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Retired fisherman Bernie Mosher lobbies support for fish hatcheries

by Robert Hirtle

Despite cheating death twice, retired fisherman Bernie Mosher loved fishing and the sea.
 LUNENBURG - Bernie Mosher has a lot of memories about his 43 years at sea. Some are good, some not so good.

 The retired mariner, who began his career swordfishing on the 60-foot longliner Silvie Anne under his father, Capt. Wilbert Mosher, in 1957, finally called it a day over four decades later on Good Friday, 2000.

 That day happened to be a Friday the 13th, considered unlucky by the superstitious, but an oddly appropriate way to end the career of a man who twice cheated death in frigid waters of the North Atlantic.

 Mr. Mosher's first brush with death at sea happened on Georges Bank in February 1962, when he was a 17-year-old crewman aboard the scallop dragger Cape Eagle, an event which he foresaw in a dream.

 "We were out fishing and I had this nightmare that I got washed overboard," he recalled. "[Capt.] Bob Mayo was their bosun then. I told Bob that somehow this winter we're going to be on a scallop dragger and I'm going to get washed overboard and you're going to have to jump over and save my ass. He just sort of laughed it off. Right to the word, everything came exactly."

 Mr. Mosher said the evening before the near tragedy, the vessel had weathered a heavy storm and, although the wind had died down the following day, it was still blowing 35 to 40 knots "with a good sea running.

 "Myself and Johnny Rafuse were out on the starboard side picking up [scallops]. The mate was only bobbing her back, but she took a queer one," he said. "I was working on the outside by the rail. The next thing I look up and I see the propeller. The mate never took notice what was going on. He didn't know there was anybody on deck."

 The rogue wave had also knocked Mr. Rafuse down on the deck underneath the winch, and it was several minutes later when the mate noticed him crawling out that the crew began to realize Mr. Mosher was missing.

 "Somebody ran out and looked aft and they could just barely see me. I was just about out of sight," he said.

 It took two passes before the crew was able to get a life ring to their stricken shipmate and by that time, Mr. Mosher said the two-degree temperature of the water was taking its toll on him.

  "I was so cold, I could not get my arms out of the water to get that life ring. I couldn't even bite into the rope. I sung out to Bob, 'I'm finished man.' That's when he stripped bare hide and dove in and got me," he recalled.

 Thirteen years later, on May 15, 1975, Mr. Mosher once again had a close brush with death at sea when the 72-foot fish dragger Eugene H out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, which he was a crewman on, was rammed by the Liberian freighter Grand Justice and sunk about 60 miles south of Nantucket.

 Of the six-man crew on the vessel, only Mr. Mosher and the cook, Francis Tripp, survived the ordeal, which saw them spend an agonizing two and a half hours in the water.

 "I just came out of the fish hole, finished icing the fish. It was our last tow and then we were going to leave from home," he recalled. Mr. Mosher said he had gone forward for something to eat and was talking to Mr. Tripp in the forecastle when the incident occurred.

 "I happened to look up the companionway, and all I saw was a big, black bow boring down on us. I sung out to Tripp, 'Get [crewmate Ronald] Foley out of the bunk and let's get the hell out of here,'" he said. "By the time I got up the six steps of the ladder, they were just hitting us midships. We got cut right in half."

 Mr. Mosher managed to remain on the bow of the stricken ship, although he knew he had to jump for it before that section of the vessel went to the bottom.

 "But I waited too long. When I dove off, she took me down with her. And she took me down an awful long way before she let me go. When I came out of that water, I came out the same as a cork," he said.

 Once back on the surface, Mr. Mosher grabbed a piece of a dory that was floating in the water. He soon spotted Mr. Tripp, who was struggling to open one of the ship's life rafts, as well as Mr. Foley, but he was floating face down in the water.

 "I had to make a decision. Go get the guy who was still yelling and leave the [other] man lay. God forgive me, I left him," he said.

 Mr. Mosher said the freighter made several passes by their position, and each time he yelled to the crew to launch a lifeboat.

 "There was no response. They let us drift apart again," he said. "I had the kit out of the life raft and I fired a flare right at the wheelhouse. They came back again and this time they came right at us."

 Eventually, the crew threw a heaving line over the bow and the two fishermen were brought aboard the freighter, where Mr. Mosher confronted the captain who had not only refused to search for more survivors, but had not even contacted the coast guard to advise them of the collision.

 Finally, he was permitted to go to the wheelhouse where he issued a mayday that led to Mr. Tripp and him being picked up by an American helicopter.

 "I was going right berserk because they were doing nothing to save the men in the water," he explained.

 Despite his two close encounters with death, Mr. Mosher had fond memories of his 43 years at sea, a lifestyle that for the most part has gone the way of the dinosaur.

 He believes, however, that there may be a way to rejuvenate depleted fish stocks and return the fishery to its former glory.

 "I'd like to see fish hatcheries up and down the coast," he explained, adding he is currently lobbying for public and corporate support to help get the idea rolling.

 Such programs exist successfully in other countries, particularly Norway, and Mr. Mosher said he feels they would also be feasible for raising stocks such as haddock, cod and halibut along the coast of Nova Scotia.

 "A fish will come back where it spawns," he said. "So you hatch them in the bay, you feed them for a year and release them in the spring when they're a year old. Eventually they will go out to sea, then five years later they'll return to the bays where they were born and hatched and re-spawn."

 Mr. Mosher said he believes that if hatcheries were put in place, within five to 10 years stocks would rebound enough so that "the younger generation coming behind me would have a chance like I had to go to sea.

 "I never, ever got discouraged. I just love the sea," he added.

posted on 06/24/08
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