Nightly News   |  February 27, 2013

Death knell for cod fishermen?

At America’s oldest fishing port in Gloucester, Mass., a way of life is dying off as federal restrictions limit the number of Atlantic cod that can be caught. The fishermen, who haven’t been able to meet their cod quotas, are now facing new restrictions that are even more strict. NBC’s Ron Mott reports.

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>>> for decades, commercial fishing has been the lifeblood of the new england coast. it helped to feed a nation, and nowhere is that more true than in gloucester , massachusetts , where men have gone down to the sea in ships for generations. but for reasons that are complex and confounding, including the effects of climate change, the federal government is about to impose a kind of perfect storm of new rules on cod fishermen that will end their way of life . our report tonight from nbc's ron mott in gloucester .

>> reporter: gloucester , massachusetts is america's oldest fishing port dating back nearly 400 years. its way of life made famous by the hollywood blockbuster, "the perfect storm " about fishermen facing a deadly hurricane.

>> so this is the moment of truth . are you gloucester men?

>> yeah, we're gloucester men.

>> reporter: but that gloucester way of life is dying, one bucket at a time.

>> what we have here is cod. that's like the major cash crop, if you will. if you eliminate that, you are basically cutting off legs and saying, yeah, can you live without them?

>> reporter: in may, new federal restrictions will cut the catch limit of atlantic cod in the nearby gulf of maine by 77%, after decades of overfishing, confirmed in tests showing the species in danger, say officials.

>> if the fishermen were catching lots of cod, i would say there's a reason to criticize the science. but the fishermen are not catching today.

>> reporter: in fact, they haven't met their cod quota since they were issued in 2010 . yet fishermen like donald king, who has already downsized his operation from ten employees to two say they're now -- how can you ask anybody to take a 77% reduction in their ability to earn and survive?

>> reporter: even before these productions go into effect, the fleet here in goster has been rooelg in recent years, down nearly a third since 2009 , and just today, these fishermen say they can count just two boats, actually, out on the water working. russell sherman has hammered out a decent living since the '70s, but it's tougher these days as the captain of "the lady jane ".

>> after 30 years of work and obeying the law and doing what you're told and working dan hard, too, you hit a wall.

>> reporter: he works for "the daily times ."

>> you see it in the community. that's what gloucester is, it's a fishing port . and if it's not a fishing port , i don't know what it's going to be.

>> reporter: an iconic fishing town facing an uncertain future, threatening a way of life , once as certain as the tide. ron mott, nbc news, gloucester , massachusetts .