Written by Samuel Hill
Tuesday, 31 May 2016
Beginning June 1, some New England fishermen will be flipping a switch on a brand new digital camera before they leave the dock. No, this isn’t just a way for them to send in more candid crew shots to National Fisherman — they’re finally getting a shot at electronic monitoring.
Only a handful of vessels are getting the equipment this season in what is being considered a soft-launch for the program. The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance says up to 20 groundfish boats will use the cameras to start. Over the next year, fishermen and NMFS will hopefully be able to work out any kinks that may arise.
While years ago the average fisherman might not have been keen on the idea of a government camera watching their every move, today’s fleet has been looking forward to them. No one is a fan of prying eyes while going about a day’s work, but cameras seem to be a decent alternative to at-sea observers.
Fishermen turn on the cameras when they’re preparing for a fishing trip, go catch some fish and hand off the hard drive with video footage to a third-party review team when their back on shore.
The industry is expecting electronic monitoring to help ease the burden of observer costs and be for affordable in the long run.
NMFS estimated that electronic monitoring would cost over $60,000 annually per vessel along with nearly $60,000 in start-up costs for equipment and other expenses, but costs for video review aren’t set in stone. It isn’t an inexpensive option, but for some smaller boats that can’t hold an extra person or fishermen in troubled fisheries, it could be the only option to keep running.
On top of the obvious benefits to the monitoring bill and day-to-day operations, having set cameras on board could benefit the industry in other ways. This is a way of keeping people safe, as an extra observer, sometimes not the most experienced seaman, could prove dangerous in some situations. The access to video could also help accident reports, basic employee management and even help in future gear studies.
While the option of having cameras onboard is an “in progress” projects, it’s a step in the right direction toward keeping fishing affordable. Fisherman should have the option at the very least.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Thursday, 19 May 2016
If you’re a fan of old fishing tales and are in need of some new literature to keep onboard or back on shore, you need to get your hands on a copy of “Adventures and History from Downeast Maine.”
This is an anthology of short non-fiction stories by Arthur S. Woodward that serves as a historical record of commercial lobstering on Beals Island, Maine, between the 1920s and 1960s. Woodward was a teacher at heart, according to his daughter who wrote a foreward for the book, but he returned to Down East Maine each summer to help his father run the family lobster business. While Woodward was never a full-time fisherman, he felt the need to preserve his memories of that fishery in stories he found himself coming back to year after year.
The stories cover a lot of aspects of the business, from building local boats and lobster boat racing to making deliveries to retail businesses and everyday conversations with men on the water.
The best thing about this little collection is you can open up to any page and find a new story. Each chapter is a quick look into the past. They aren’t exactly linear, so no need to mark your spot each time you put the book down. If you have a spare minute and need a good piece of fishing history to hold you over, just flip to any section and jump in wherever Woodward takes you.
Woodward also includes his own original photography and sketching throughout the book so readers aren’t left entirely to their imagination and own experiences. These include family photos that probably were never meant to be published publically, so it’s a genuine look into Woodward’s younger years.
He writes about children on the island that were too young to be out on commercial boats, but pretended to do some serious fishing on their own, trips down to Boston with his father to meet up with Canadian lobster dealers and his memories from the pilothouse.
All fishermen have their memories of how they got started, whether they were raised in a fishing family or joined the industry later in life, but not everyone puts those stories into a book for the world to see.
Adventues and History from Downeast Maine: Lobster Smacks, Lobsters, Lobster Boats, Beals “Lobster Island”
By Arthur S. Woodward
International Maratime Library
$20.00Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 11 May 2016
Fishackathon 2016, an event that calls coders and science enthusiasts around the world to create new tools for fishermen and the industry, took place over Earth Day weekend and projects that made it to the final global round are viewable online.
This is the third year the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships has sponsored the event. In 43 cities across the globe, tech wizards and sustainability advocates came together to brainstorm some pretty stellar mobile and web applications.
One team sought to tackle the ocean’s marine debris problem and created an app called unTrashed, which gamifies the typically unexciting task of reporting debris. “See trash, be a hero,” is the app’s tentative tagline. Users receive points based on how much data they collect as they encounter marine debris, leveling up and seeing their rank on a leaderboard amongst other “players.” Ideally, this information would be made readily available to experts such as researchers, government officials, and software developers to expand as they see fit.
Another team worked on a location-based regulation and weather information app for fishermen in the Philippines called FishOps. The app uses cell tower GPS data to track a user, display local marine protected areas, and alert them when they enter a regulated area. The app also provides laws and decrees, resources, and weather alert data, which is generated for localized regions.
“We focused on creating a system that is easy to use by anybody, requires no technical knowledge, and is robust enough to be easily scaled,” reads the team description.
The list of finalists includes teams from around the world. You can watch video demonstrations of the apps they made and read about why they decided to tackle a specific problem.
Reading through the thought process of the participants was really interesting. Some are directly involved in protecting the ocean and their country’s fisheries while others were just there to show off their tech skills. One team consisted of a teenage coder who admitted he cared more about mobile mini-games than fish and a Coast Guard patrolman who fights IUU fishing every day.
It’s amazing what can be accomplished when two worlds collide. The official winner and the $10,000 in prizes won’t be announced until June 8. Until then, be sure to explore the website and look at the projects. Who knows. You might have the knowledge or experience to help a team make their app idea a reality.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Monday, 02 May 2016
While I was curating this month’s Fishing Back When section, I came across something shocking in the June 1986 issue: dirt cheap fuel prices.
From Cape May, N.J., to Rockland, Maine, fishermen and vessel owners were celebrating a drop in fuel prices — from a reported high of $1.13/gal. to a low of 59 cents. And according to fishermen, the drop was just the shot in the arm the industry needed.
Jerry Wheeler, the general manager of the New Bedford Seafood Cooperative at the time, provided nearly 14 million gallons of fuel annually to about 250 boats and said the savings are going directly to crews up and down the east coast.
“That’s a real boon for them right now,” he said. “Finally, they have something they can take to the bank.”
Frank O’Hara out of Rockland says that the crews of his five vessels have been benefiting from the drop.
“It’s a blessing to the crew. It’s a big, big, big help,” he said.
Fishermen were also trying to predict when prices would hit an uptick again, preparing for a price increase while fighting the urge to stock up on fuel at its low-point. A lot of boats have been staying out longer, finding the extra cash to spend a little more time working each day.
The drop in fuel prices and adjusted budgets translated into a 12 to 20 percent raise for most crewmembers. Fuel costs are the difference between taking the boat out or tying up for the day. The increased time out meant bigger hauls in a lot of cases.
Fishermen across the country have been helped out by the oil business’ loss. Gulf shrimpers have been able to stay out on their grounds longer than normal and some owners out of Alaska are putting the cash right back into their operation with upgrades.
While living in a world where 59 cents a gallon prices are permanent sounds like a dream come true, fishermen know it won’t last. Wheeler said the price dip signals a “dangerous time” in the oil business.
“Fishermen should just figure that they’re getting a gift right now,” said one Seattle dealer with a chuckle.
We know how this story ends. The prices rise and rise. I’m not trying to make anyone stress out about their bills by retelling this story. Just reminding you to take a second to recognize when you’ve got it good.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Close your eyes. Speak the word “salmon.” Where does it take you?
This is how the organizers of The Salmon Project introduce their research in a new book called “Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from The Salmon Project.”
“Salmon and Alaskans,” writes executive director Erin Harrington in the collection’s introduction. “We have danced with one another for a millennia. For thousands of journeys around the sun, for more than three millions spins of the earth, for hundreds of thousands of turns of the seasons, we have shared a rhythm.”
The Salmon Project began as a series of focus groups in Alaska communities. Strangers from around the state, not necessarily fisherman, gathered to discuss their values and what it means to live in Alaska. The conversations always included salmon.
“We are salmon people,” wrote Harrington. “In our research and engagements with Alaskans about salmon in their lives, one word comes up again and again — lifeblood. People find salmon so vital to their lives that to be separated from it would cause irreparable harm.”
The book, edited by New England transplant Nancy Lord, is an anthology of salmon stories. A young wildlife photographer staked out on a river on an island in Southeast Alaska, waiting for his chance to photograph his first bear. A 63-year-old woman in Wasilla remembers a 68-pound king salmon she caught on the Kenai River in 1983. A lifelong Alaskan’s conversation with a pediatrician when she asked if her three-month-old son could start eating salmon. Stories about “love at first chew” and family trips to fish camp.
“Salmon, for our indigenous cultures, were — and are — of course much more than food. Social organization, seasonal patterns, technologies, art, customs and beliefs, rituals, trade, warfare — all of these and more were built in part on relationships to salmon,” writes Lord. “Today, as narratives in this volume will show, Alaska Native cultures maintain a deep and abiding connection to salmon and to values that developed alongside the shared use of salmon.”
These are beautiful stories about the fishing life and what it means to live in Alaska. The book also includes photographs by Clark James Mishler that “capture some of the faces and places that are, here in Alaska, made of salmon.”
Whether you’re an Alaskan familiar with these tales or a fisherman from a different region, you’ll enjoy learning about the culture and just how much a fish can mean to someone.
University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks
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Written by Samuel Hill
Monday, 11 April 2016
Last week, the New Bedford Standard-Times published an article exploring the possibility of mandatory drug testing on commercial fishing boats.
The article revolves mainly around an interview with New Bedford veteran scallop captain Rick Lynch, a former alcoholic and heroin user in long-term recovery. Lynch was 16 when he started working for fishing boats in the late ’80s when he says, “There was cocaine running around, there was heroin everywhere… All we did was drink.” The reporter writes that “Lynch has been around long enough to fall into a few bottles, or needles, and climb back out again.”
I think it’s really important to recognize that Lynch is lucky to have recovered from these bad habits. He says he’s 15 years sober and has been a captain for 14. A lot of people aren’t able to do that. A lot of people aren’t that lucky.
The interview took place in October, but surfaced at the Standard-Times in March after drug raids aboard New Bedford fishing vessels that led to eight arrests.
Lynch floated the idea of mandatory drug testing in the interview.
The arguments against it came rolling in. It’d be too expensive. Fishermen don’t need more regulations. It’s an invasion of privacy. Fishermen come and go too often. “I believe we would lose 100% in our small fleet,” wrote one reader when the story was shared on National Fisherman’s Facebook page.
This is obviously a complicated issue, but the argument comes down to one thing: Drug testing for maritime workers can save lives.
We all know commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous professions in the world. While I don’t have any stats or studies in front of me, I think it’s safe to say that it becomes more dangerous the more hard drugs there are onboard.
I don’t think testing has to be state or federally required. Fishing boat owners and captains could take it upon themselves to do what they can to fight the drug epidemic on the waterfront. They’d be saving lives onboard.
One source in the article notes that the drug arrests and deaths also tarnish the reputation of the fleet as a whole. While public image isn’t exactly the frontrunner in this argument, they have a point. Turning a blind eye to a rampant drug problem doesn’t reflect well on your sustainable, fresh, local product.
Doing a little research into the Standard-Times reporting on this, I came across an article on heroin and AIDS ravaging a generation of fishermen in New Bedford in 1996.
Do we really want to go back to that?Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Monday, 28 March 2016
Fishermen tend to keep safety high on their list of priorities.
But with the sheer number of rules and safety suggestions out there, it can be difficult to keep everything together. While you might think you have your safety plan down pat, just remember — it’s never just one thing that sinks a boat.
One hole in your emergency plan or a single piece of failing equipment could put in motion a much more dangerous scenario.
Just last week, the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership and Fishing Partnership Support Services, introduced a comprehensive guidebook for dealing with at-sea emergencies. It covers everything from vessel inspections before you leave the dock to who you should call after you’re safe on shore post-trip.
The manual is called RESCUES, an acronym for the title of the manual: Responding to Emergencies at Sea and to Communities Under Extreme Stress.
While the manual covers a lot, the most important piece may be the section that doesn’t have much to do with being out on the water. Chapter 4, titled “The Aftermath,” aims to help prepare individuals, groups and entire coastal communities for a crisis affecting members of the commercial fishing industry, such as the sinking of a boat or the search for crew members lost overboard at sea.
“The idea is that, when a crisis occurs, folks in our fishing ports will be able to consult the manual and know right away how the Coast Guard and other authorities are responding — and where they can turn for reliable information and support,” said J.J. Bartlett, president of Fishing Partnership Support Services, in a press release.
Bartlett said, the manual describes “how families may access services and resources that exist to help them during these terrible situations and for long afterwards.”
The chapter covers topics like how to deal with telling the families of lost crew members, talking to the media about an accident, recovering a vessel or body from sea and planning a memorial service. Insurance, legal and counseling are also discussed at length in the chapter.
“To me, RESCUES is about peace of mind,” said Angela Sanfilippo, president of both the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, in a release. “Many of us who have been involved for years in helping fishermen and their families are in the last years of our working lives and it is good to know that the knowledge and insights we have gained are now gathered in one place for the benefit of future generations.”
On a reflective note, she added, “Working on this manual brought back painful memories of when a fisherman or an entire crew died at sea. That was very hard for us. At the same time, we relived those moments when a fisherman was saved from death because of a smart and courageous rescue. We were heartened by the realization that more lives were saved in the past 40 years than were lost.”
You can fight tooth and nail to make your boat and operation as safe as possible, but something might still happen out at-sea. Whether you’re new to the industry and need a guide, are a veteran looking to brush up on your safety knowledge or have recently suffered a loss, you can check out the manual for free online.
The manual was created in partnership with MIT Sea Grant and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Monday, 21 March 2016
After a heated debate over high fishing fees and an announcement that the U.S. would pull out of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, negotiations have restored the treaty and U.S. fishing vessels are back at sea.
Due to a bad 2015 season, the 37-boat American tuna fleet said they couldn’t afford the fees for the fishing days they had agreed to buy in August. They sought to lower the number of fishing days for the fleet and reduce their bill, but the Solomon Islands-based Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, the administrators of the treaty were holding the fleet to their initial agreement.
The U.S. Department announced in mid-January that it intends to pull out of the 27-year-old treaty, effective immediately, and U.S. boats were headed back to port along the California coast.
Now the department has announced that they’ve negotiated, lowering the number of collective fishing days from 5,959 to around 3,900 and the fleet’s tuna tab from $90 million to $66 million. The unused days will be resold to other nations, according to the treaty agency, but those deals will not be as profitable as the original deal with the U.S.
“I commend the Pacific Island Parties for once again being able to use their strong commitment to regional cooperation,” agency Director-General James Movick said in a prepared statement, “and unity to find solutions to a problem that has been foisted on them by the actions of others, in this case the U.S. tuna fishing fleet.”
While recent disagreement over the treaty has been resolved, the U.S. fleet isn’t out of the fire quite yet. The current agreement only lasts until the end of 2016, so negations will continue to ensure the treaty works for everyone if it is renewed next year.
It’s impossible to tell what might come of a renegotiation at this point, but the U.S. will surely be looking to add more flexibility to the agreement, avoiding the pitfalls we faced this year. One bad season can really affect the fleet, so tuna boats need to have the option to assess their situation and change their outlook for the next season.
Complete withdrawal from the treaty would devastate the U.S. fleet, so expect to hear about the treaty from now until its renewal.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Monday, 07 March 2016
As a creative English major turned fishing news editor, I was really excited the first time I heard about the FisherPoets Gathering.
Being an industry outsider, I never thought about fishing and art mixing in any way, shape or form. Not that I thought the two couldn’t go hand in hand; I had just never experienced it.
Boy, do fishermen crank out some beautiful words!
I first attended a FisherPoets reading at Pacific Marine Expo back in November and loved it. I didn’t attend the annual gathering in Astoria, Ore., unfortunately, but there are some great photos of the event on the FisherPoets website and from the local media.
Over 95 poets took to the stage during the gathering and many of them were new to the scene.
Corey Arnold, a Portland-based photographer who has worked with National Fisherman, added a new element to the gathering, projecting photos and video he had gathered from the back of his pick-up truck at the side of a gallery building.
While reading about the gathering is no supplement for being there and listening to all of the poetry, there is one poem posted on the website that really sums up what these poets are all about.
The poem, titled “Where We’re From,” is a collaborative poem by the attendees. Bits and pieces of a lot of individual and group poems were combined to create this one.
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Where We’re From
We’re from the Sears catalogue
with only three choices,
from frosted flakes and Icy Straits.
We’re the coast plains, the Delaware River,
train whistles, and fog horns in the night.
We’re from the smokehouse out at Chenega,
tidepools, salmon berries and glistening sweat, a live net
of flotsam and jetsam. We’re from Québécois,
meatballs, ice cold glasses of coca cola,
white elephants and gnarled-up hands. We’re from
traders and travelers, standing up straight,
thrifty and sensible ones, the good group
that puts down roots. We’re: hold your horses,
clean your plate, trust no one, and help your sister.
We’re from Lutheran potlucks, holy water
washing hands clean, the people who turned left,
and prayed about it. We’re from
tide-water Virginia, spaghetti, sour dough
French bread, sugar plums and pickled herring.
From Friday nights in Buffalo, the dance where out parents met,
we’re sin, and soiled women, and the cold swim dad took.
We’re from men who don’t cry in public,
from Edna Bay where photos and dusty books still sit.
We’re scrapbooks with black pages,
our origins long forgotten,
the last of our kin and kind.
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 02 March 2016
When the Gloucester shrimp season kicked off on Dec. 1, 1985, the whiting boats switching over from a late season realized that they had company on their grounds.
Two 90’ scallopers — the O’Neal’s pride and the Jake O’Neal — had come up from Virginia. O’Neal vessels weren’t completely foreign to Gloucester fishermen; they usually came up for the summer scallop season. But this time was different.
Instead of scallop dredges, they sported southern shrimp gear. Cue the talks of southern invasion. Rumor had it that that the two boats were scouts for another two dozen O’Neal vessels that were looking to switch out of an uncertain scallop fishery.
As you know, fishermen tend to be protective of “their” section of the ocean and outsiders aren’t always welcome.
The O’Neal vessels became the hottest talk of the town. One of the two boats ended up leaving, but the Jake O’Neal stayed put. Locals gave Captain George Jones the silent treatment, his radio calls met with silence most days. It wasn’t rare for him to get the middle finger instead of a hello from passing boats.
Despite debate over whether or not the Jake O’Neal’s southern gear was fit for northern waters, they were landing a respectable amount of shrimp.
National Fisherman Field Editor M.L. Edwards went along with Capt. Jones one day and watched him pull 3,800 pounds of clean shrimp. He was averaging about the same as Gloucester fishermen.
Denny O’Neal, manager of Seaford, Va., shrimp company that owns the fleet said they weren’t going to send any more boats right away.
“I could send another boat or two; I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “I think the resource is there, but we’re just learning the bottom.”
Gloucester fishermen let out a sigh of relief.
Over time, the hostile attitude settled down into one of neutral wariness. After all, most of those Gloucester fishermen troubled by the thought of outsiders had worked off the coast of Maine and Cape May, N.J., where they had been the outsiders.
Always remember where you’ve been and where you might end up next season. You never know when you'll end up in someone else's water.Add a comment Add a comment
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Ray Hilborn, a University of Washington professor of aquatic and fishery sciences, recently received the 2016 International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress in Busan, South Korea.
The award was given to Hilborn by the World Council of Fisheries Societies’ International Fisheries Science Prize Committee in recognition of his 40-year career of “highly diversified research and publication in support of global fisheries science and conservation.”Read more...
Legislators from Connecticut and Massachusetts complained about the current “out-of-date allocation formula” in black sea bass, summer flounder and scup fisheries in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this week.Read more...