National Fisherman


If you’ve ever wondered what life might be like if we developed underwater settlements, I’ve got bad news for you.

Well, I have bad news for you that you might have missed 50 years ago.

2016 0203 coastlines underwaterlivingWhile looking through back issues for the Fishing Back When section in the March issue of National Fisherman, I came across an article from 1966 that explored the idea of humans colonizing the ocean. Pretty cool idea, huh?

Apparently, it would be terrible.

According to experienced diver and underwater researcher Prof. John E. Bardach, Earth’s oceans, much like space, would be “hostile to extended residence.”

“Underwater existence is by no means as simple and easy as optimistic reports would have it — nor, in most places we will want to go for economic reasons, as beautiful as a Jacques Cousteau film would make it seem,” he said.

He said no underwater location would be a satisfactory place to live and that we should stick to looking to the ocean for food, minerals, recreation and research only.

According to Bardach, the cold temperatures and poor visibility would be issues even in nearshore waters. The pressure alone in deeper waters make free diving impossible.

“OK,” I thought. “All of that seems fair.”

But toward the end of this article, Bardach admits that advancing the idea of underwater habitats would be possible with significant resources.

“If we spent as much money on the project as we do some space exploration, we probably could develop an artificial gill with sufficient surface to enable us to breathe underwater,” he said.

He notes that it would likely be large and unwieldy though.

I don’t need to tell you how far technology has come since 1966. Bardach made these comments before the moon landing, so the means we have available to us now are obviously leaps and bounds ahead of what he imagined.

The thought of life underwater is interesting, even if we’re just talking about science fiction. This article probably jumped out at me because I recently watched “The Martian” during a cross-country flight. (No spoilers, but Matt Damon is trying to survive alone on Mars and tries to grow his own food.) The idea of colonizing Mars is something people talk about today, but the biggest problem is the planet’s lack of water sources.

Guess where we wouldn’t have that problem? The ocean, duh.

Space is cool and all, but I think it’s about time we started shifting some of that money into developing those artificial gills that Bardach mentioned.

After all, there aren’t any fish in space.

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2016 0201 YFS blogThe 2016 Young Fishermen's Summit. Samuel Hill photo.Fishermen are a hardworking bunch of people, there’s no question about that. Last week, I had the opportunity to see that work ethic first-hand. But I wasn’t on a fishing boat. I was at the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit in Juneau, Alaska.

This conference is put on by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program and is meant to serve as a comprehensive education program for young fishermen looking to break into the industry or expand their existing operation.

More than 70 fishermen from 30 communities throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest gathered to share their expertise and experiences. This next generation of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry discussed and learned about Alaska’s role in the U.S. and world market, the management of state and federal fisheries by the government, insurance, debt management and a slew of other must-know topics.

The attendees listened to speakers from prominent organizations and spent the week growing their network across the state. These fishermen might be experts at catching fish in their own fishery, but there’s a lot more to running a boat.

While most of the fishermen in attendance were Alaskans, they were from different walks of life. Some were looking for info on how to lease or buy a permit, while others had just purchased their first vessel. Some sought help working on processor relations and others were looking to market directly to consumers in their area and abroad.

The knowledge these young fishermen had about their fisheries and their dedication and passion for the business were inspiring.

The summit was an intense three days and much too complex to sum up here, so look for my feature on the summit in the next issue of National Fisherman!

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Have you ever uploaded a family photo or crew shot to Facebook and had the website know who was in the picture? That’s their advanced facial recognition software that keeps tabs on our facial features in tagged photos for quick and easy photo sharing.

This software is convenient (albeit a little creepy) and makes sharing or organizing photos much easier.

2016 0120 rightwhaledataScreenshot of the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog.Now imagine uploading a photo of a whale you took out on your boat last week and having Facebook ask, “Would you like to tag Quasimodo in this photo?”

That’s (sort of) what members of the right-whale research community and data scientists have been working on.

Christin Khan, a biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center is part of a team that flies aerial surveys off the East Coast to look for and track North Atlantic right whales. They track individual whales by their distinct features and help keep tabs on them in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. The catalog includes a page for each tracked whale that includes photos, sketches of identifying marks and any other pertinent biological notes (think your ‘about’ section on your own profile).

And yes, a lot of the whales have names. Javelin (No. 1112) and Pegleg (No. 1217) were my personal favorites, for the record.

The catalog is very detailed, but identifying a whale can still take up a lot of time using this system. Khan got the idea of creating an algorithm to identify whales after scrolling through her Facebook page one day.

After looking for help in online forums, a team of data scientists created an algorithm that could identify whales with 87 percent accuracy. The software and application for this algorithm has yet to be developed, and Khan is looking for support in the community.

Khan’s search for the right supporters was detailed in “Making Facebook for Whales” published in the Atlantic just last week.

I don’t think we’ll be naming the world’s salmon anytime soon, but the amount of collaboration that went into this project is impressive and is a good example of industry innovation. Without having spend long hours digging through the catalog just to identify a whale, researchers can do a bit more research. By streamlining one tedious process, the entire field will be able to work more efficiently.

Also, it might be time to start brainstorming cool whale names in your spare time.

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As a 20-something college student, I didn’t start thinking about where my food comes from until recently. Big-name supermarkets seemed like the only option financially and, aside from an occasional trip to the local farmer’s market, that’s where I bought all of my groceries.

Since I’ve been working at National Fisherman (and realized that Domino’s pizza doesn’t count as a well-balanced meal), I’ve been thinking more about what my food goes through before it winds up on my plate.

0113 coastlines seafoodRachael Voorhees photo.This week I spoke with Tyson Fick, the communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, about the recent events regarding Alaska pollock. Now, legally, only pollock from Alaskan waters can be labeled as “Alaska pollock,” fighting lower-quality Russian products that wind up on the market bearing the state’s name.

As a consumer with little knowledge of the seafood industry prior to being hired at NF, I was a little taken aback. They were allowed to do that? Isn’t that lying?

Thankfully, that isn’t allowed anymore. But after talking to Fick about this from a marketing perspective, I realized the battle isn’t over. He says ASMI is set to work on a few educational campaigns for consumers.

Just because it’s easier to pick out Alaska seafood now, doesn’t mean consumers are going to be or are thinking about labels at all.

My girlfriend prepared some salmon for dinner last week and I asked her where it was from. “Hannaford,” she said. That’s one of the biggest supermarket chains in the Northeast.

Just a few weeks ago at a family Christmas party, a little tray of shrimp was plopped down in front of me. The week before I had written a blog post about the Associated Press investigation that traced slave-peeled shrimp from Thailand to the shelves of major U.S. retailers. I didn’t want to damper the holiday spirit by discussing slavery, but I couldn’t help thinking about it. This is in central Maine, by the way, not fresh-off-the-boat-seafood coastal Maine. If there was any venison at the table, I would’ve known the deer was probably shot by my neighbor.

There has been a lot of backlash because of that AP report, but not as much as there should be. Seafood Source confirmed yesterday that some U.S. supermarket chains are boycotting Thailand shrimp now. But it sounds like the chain Seafood Source spoke with, left unnamed in the story, chose to do so as a PR precaution, not because of demands from their customers.

The retailer noted that “only two customers asked about the Thai slavery allegations.” I think it’s safe to assume that the rest of their customers weren’t silently protesting and went about buying their shrimp as usual.

Convenience is king in U.S. markets, and consumers can be quick to pick up the first generically labeled seafood product they see most days. The difference in quality and the businesses behind the product may seem obvious to anyone involved in the industry, but the average consumer just doesn’t think about it.

Hopefully the Alaska pollock name restrictions and the revealing of Thailand’s crueler labor practices means selling more seafood caught by U.S. fishermen. But we can’t assume that will happen because of one bill or news story. Be sure to share your expertise whenever you get that chance and make people start thinking about where their seafood comes from.

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For the New Bedford dragger Venture I, trouble started shortly after daybreak on Jan. 9 more than 100 miles south of Nantucket where a winter gale was running them ragged.

The skipper was having a hard time controlling the vessel, when huge waves crashed through the pilothouse. He sustained multiple fractures in his left leg and one of his six crew members received deep cuts on his face from broken glass. The waves continued.

2016 0104 coastlines russian rescueFacing an emergency situation at sea, the crew had to rely on another for survival. While this isn’t a rare occurrence on the water, this rescue was anything but typical. The rescuers didn’t know the troubled crew, and they weren’t from a nearby port. They weren’t even American. They were Russians, and this was 1966. Half a world away, America and Russia were opposing forces in the Vietnam War.

Soviet-American cooperation wasn’t unheard of on Georges Bank, but this rescue involved an unusual amount of communication and maneuvering.

Without power, lights or radio, the crew were left foundering until the boat was spotted by the 376-foot factory ship Zelenogorsk of the Russian fishing fleet. Capt. Tschist Jakov, after determining that the vessel was in distress, pumped oil to calm the waves and shot a line to the Venture I so the crews could pass messages back and forth in an empty bottle. He took the injured men aboard and arranged for another Russian vessel to tow the Venture I.

Communication was difficult. Through talks with the Russian Embassy and the Coast Guard Commandment in Washington, D.C., a rendezvous was arranged and all of the men were transferred to Coast Guard vessels.

A New Bedford Standard Times editorial said of the rescue: “Everybody here knows that if the men afloat do not help each other, inevitably some will not come back. Thus, the man at the lunch counter the other day asked, ‘If they can help each other at sea, why are we at each other’s throats in Vietnam and the United Nations?”

The editorial staff wrote that the answer is bigger than the question: “Perhaps it is because politicians, not sailors, run the countries of the world.”

The fishing family is strong through thick and thin.

And, of course, as soon as the rescued crew was off their deck, those Russian vessels went right back to fishing.

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On Monday, the Associated Press reported that shrimp processed in plants using forced and child labor in Thailand was on the shelves in U.S. stores.

Tacking on to a string of investigative stories on slavery in the Thai seafood industry, AP reporters describe the experience of Tin Nyo Win — or Number 31 as he was called — and his experience working in the Gig Peeling Factory. There he was forced, along with his wife, to rip the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.

2015 1216 shripFor 16 hours a day he was forced to work. If he did not, he was beaten.

In recent months, Thai businesses and government have promised to begin cleaning up the country’s $7 billion seafood export industry, which is reportedly filled with cruel and unethical treatment of workers.

But AP reporters were able to track shrimp from this factory that enslaved hundreds of workers to Thai exporting companies and tracked the producer globally using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports.

According to those records, the shrimp that resulted from slave labor made their way into major stores and retailers in the United States, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden. They also entered well-known seafood and pet food brand products, like Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast.

Many of those businesses immediately issued statements condemning the labor practices described in the AP report, some noting they had been assured by their supplier, Thai Union, that their shrimp was not processed by slaves.

Meanwhile, Thai Union admitted it didn’t know the source of all its shrimp.

The company promised to exclusively use in-house labor starting Jan. 1.

AP reports on Thailand’s seafood industry have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars' worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws in the past year. The problem is, cleaning up an entire industry full of corruption is going to take time. We can read the PR statements for days on end, but that doesn’t mean anything is being done to stop these terrible practices quickly.

U.S. consumers don’t have the political power to stop these injustices, but they can affect those companies through their purchasing power. Despite these stories of slave labor being told more often and more prominently in the media, there is still a disconnect for consumers.

As fishermen and other members of the industry, it’s important to share these stories with people who might not be so in touch with seafood news.

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Unfortunately, National Fisherman didn’t run a Crew Shots issue back in the ‘80s, so reading through the archives to put together the Fishing Back When section wasn’t as fun as looking through the new issue.

2015 1202 FBWscallopsafetyInstead of flipping through the fun photos from crews across the country, I stumbled upon a story in the January 1986 issue that focused on Florida’s struggling calico scallop fleet.

The fleet was dealing with a fluctuating market, unpredictable production and the regular fish politics, but they were also plagued by accidents at sea. In the first seven months of 1985, 13 boats in the fleet capsized. Stability issues ran rampant.

A team from the Florida Institute of Technology completed a two-year study on the fleet to figure out what was happening on these boats. One of the problems was that most of the boats used in the central Florida scallop fleet were old shrimp trawlers purchased from Gulf shrimpers when the industry was critically depressed. Those vessels were safe for shrimping because shrimp would’ve been stored below deck. The hulls hadn’t been modified to take on the large deckloads that came with scalloping.

Shoreside facilities required the catch to be carried on deck for off-loading and efforts to find an alternative means had not been successful.

These scallopers filled the decks, too. Most captains and crew said excessive loads were necessary to make any money. It turns out that these vessels were bringing in plenty of sand with them as well, adding to the weight on deck.

“It’s overfishing,” said Eddie Moore, a vessel owner with eight years of experience in the industry. “If you bring up sand, you just have to limit your load, like it or not.”

In the end, experts decided that human error was the source of the problems. There wasn’t anything happening that wasn’t avoidable.

“Nowadays, these guys punch on the autopilot,” said Moore. “That’s what I see as the main cause for more accidents.”

In Washington, D.C., U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Gordon Pliche, manager of the Fishing Vessel Safety Task Force, agreed that the men on the boat are ultimately responsible.

“The situation is that many, many operators of these vessels don’t even know the most basic rules of the road as they apply to maritime operations,” he said. They’re great at catching scallops; it’s just that the people using the boats do not seem to understand the way they must use a vessel that hasn’t been designed for their fishery.”

Using a vessel designed for another fishery could save you a buck or two, but you have to know how to handle it. In this situation, men were pushing their boats beyond limits in a very dangerous environment.

The study led to new Coast Guard guidelines and education programs that corrected the stability issues in the long run.

What this fleet learned the hard way about stability has likely saved fishing lives in the last 30 years.

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This year was my first time at Pacific Marine Expo and I was determined to hit the show floor running and soak up everything the show had to offer.

PME15 showfloorI’ve been working with National Fisherman for several months now and have gotten a feel for the industry, but traveling to the West Coast and being smack dab in the middle of the fishing family is a whole different world.

Walking the show floor, it was rare I made it down an aisle without witnessing a reunion of two old friends, an association representative pouring their heart out over a fishery or that hardened handshake that only exists between a salesman and seasoned captain. There were nothing but happy faces throughout the event center, although most of those might have been a result of the free drinks each day at the beer garden.

Keith Colburn, captain of the F/V Wizard and one of the leading men on “Deadliest Catch,” shared his stories on safety, explaining that PFDs were always mandatory on his boat. Despite his profanity-laced barking on the show, Colburn genuinely cares for his crew. Only the riveting, dangerous clips are used for air, of course.

Several members of Chix Who Fish, a community of female fishing advocates, sat on a panel to discuss the group’s origins, drawing in quite a large and supporting crowd. They talked about their experiences collaborating with Grundéns and testing their new line for women. Fishing is seen as a man’s game in a lot of eyes, so it was wonderful to see these tough ladies get so much support from the audience and to hear their stories.

Having never been on a working fishing vessel myself, watching the Fisherman of the Year contest was the most exciting part of the show. I don’t think I’ve seen hands move faster that the fisherman who took the stage on Friday afternoon.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Highliner dinner, where National Fisherman presented a new class of Highliners with awards and shared their accomplishments. I got to sit with 2014 Highliner Russell Sherman and hear one of his survival stories firsthand, which was equally exciting and terrifying. It felt like being a part of industry history to watch Highliners of years past rise from their seats to welcome the incoming class.

The editorial team is back in Portland, Maine, now and the majority of has gotten a full night’s sleep since running around for three days in Seattle. On our flight back home, I was relieved to get back to my apartment and relax for the day. But now that I’m rested, I’m all ready to get back to the show next year.

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If you think your fishing skills will stack up against the best in the nation, put them to the test in National Fisherman’s Fisherman of the Year competition.

FishermanOfTheYear image009The deck of a fishing boat, no matter the size, is a complex and demanding workplace. This contest forces fisherman to bring their sea-skills to the showroom floor and compete for the title, currently held by Bristol Bay fisherman Eike Ten Kley of the Iliamna Fishing Co.

Competitors will test their abilities in net mending, knot tying and rope splicing before the winners of those heats race to see who can slip into a survival suit the fastest. The winner of each of the three first-round competitions will take home $100. The race winner will take home another $100, a National Fisherman fleece vest and other prizes. All contestants take home a t-shirt.

Join us in the keynote area at 1 p.m. on Friday to fight for first place or be a spectator at one of Pacific Marine Expo’s premier events.

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You definitely won’t want to miss this year’s keynote speaker.

Keith Colburn, captain of the Bering Sea crab boat Wizard and longtime lead on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,” will be taking the stage this year to share his advice for success in the fishing industry’s hypercompetitive business environment.

CaptainKeith ColburnColburn got on a one-way flight to Alaska in 1985 with $50 and a little fire in him. His thirst for adventure landed him on the deck of a fishing boat, and he has been in the business ever since.

On top of being a fisherman, Colburn is also a classically trained chef and spokesman. He attributes his success to a strong work ethic and solid core values.

Join us and Keith Colburn in the keynote area at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Inside the Industry

The following was released by the Maine Department of Marine Resources on Jan. 22:

The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced an emergency regulation that will support the continued rebuilding effort in Maine’s scallop fishery. The rule, effective January 23, 2016, will close the Muscle Ridge Area near South Thomaston and the Western Penobscot Bay Area.

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Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which governs commercial and recreational fishing in the state, got a new boss in January. Charlie Melancon, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislator, was appointed to the job by the state’s new governor, John Bel Edwards.

Although much of his non-political work in the past has centered on the state’s sugar cane industry, Melancon said he is confident that other experience, including working closely with fishermen when in Congress, has prepared him well for this new challenge.

Read more...
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