cod and he was born in Bona Vista, Newfoundland. Now here's another poor soul, June 16th. Anderson. He was single, lost from the schooner Henry Stanley, and back a little bit, and he was from Sweden.

(Marching drums)

RAY: It goes on and on here. And this one, 16th of March.

(Drums continue)

TOLAN: A kinship with loss. I can see it on a summer day along the boulevard. The families of the dead follow the Italian Colonial Band to the Fisherman's Memorial. It stands at the center of Gloucester, which is the edge of the sea. A man in bronze turned green with salt and time is hunched at the wheel, staring out to sea. At the base of the statue, those first words from Psalm 107.

GARLAND: They that go down to the sea in ships...

TOLAN: Today the captains, the crewmen, the fishermen's wives, the politicians can tell you the names of the boats that went down in their lifetime, and the men that were on them.

VERGA: Nineteen-forty-six, the Saint Christopher went out to sea and another father was lost. Good friend of mine, Anthony Iliacano's father was lost on that ship. Nineteen-fifty-one, the Gunrun left out of here. Nine men on board, never heard from again...

TOLAN: As a boy, Tony Verga knew these men as the fathers of his friends. As a man, State Representative Verga remembers the boys he coached in Babe Ruth baseball.

VERGA: Nineteen-sixty...

TOLAN: For these fishermen, the last view of Gloucester was the breakwater, the church spires, and the man at the wheel on the boulevard.

VERGA: This boulevard stands with its arms outstretched, bidding goodbye to those who sail out of this harbor and wishing them welcome home on their return. In the evening, my friends, these lamps will all be lit. They stand like candles. They've become vigils to those who went to sea, to those who were lost at sea. In the evening when you pass by here, perhaps you'll say a little silent prayer for those lost at sea, for their widows and their children, and those who will continue to do business in great depths.

CRUCURU: The last time we saw Nick, it was so strange because, um, this was a Gloucester boat and he had never taken out this boat before. And we drove down to the state fish pier to drop him off at this Italian Gold. And Nicholas said to me something he has never said before to me, "Mom, can we wait for the boat to go out fishing?" So I said okay, so we waited for the Italian Gold to go out the fish pier way. And then we went down the boulevard and we watched it go out the harbor. It was so strange that we had never done that before.

TOLAN: Two days later Donna Crucuru's husband Nick was missing at sea. Their daughter Carla was 20. Nicholas was 7. The Italian Gold went down in a storm off Cape Cod. There was no body, no wake. It was months before Donna could say he was gone.

CRUCURU: I never expected to be a 47-year-old widow. This isn't the way my life was supposed to go. Nicky died on Labor Day 1994. And I could remember -- and believe it or not, I found it really hard even going out in public for a long time. It was terrible. Really, it was terrible. And my little boy going to school, he had just started -- Nicky died on Monday and the first day of school was like Wednesday and he was going to be a first grader. And the Coast Guard was still looking for Nick and stuff. It was like, oh my God.

TOLAN: In Gloucester it's always been this way.

(The clock ticks)

GARLAND: (Quoting) "Eighteen-seventy-nine. A cloud of sorrow hangs over our city. Fourteen of the fishing feet with their precious lives remain unaccounted for since the gale of February 20th. Eyes are watching for the return of the absent Georges men. There are sad forebodings as the hours glide by. Which only God and aching hearts will ever know of. It is terrible. The very thought of the probable loss which foreshadows this community is well nigh overwhelming, and it is the theme on every tongue, the all- engrossing thought of our people." It's a sad thing. The American Dream has always been the joy and discovery and energy and activism and optimism are what have knit our society together and have brought it power and expansion and so on. But I reckon in a more profound way, loss is a more enduring kind of a social cement.

(Organ music)

TOLAN: If your history and character is defined by loss, how does that shape you? What is bad about that legacy for Gloucester? What is good? What just is? I take these questions to Father Jim O'Driscoll, Catholic priest at St. Anne's church in the heart of the town.

O'DRISCOLL: There's a sharing in the facing of grief. This bond of loss is also a bond of hope, because death isn't the end.

TOLAN: For the believer, says Father O'Driscoll, faith lets you see life on Earth as the prelude to the great opera. But others, a psychologist, a poet, a social historian, all tell me they see in Gloucester a deeply traumatized community. And for some of its people the pains of loss pierce the bonds of faith.

O'DRISCOLL: Some people, the way to deal with this is not to deal with this. So people get into alcohol, into drugs, various other things. If the reality of death is just too much, then some people will try to anaesthetize themselves.

TOLAN: Gloucester's rates of alcohol and drug abuse are a lot higher than the average. Heroin is a long-standing problem here. Gloucester families tend to deal with these problems on their own. The community is an island, literally, made so by early settlers who cut a channel through the isthmus. The fishing heart of the town huddles in an arc around the harbor, finding strength among its own.

O'DRISCOLL: When nature seems to turn on you, people need to cling to each other. When we're confronted with the fragility of life we can either try to run from it or face it and live through it. And plunge into life more fully, and build very, very strong family ties. I've seen in Gloucester a very intense concern of people one for the other. Facing death can do that, and I see this often in Gloucester, a great resiliency of people.

SANFILIPO: I think it's made us strong, very strong people. And strong in both ways, good ways and bad ways.

TOLAN: It seems Angela Sanfilipo was born to be president of the Fishermen's Wives Association. At 5 years old in Sicily, she was running errands, bringing food and messages to the men on the docks. When the men would hoist a boat by rope to drydock, little Angela would slip underneath with the pieces of wood to hold it in place. Now, some 40 years later, she's just returned from India and the International Congress of the Fishing Peoples of the World. Sicilians, she says, have their own way of responding to the loss.

SANFILIPO: It's within our culture that we are very expressive in moments of pain, in moments of loss and celebration. But the true, true feelings, the true anger, the true anguish, it's in silence. We're supposed to accept it and be strong.

TOLAN: But the loss Angela deals with every day now is of another kind. Now, the fish are lost. As the fish stocks decline and the Federal Government imposes new and tougher restrictions, men are selling their boats back to the government and signing up for computer classes.

SANFILIPO: That is just as painful, because we are losing a way of life. We are losing who we are, our identity. So we are mourning for many things. Mourning for the people that we've lost, mourning for what we're losing, which is what we are all about. Many times, when nobody sees me, and I'm hoping they'll never know (cries) and see the empty arms, nobody sees the tears.

TOLAN: In the last few years, Angela tells me, the Sicilian families of Gloucester are praying a lot more, asking Jesus to multiply the fish again.

SANFILIPO: We can only do it with divine intervention.

(Gulls, fog horns)

TOLAN: Praying harder and then celebrating harder each year at the Fiesta of the Patron Saint, St. Peter, the fisherman who walked with Jesus. And even mourning harder, making more public the pain of loss.

MAN: My honor, to be asked to say a few words today as the son of a fisherman lost at sea. Thirty-five years ago, on the eve of my second birthday, my father's fishing vessel, the St. Stephen, exploded and sank off Cape Cod. Three men were lost at sea...

TOLAN: They revived this memorial last August after years of absence. One fisherman told me people needed this. Fishing is going down in this town now; we needed something to be recognized. And so, they are remembered as men lost at sea.

MAN: I'm sure that the men who left this port never realized the heritage that they were creating. They sacrificed their entire lives for us, and when they die in such a way, we grieve for many things. What these men also left behind were some amazing spouses. Women that led lives above parents and went without the companionship that most people can count on. I'd like us all to thank the widows and all the fishermen's spouses for their courage. And I'd especially want to public thank my mother (cries) for all her -- for persevering all these years and never letting us think of ourselves as victims. She gave us everything we could, and I owe everything I am to her.

MAN 2: And now all that wish to, that would like to cast flowers upon the waters, please follow Mayor Toby on behalf of the city, Joe and Carla.

(Ambient voices)

TOLAN: A 10-year-old blond-haired boy, Nicholas Crucuru, walks to the rail with his mother Donna and sister Carla. They cast their flowers upon the sea. Then an older man and his wife and another child and a young woman and on and on, tossing yellow bouquets and bunches of roses and wildflowers.

(A chorus singing)

WOMAN: Here we go, Dad, Austin W.

TOLAN: The wind is up, there is a ripple on the waves, the tide is going out, and the flowers drift out Gloucester Harbor, toward the breakwater and the open sea beyond.

(Chorus continues)

MAN: (Crying) Here you go, Daddy.

WOMAN: Here you go, Jimmy.

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Back to top

(Singing continues, fade to music up and under)

KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. But before we go, a quick look in the mailbag. Don Ellwell, who hears us on WSIU in Carbondale, Illinois, enjoyed our story about a San Francisco family testing Honda's electric car. But he thinks the focus on more powerful batteries is, quote, "just a dodge." He wonders if it would be better to stock filling stations with charge batteries, so that when your car battery is low, you can trade it in for a fresh one and get billed for the difference. Mr. Ellwell writes, "It would continue to benefit the service station owners, and hence the oil companies would reduce pollution and drastically reduce the cost of buying an electric vehicle. Why none of the major players has adopted this is anyone's guess."

And Tom McMullen, a listener to WUNC in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote in with what he calls a holistic perspective on the true impact of electric cars. Mr. McMullen points to the emissions from the power plants supplying the electricity, the potential releases from battery production factories, and the need for emergency toxic cleanup crews to be ready whenever a battery is ruptured in an accident. "When you factor in all of that," he says, "the term 'zero emission vehicle' is a misnomer."

Has something on Living on Earth charged you up? Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our Web page at www.livingonearth.org.

(Music up and under)

KNOY: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta deAvila, Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Bree Horowitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Alexandra Davidson, Stephanie Pindike, and Aly Constine. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director, Peter Thomson heads the Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Steve Curwood is the executive producer. Michael Aharon composed the theme. I'm Laura Knoy. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Surdna Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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