I walk you paths of lives I'd share with
you simply to make evident the world
is an eternal event and this epoch solely
the decline of fishes

— Charles Olson
The Maximus Poems

Decline of Fishes is a novel about the struggle over the soul of the nation's oldest seaport, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

At first light the trucks began to arrive. Chevy 4x4s, Dodge Rams with torn fender skirts, rusted by years of parking on wharves close by the sea, the odd Toyota Tacoma. Their beds were piled with nylon nets or stacked with plastic utility tubs, cab roofs encrusted with seagull shit. Some held oilskin gear and fish-scaled rubber boots; others carried dozens of empty soda cans that rattled against each other as the trucks braked to a stop. Slowly their occupants stepped out onto the wet surface of the Tarmac, looking guardedly around on legs that were more accustomed to plunging decks, the men themselves unused to meeting in groups larger than three or four around a table at Mike's Pastry Shop.

Most had never come near the boxy, concrete and glass regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service. They were more comfortable, as their wives complained, wearing a groove in the streets between their homes, the wharves where their boats were tied, and St. Peter's Club, where they gathered before and after trips. The younger fishermen drank at Mitch's or the Old Timer's Tavern, both within crawling distance of each other.

Slowly they gathered, in the same groups of three or four, muttering to each other in Sicilian:

"Ma che cazzo faccemo ca?"

"Nun lo saccio io!"

Then the younger men pulled up in late model cars or pickups with state-of-the-art caps. They stood off by themselves, smoking or sipping coffee from Dunkin Donut Styrofoam cups, dressed in Red Sox ball caps and flannel shirts even though it was a mild June morning. Though they were natives, many had never ventured up to the new industrial park, much less into the vicinity of the fisheries offices. That had been the job of the women, who'd organized themselves as soon as the federal government had begun to restrict the men from fishing.

The slowly rising sun revealed a parade of cars and trucks, some still covered with the early morning dew, slowly converging on the parking lot. As yet there was little talk, beyond the quiet banter in Sicilian, though once the women left their cars and a group of men began to unload a stack of placards from a big flatbed, voices rose on the mounting tension in the air.

"Andiamo ragazzi! Sbrigattevi!"

Nina Calogero climbed up onto the bed of a pickup, shouting at the sluggishly gathering fishermen through a bullhorn. She was dressed in high heels and a purple pantsuit, her lips livened by a bright red lipstick.

"Let's go guys! The officer workers will be coming any minute."

Soon the signs were thrust up as the younger men warmed to the task of demonstrating:





No sooner had the men come together in two flanks blocking the entrance to the office building, than the Boston TV satellite trucks pulled up. Crews emerged with shoulder held camcorders, reporters with remote microphones descending on the crowd.

"What do you hope to achieve by shutting down these offices?" a highly made up blond woman wearing a WBZ-TV windbreaker shouted out.

But her question was blotted out as soon as Nina began speaking.

"Listen everybody. I'm Nina Calogero, the president of the Gloucester Save Our Fishermen. We're here today to demonstrate our solidarity against government regulations that are starving our families!"

The men began to shout their support, as the flanks of fishermen, young and old, closed around the entrance, making it impossible for any office staff to enter the building. A smaller group gathered at the rear entrance, effectively blocking that egress as federal workers tried to enter.

"If we can't work, you guys ain't working either!" the men shouted, pushing forward with their placards.

"We gotta get to work!" one of the receptionists shouted back. "The switchboards'll be lighting up."

"Hey, you're only losing one morning," a youthful fisherman answered. "How do you think it feels to be out of work every day?"

"I want the government to hear us," Nina shouted through the bull horn. "First youze guys increased the mesh width on us so we couldn't catch our usual size cod and haddock. Then you started closing the grounds down, telling us where we could fish and where we couldn't. If that wasn't bad enough, you cut us down to 139 days at sea. Then it was 88 days. Next you tell us how much we can catch and you set the inspectors on us. If we overfish by a coupla pounds you make us dump the catch, and you fine us. Youze call that conservation?

"How's a family gonna live on 88 work days a year? Youze people here work five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. And if we get bad weather on any one of them days we're allowed to fish, we don't work!" Nina shouted, as the TV camera crews crowded in around the truck she spoke from.

"When we ask for relief, you set up a program to buy us out," she continued forcefully. "So what the hell we gonna do once we don't have a boat to fish? Where's a man gonna turn whose whole life is fishing? You gonna give him an office job? And what's his family gonna do once their boat is gone?"

Nina lowered the bull horn when some of the men began gesturing toward a fleet of black and green police vans as federal marshals arrived. Soon a group of uniformed men armed with police batons and rifles moved toward the fishermen who blocked the entrances.

"What are they saying?" Nina shouted down to the men close to her truck. "Can you hear?"

"They telling the guys this is government property, they gotta disperse."

"Government property?" Nina raised her bullhorn again.

"This is our property too! We're the government and youze guys all work for us. Whatta you mean disperse? How can you tell us to leave what belongs to the people?"

The fishermen stood firm.

"Stay right there," Nina shouted. "If they gonna arrest you, let them do it. Let the world see how they take our jobs away from us and then they put us in jail when we object."

"Ms. Calogero, Ms. Calogero!" a reporter shouted up to Nina. "How long will you resist?"

"We're gonna stay right here," Nina shot back. "Since federal regulations keep fishermen from the sea, the fishermen will prevent the federal workers from going to their jobs. If they want to arrest good taxpaying American citizens, let them do it. Let the television viewers see how the country our fathers and mothers came to for freedom treats us. They take away our livelihood, then they want to buy us out. Now they gonna arrest us. Fine. Let it happen."

The camera panned from Nina to the men and women holding signs and placards. Slowly the protestors were surrounded by the federal marshals and state police that arrived with blaring sirens. Members of the environmental police joined the marshals. While at the edges of the parking lot stood several patrol cars from the Gloucester Police Department, as officers formed a barrier which would keep the protestors from leaving.

"You're surrounded," another reporter shouted up to Nina. "What are you going to do now?"

"We're gonna do what we came here to do," Nina answered calmly. "We're gonna stay here until they take us all away."

"But you're trespassing on federal property," the reporter said.

"Since when was it a crime to stand on the land that we all own together?" Nina answered. "When was it a crime to speak out against injustice? Hey, the black people been doing it for years. Now the fishermen gonna raise their voices. They arrested the blacks and they doused them with fire hoses. Let them do it to us now!"

The cameras began to catch the first arrests, as the fishermen who blocked the entrance to the office building were briskly separated from each other and led away. They filmed the faces of the workers — secretaries, receptionists, managers, staff attorneys — as they had gathered apprehensively behind the police cordons. Once the entrance had been cleared the office workers were accompanied to the cleared glass-doored entrance. They were shown streaming in.

"The National Marine Fisheries staff can't understand why your people would do this to them," a reporter called to Nina. "They say they're your friends and advocates. They always try to help the fishermen. Why would you turn against them?"

"We're not turning against nobody," Nina answered, jumping down from the back of the truck, perspiration streaming down her face, her eye shadow blurred. "We had to make a show of solidarity," she continued. "We had to let people know we're hurting. It didn't do any good to talk to our senators, to Kennedy and Kerry. They told us they cared about the fishermen, but they said we had to protect the oceans from overfishing. The fishermen are stuck in the middle." "A lot of the public think you're at fault," the reporter pressed. "They believe you've taken more from the sea than the sea can replenish."

"Let them talk to the Russians," Nina said. "We never had factory ships like the Soviets, sneaking into our waters, taking on millions of pounds their high-tech trawlers sucked up from the bottom of the sea and processing it right on the spot. All we tried to do was keep our boats working and feed our families. One family one boat, is that a crime?"

Two state police in blue and gray uniforms and black trooper's hats approached Nina.

"Ms Calogero? We understand you are the organizer of this demonstration. Please come with us."

The crowd began to break up as Nina was led off. Gathering up the placards, those who remained loaded them back onto the flatbed as police patrolled the parking lot, accompanying the last of the workers into the office building. Fishermen who hadn't been arrested talked in groups until they, too were dispersed by the police and ordered to leave the area. In a matter of minutes the only vehicles in the parking lot belonged to the federal employees, who had begun their day's work in a locked down building.

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