National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
Thursday, 12 December 2013
I went shrimping for the first time almost two years ago. The 65-foot trawler Jamie & Ashley left Portland a little before 4:30 on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, a week after the opening of the northern shrimp season in the Gulf of Maine.
My story of that day begins shortly after we left port, with the chatter of other fishermen also out that morning:
"There's plenty of squawking coming over the radio as we head out of Portland harbor.
"'You can't f-king do it three f-king days a week,' says one unidentified voice."
The overheard complaints stemmed from strict rules for the 2012 season. Trawlers like the Jamie & Ashley could only fish on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning a half hour before sunrise and ending, with gear out of the water, at 3 p.m.
The story represents a couple firsts for me. It was the first time I had started a story with an f-bomb (or the indication of one). It was also the first time I had gone out on a commercial fishing boat and written about it for the magazine.
That day also marked the first time I saw the competitive nature of fishermen firsthand. The restrictions were designed to make a shortage in quota last longer, but they meant that everybody had to be out at the same time. Which meant everybody wanted to be in the best spots.
The ocean becomes a small place when fishing boats are on top of each other. It was the beginning of the season, but the Jamie & Ashley had done well so far, scooping up 5,000 and 7,000 pounds of shrimp its two previous times out (by comparison another boat had only hauled in 700 pounds on Monday). So when skipper Steve Jordan picked a spot to tow he had company "within punching distance," as he put it.
After a tense encounter with another boat that wanted in our groove, the first haul was a good one. But when Jordan decided to move away from the crowd, the catch thinned out too. "What are you going to do? That's fishing," as Jordan put it.
The rules and a quota cut in half made the 2012 season a difficult one. After the first couple weeks, Allyson Jordan, owner of the Jamie & Ashley (no relation to Steve), decided to piggyback groundfish trips on shrimp days so Jordan and the two crew members could at least make a living wage for their time on the water.
This year there will be no shrimp season. The closure, which followed a November assessment showing the collapse of the stock, is the first in 35 years.
With northern shrimp off the table, New England fishermen already struggling with poor groundfish quotas and low lobster prices have lost a fishery that was helping to make up the difference.
Being a fisherman has always been a gamble, but nobody wants to play a game when there's no chance of winning. If we want to preserve fishing in New England, people like Allyson need the flexibility and support to be innovative to come up with a Plan B. Or Plan C, D or E, if necessary.
I've read that there have been discussions of requesting federal aid for fishermen affected by the shrimp collapse. If money is available, shouldn't it go toward developing markets for species that are plentiful and gear innovations to avoid the ones that aren't? Give New England fishermen a chance to show their fighting spirit.
Photo by Melissa WoodAdd a comment
Thursday, 05 December 2013
It's a good thing the Eastern-rigged dragger Roann was well ballasted. After she was built in 1947, owner Roy Campbell of Vineyard Haven, Mass., would fish 120 miles off Cape Cod, all year. That's pretty far offshore for a 60-footer, but she was kept stable with 22,000 pounds of concrete and scrap metal.
Her stability was put to the test one early morning in 1953. With the captain in his bunk and the mate at the wheel, "a huge wall of water, a rogue wave, reared up in front of the Roann. She rode up one side and then dropped off into the trough. She fell over 90 degrees, pushing the mastheads under water and launching the sleeping cook across the fo'c'sle. But the Roann popped back up with the net wrapped around the spring stay," says Walter Ansel, senior shipwright for Connecticut's Mystic Seaport museum.
She survived that day and survives still, as one of the last remaining Eastern-rigged wooden draggers. These vessels fished off New England's coast in the mid-to-late 20th century before they were replaced by steel stern draggers.
The maritime museum bought Roann in 1997 but didn't begin restoration work until 2005. As Michael Crowley writes in the January issue of National Fisherman, the challenging work wouldn't have been possible without dedicated volunteers who spent thousands of hours retaining her original craftsmanship and repairing the wear from five decades worth of highliner-level fishing. Mike's story begins on page 28.
If you really like wooden boats — and many of our readers do — you can visit her in person too. The Roann is part of the historic vessel collection at the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Conn. Learn more here.
Photo courtesy of Mystic SeaportAdd a comment
Tuesday, 03 December 2013
I'm embarrassed. Yesterday I read the article, "12 Fish to Stay Away From" on prevention.com. This article doesn't discriminate about what type of seafood to avoid: many fish from different waters made the list (like Atlantic cod). As one commenter says, "I think they just listed every form of seafood currently sold in our stores and restaurants. So what ARE we supposed to eat?"
As a journalist, I'm embarrassed that this article uses one source (Food & Water Watch) to write about a subject the writer seems to know very little about. It reads as if the environmental group handed the writer a press release and it was copied verbatim. Where's the balance?
The problem goes beyond journalistic integrity. I write about fish and seafood every day, but most people don't have time to memorize what's good and what's bad — and to look into whether the group telling them these things has an agenda. Even if you agree with some of the choices on the list, most people will only take away this lesson: don't eat fish.
And this is the broader message that people are getting about your product, your livelihood. That it's bad.
We know that's not true. We know that all fish caught in U.S. waters is managed sustainably, and the only thing a concerned consumer needs to look for is seafood with the United States listed as the country of origin (those labels are required by law).
So what can we do? Tell your friends and family to buy local or U.S. product. You can also point them to websites like NOAA's FishWatch, a site intended for consumers that explains the U.S. fishing industry and its species. NOAA has also launched the educational initiative Seafood 101 to give consumers and especially kids a positive message about U.S. seafood and its health benefits.
For my part, I'm going to keep writing good stories about the people in America who work as fishermen. It's important to show the reality of the U.S. fishing industry and the people in it to counter the bad press and negative information. It's a battle, but it's worth fighting.
Speaking of press, do people in your community know about what you do? Contact a local reporter, or contact me about the possibility of sharing the story of your fishing life in the pages of National Fisherman. You can reach me at email@example.com.Add a comment
Thursday, 21 November 2013
The West Coast and East Coast may be apples and oranges when it comes to collaborative research, but which is the model for how it should be done?
“The West Coast has never not had the industry involved in cooperative research. You’ve always had good participation. You’ve got industry participation every level of the way,” said North Carolina skipper Jimmy Ruhle (right) during a session on cooperative research at the Pacific Marine Expo on Wednesday.
On the East Coast collaboration between scientists and fishermen has been a more recent development after years of the former not taking input from the latter seriously, he pointed out.
But the West Coast has room for improvement too, said John Gauvin, of the Alaska Seafood Cooperative. He looked at the level of NOAA involvement in various programs and found that it was more involved with the short-term ones, if involved at all. That kind of independence from NOAA could make it difficult for industry funded research to be implemented in fishery management decisions.
He believes a regional cooperative research program for Alaska — which doesn’t exist now — would provide an infrastructure for various efforts.
“Why wouldn't we want to have our own cooperative research program through NOAA like they do in New England?” he asked. “I really don't know if we’re the apples or the oranges.”
Research projects in the North Pacific run the gamut in size and scale, but what they all have in common is that NOAA manages the fisheries they study. Including NOAA in the collaborative process could make the information collected more valuable to Alaska's fisheries.Add a comment
Thursday, 14 November 2013
A quick search for commercial fishing items on Twitter brought the following tweet to the top of my screen: “Did u know? Commercial fishing kills nearly 1,000 OTHER animals per day including SHARKS, DOLPHINS, SEALS, & WHALES.”
It’s no wonder fishermen sometimes feel like they’re under attack. When you go to the ocean you’re just doing your job — feeding people — and yet you’re often called out as murderers by some very vocal groups.
Negatives messages like these ignore continued advances in bycatch reduction made by the scientific and commercial fishing communities. The latest such innovation – ultraviolet lights that warn sea turtles away from fishing nets — comes from John Wang, a fisheries researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Since sea turtles can perceive ultraviolet light, while many fish cannot, he decided to experiment with putting UV lights on fishing nets as a turtle deterrent. Working with fishermen from Baja California Sur, Mexico, he demonstrated that the lights were able to reduce turtle bycatch by 40 percent.
As reported by Scientific American, Wang said the fishermen were at first reluctant to work with him, but soon “came to realize that we're not trying to save turtles at the expense of fishing communities.”
The lights, which are resusable, battery-powered and cost about $2 each, are also proof that not every innovative product requires a total boat/gear rehaul. At such a low cost, environmental groups could easily buy some of these lights and distribute them to fishermen whose nets pose a threat to turtles. That might be a little more effective in protecting sea turtles than calling fishermen killers on Twitter.Add a comment
Thursday, 07 November 2013
When I have a disaster at work, it's because I'm worried I'll miss a deadline. Though it can feel like the end of the world when I'm struggling to get a story done, it's really not.
For fishermen, however, the littlest mistakes can be deadly. As our December issue's "Consequences" (page 14) demonstrates, you can pay the ultimate price for any unguarded moments at sea.
The story begins with a football game. Two Louisiana shrimpers had tied together on a Sunday night in December so their crews could watch football together. They also ran an overhead grab line between the boats so those crossing over could steady themselves.
After the skipper and crewman from the first boat crossed over to the second boat, the skipper decided to stay on deck a little longer. "When the crewman went back outside 15 to 20 minutes later, he didn't find the skipper. The crewman assumed the skipper returned to his boat via the grab line as he'd done many times."
But this time was different. When the crewman returned to the boat after the game, he couldn't find the skipper. He was never found despite an extensive search involving a Coast Guard helicopter and cutter and other nearby fishing vessels.
Safety is a big concern for our readers. A review of our most popular news stories from October shows commercial fishing continues to be a highly dangerous occupation. Among our most popular was a Bering Sea rescue caught on video, and stories about three men saved from the water as they were clinging to the bow of a sinking boat, and a survivor of a sinking who credits the crewman who didn't survive (also his father-in-law) for saving his life.
Knowing how important safety is to you, we include a safety column submitted by the U.S. Coast Guard in every issue of National Fisherman, recounting a disaster and lessons learned from it. As December's column shows, not every safety story is dramatic, but when you're at sea the results can be just as deadly. Fish safe!
USCG photoAdd a comment
Tuesday, 29 October 2013
Celebrities don't often come out against cute, furry animals. But yesterday Anthony Bourdain called out his fellow U.S. chefs for joining a boycott against Canadian seafood to protest the country's seal hunt.
"I completely understand well meaning intentions of good hearted chefs who signed this petition. But they are wrong. Visit the Inuit," Bourdain wrote on Twitter.
As Bourdain points out, there is also the correlation of exploding seal populations and low cod stocks. On a Web page explaining the myths and realities of the seal harvest, the Canadian government states that scientific research suggests a rapidly growing gray seal population — which at 350,000 is 10 times greater than it was 40 years ago — may have much to do with high cod mortality in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
It's a rare thing for a celebrity to not support an adorable animal in danger, and Bourdain's tweets were picked up by a few news outlets. His stance is a development that commercial fishermen — who are also sometimes publicly demonized for their harvesting practices — should pay attention to.
Bourdain and other chefs like him aren't content to follow the status quo. I've toured seafood processing plants with these chefs and met others working with local fishermen to promote underutilized fish. They are the ones asking questions, curious about how everything works. And whenever fishermen and chefs collaborate, it's fun to watch. Both are passionately outspoken about their seafood.
When it comes to seals, Bourdain knows what he's talking about. He joined a seal hunt and ate raw seal with an Inuit family in Quebec in a 2005 episode of his TV show "No Reservations." You have to respect him for graciously accepting a seal eyeball from his host's blood-smeared hand and sucking out whatever juice is inside. As he points out it's not that much different from us Americans sucking on chicken bones at KFC.
Which brings me to a point made by chef David McMillan, of Montreal restaurant Joe Beef. If U.S. chefs are looking for food to protest, maybe they should start closer to home.
"I don't understand why chefs who don't understand what they're talking about jump on this bandwagon," he said in an interview with Montreal Eater. "America produces the most industrially processed food on the planet. Why don't they look in their own grocery stores for things to boycott?"
Photo of Chef Danny Bowien from Chefs for Seals Facebook page
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Have you ever heard of the "ama"? Ama, which means means "sea-women," are the famous female divers of Japan. While some talk of preserving this important but declining cultural tradition, one ama has been using techniques similar to ones used by U.S. fishermen to stay on — or in this case, in — the water.
Ama fish in groups and sometimes in mother-daughter teams, diving headfirst without any special equipment in shallow water (15 to 30 feet) for about 50 to 90 seconds to collect abalone, seaweed, mollusks and fish, according to Fish Catching Methods of the World, which was first published in 1964 and part of National Fisherman's inhouse library.
Sometimes a husband is there too, not in the water, but assisting from a boat. The work suits women, writes author A. von Brandt, "because they have a better fat layer which insulates their bodies." Men were also often absent from villages for a long time fishing for tuna, making it economically necessary for women to dive for food.
However the tradition began, it is declining: In 2010, about 2,174 female divers were still working the waters across Japan compared to 17,000 in 1956. Their average age is over 60, according to a recent article in the Japan Times about efforts to keep this occupation alive.
Those efforts include the formation of several ama preservation groups. Preservation is a good thing, but to keep an occupation alive, people in it need to make money. One ama, Nayomi Oi, said "she believes that if divers can earn enough to provide for themselves, younger generations will be more interested in the work."
Oi, age 56, is the youngest of 16 divers in her district (the oldest is 89). She had long wanted to become an ama, and finally began seven years ago after undergoing surgery for breast cancer because "she wanted to live a life without regrets."
Oi has been using direct-marketing and education to keep her profession viable. She sells "tsukudani" (seaweed stalk) and turban shells cooked in soy sauce in partnership with a store in Tokyo, holds workshops about diving and visits elementary schools to get children interested in the ama profession too.
This makes so much sense to me. Fishermen, whether they're from California, New England or Japan, don't want to be preserved. They want to keep working.
To learn more about the ama, watch this clip from this BBC documentary, Fish! A Japanese Obsession. Watching the dives is pretty amazing.
Though the host chuckles as he watches a husband stand by while his "missus" constantly dives, he has obvious respect for the ama. I do too. I'm not sure if I buy the reasoning of women being better for the job because we have more fat — especially now wetsuits and not fat can keep people warm in cold water. At the same time, not to be sexist (or reverse sexist?), I don't blame them for using it as a reason for keeping the ama a women-only club.Add a comment
Thursday, 17 October 2013
Every year National Fisherman names three Highliners. These fishermen are not just rewarded for their considerable fishing skills, but also their commitment to the industry. I'm often amazed by how far some fishermen will go to promote their fisheries, protecting a way of life for themselves, other fishermen and often the coastal communities they call home.
So I was not surprised to see 2012 Highliner Dewey Hemilright starring in a recent video promoting his fishery on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Though the background is idyllic, Hemilright works hard throughout the year, gillnetting spiny dogs and targeting croaker and bluefish until April, longlining for mahimahi and tilefish in the summer and longlining for tuna and swordfish in the fall.
The video gives a taste of life on the 42-foot Tar Baby. He takes the time to explain his state's fisheries: How the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream converge to produce a diverse fishery. He points out technology on his boat in an easy to understand way. I believe this type of consumer education — direct from the fisherman — works better than any certification.
Speaking of Highliners, stay tuned for the announcement of our 2013 honorees, who will be named in our December issue.Add a comment
Thursday, 10 October 2013
Though Louisiana shrimpers haven't asked for my sympathy, they have it. They have persevered through natural and manmade disasters and a marketplace dominated by cheaper, imported shrimp. Now their product has been put on the dreaded "red" list in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide to sustainable seafood.
The red listing means that Louisiana shrimp should be avoided by those who use the guide to make purchasing decisions. That includes eco-friendly shoppers and also major retailers like Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe's.
Louisiana shrimp was put on the red list because the state does not mandate the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs). The devices prevent turtles and other bycatch from getting caught in the nets. They are required in federal waters and by all Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic states except Louisiana, which forbid their enforcement in a 1987 law.
It is possible the aquarium's Seafood Watch listing will force the state to change its bycatch laws, but in the meantime it will certainly hurt Louisiana shrimpers. Even those who voluntarily comply with federal bycatch recommendations will have their product on the red list.
The aquarium acknowledges this too. “Even when conscientious Louisiana fishermen voluntarily comply with regulations that protect sea turtles, the state’s mandate not to enforce this essential measure creates a critical conservation concern and an ‘Avoid’ recommendation for all shrimp caught in Louisiana,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in a news release.
The message to fishermen: you could be doing everything right, and it's still not enough.
Photo of shrimp being unloaded at the docks of Bundy Seafood in Lafitte, La., by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink.Add a comment
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Introducing National Fisherman Live, a biweekly web video featuring the latest fishing news, product information and industry analysis by our editors.
The California-based Maybach Foundation has awarded its Culinary Arts Project Sustainable Food Leadership grant to Amanda LaBelle of Rockland, Maine. LaBelle will be the project's protege, while local food advocate Monique Coombs has agreed to be the mentor.
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is delighted to announce Sara Squarstoff as the winner of the “Show Us Your Alaska Seafood” Instagram Contest.Read more...