In Memory of Tom Osmers

On March 12th, 2010, New England lost a fellow fisherman and passionate advocate for small-scale fishing. Tom Osmers urged the adoption of “intentional inefficiencies” in fishing technology, recognizing that truly sustainable fishing requires us to look at both how many fish are caught, as well as how and where they are caught. He railed against the injustice of rewarding fishermen with allocation based on catch while their gear remained at sea after the fishermen returned to port. He was angered by the wastefulness of regulatory discards, and frustrated that fluke were discarded in tremendous numbers because they were not considered a groundfish. Tom witnessed the collapse of groundfishing on Martha’s Vineyard, and fervently believed that restoration required protecting the local fish and supporting the communities. His perseverance earned him the nickname, the “codfather.”

Some people remember Tom for his stalwart support of small boat communities. Others remember his perpetually good-natured demeanor, and of course, the oysters! Tom made a habit of serving oysters that he had harvested at management meetings. What a great way to spread goodwill. He could speak from the heart at the mic one moment and share a wisecrack comment while shucking an oyster the next. He loved local food, even when it required “fillet and release.”

Tom fought tirelessly for the right of his communities on Martha’s Vineyard to be able to once again fish for cod. Tom urged the New England Fishery Management Council to provide protection for small boats that used inefficient gear, and to set aside an area around the Vineyard to allow the fish to recover. When sectors were being discussed, he found it hard to believe that fishermen on the Vineyard would be asked to “invest in a stock that does not yet exist.” Yet, he had the foresight to submit one of the 17 new sector applications. He summed up his vision in his hand-written sector application – “the fish want to return to the Vineyard!”