National Fisherman


SamHillSamuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman.



In 1985, exactly 142 years from the day the ill-fated Isidore set sail off the coast of Maine, an Ogunquit fisherman pulled a chunk of rudder out of the ocean that he believed was a part of the ship that crashed just off the York coast.

Digging deeper into the story and the legend, while combing through the archives for our Fishing Back When page, I discovered an especially eerie side to this sinking. A lot of the crew members had a bad feeling about the ship before it set out; and as it turned out, they should’ve trusted their gut.

2015 1007 IsidoreA feature on the legend of the Isidore wreck was included in the Nov. 1985 issue of National Fisherman.On Nov. 26, 1842, fisherman Tom King dreamed he was standing on the deck of the Isidore looking toward the shore, where he saw seven coffins laid side-by-side on the beach. He called out, to no one in particular, asking what the coffins were for. According to the legend, “For the crew of the Isidore,” was the reply he heard.

That same week, other members of the Isidore’s crew encountered bad omens while preparing. Dogs howled outside the home of John Crowder for three nights in a row. Paul Grant also dreamt about coffins.

On Nov. 30, these three men, along with 12 other crew members, boarded the Isidore for her maiden voyage to New Orleans from Kennebunk, Maine. That night the crew faced one of the worst snowstorms to hit New England that century, and the crew perished eight miles from their port of sail.

Some retellings of the legend say only seven bodies were recovered — seven bodies for the seven coffins King had seen in his dreams.

There doesn’t seem to be a single member of the crew who felt safe getting on the boat that day.

According to the tale, crew member William Harding stood on the deck of the ship hours before it set sail and said to a bystander, “I wish she was 1,000 miles at sea and I on shore.”

Some say it was the captain’s fault — that he was cursed. According to some accounts, his first ship also went down on its maiden voyage. There are reports that his wife demanded her burial plot be planned away from his because he was so unlucky.

Others say the boat was doomed from its creation. They had a tough time getting the Isidore into the water the day of her launching, a terrible omen for any superstitious fisherman.

No one really knows what happened at sea.

In 2011, Ken Young turned the rudder over to the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit after it had sat it his home for more than 40 years.

Young said he never considered himself an expert on the wreck or a superstitious person, but when he found the rudder and learned more about the legend in ’85, he had some words of wisdom to share with National Fisherman.

“Some people just don’t understand the sea,” he said. “They don’t understand that you have to respect it.”

Who knows whether the ship was destined to be destroyed or was just caught off guard by the storm. Was the captain fatally unlucky or just made some bad judgment calls about weather conditions?

Whatever you believe, do your best to be prepared, stay safe and respect the sea.

respect the sea.
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As part of the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival last weekend, the fisherman’s association there took on a daunting task: making a giant sandwich.

2015 0923 lobsterrollpaperThe front page of The Guardian circulating throughout Prince Edward Island.
A lobster roll to be specific, and they sure did succeed. The final product measured in at 79 feet and 1 inch long and the chefs and volunteers (needed to carry the enormous bun around) celebrated their giant lunch, which reportedly fed about 300 people.

The roll also was made with 75 pounds of lobster donated by the fishermen’s association, as well as over five gallons of mayonnaise, 24 lemons and five pounds of red onion. It was prepared by three chefs: Charlottetown’s Ross Munro, Food Network Canada’s Lynn Crawford and Matt Nolot from Indiana.

“Partying, shucking and shellfish. It’s great,” said Munro in an interview with the Guardian. “I’m very happy, it’s always fun to bring something different to the Island.”

Some organizers thought the roll was long enough to earn the Guinness world record. But before the stamp of approval could be made, their story circulated online and in Canadian newspapers.

Fishermen in Shediac, New Brunswick, who held the record with a 72-foot-4-inch lobster roll in 2014, took issue with the record-breaking claim.

2015 0923 lobsterroll2Measuring the 85-foot 6-inch roll made during Shediac's Lobster Festival. Shediac Chamber of Commerce photo.While it didn’t hit the newsstands as hard, a behemoth of a roll was made during Shediac’s Lobster Festival in July of this year at 85 feet 6 inches. That’s a whole 6 feet longer than the Prince Edward Island sandwich.

While the battle for longest sandwich might be stirring up some bad blood between lobster lovers, leaders in the community are having fun with it.

“I am happy to see a rivalry between two maritime communities,” Pierre Cormier, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Shediac, told CBC News.

In the end, neither town is getting in the record books just yet, at least not the Guinness Book of World Records. That organization doesn’t have a lobster-specific sandwich record. And the longest sandwich on record — at 2,411 feet 5 inches long — was made by a group in Lebanon in 2011.

So North America has a long way to go if we want to be known for oversized sandwiches.

And if you think all this talk about giant lobster rolls is a tad ridiculous, stay out of the serving line when one of these towns cooks up something special again next year.

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Last fall the Asbury Park Press reported on the first archeological expedition of the shipwreck Robert J. Walker. The wreck dates back to 1860, when the government survey vessel collided with the schooner Fanny and subsequently sank, killing 20 of the 73 people onboard.

2015 0824 coastlines shipwreckyoutubeUnderwater cameras explore the Eregli E. Called the most trawled shipwreck in the Black Sea, it sank 2,300 years ago. Youtube screenshot.The ship’s final underwater resting place remained a mystery for 100 years until a lobsterman caught his traps on the wreck. Since wreck sites are known for being productive, the lobsterman sold the coordinates, which were about 10 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., to a local head boat captain for $25. Today, the 132-foot iron steamer is listed on the National Record of Historic Places. That means it’s protected from salvagers and treasure hunters but open to diving and fishing.

In some places, however, fishing has damaged historic shipwrecks sites, leading to some researchers calling for making these sites into marine protected areas. A paper recently published in Marine Policy by Jason Krumholz and Michael Brennan makes the point that since shipwrecks create artificial reefs protecting them benefits both historical/societal good and the commercial fishing industry by contributing to higher fish populations. In fact, they found that shipwreck sites that were heavily damaged tended to have a lower abundance of fish.

The researchers studied shipwrecks in the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean seas, where a 100-year-old wreck would seem modern compared to the ancient vessels in these waters. The damage from trawl fishing can be devastating to these ancient wrecks. In an earlier interview with National Geographic, Brennan, an expedition leader with Robert Ballard’s group, described how trawling damaged the Eregli E, the most trawled shipwreck in the Black Sea. It is 2,300 years old.

“The site had been so disturbed, it uncovered materials from beneath the sediment, including human bones,” he told National Geographic. “ The bones had been preserved in the mud, but then had been ripped out by trawls and that’s why we actually could see them. When we returned this year the artifacts we had seen the year before were either further damaged or gone, including the bones that were completely missing, again due to trawling.”

The perils of wreck fishing have been well documented in National Fisherman. Those who dare to fish near wrecks can hope to be rewarded with an abundant catch, but they also risk losing their nets if they get too close and the lines snare on the gnarled wreckage below. Not to mention, shipwrecks are also usually found in waters that were dangerous enough to take them down in the first place. (However, some of the ancient sites in the study were well worn down and in channels that had shifted, which may have contributed to why they were so heavily fished.)

Krumholz and Brennan’s proposal makes sense. But good ideas don’t always turn into sensible management policies. It’s interesting to note that in their research they did not see any difference in fish abundance if a site had been fished or not. In other words, it was the destruction of the habitat created by the artificial reef/shipwreck that mattered. So I think it also makes sense that if anything develops from this research, the focus should be on greater protection of wrecks/artificial reefs that are in actual danger, and hopefully not a new MPA that simply eliminates all fishing in the area.

Beyond that, I confess I’m totally fascinated by underwater photos of shipwrecks and deep-sea creatures. If you are too and want to see more of the work of Ballard’s team, visit the expedition website:

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I’m researching a story on dead boats. Certain boats, think of the many fiberglass boats used in the recreational industry, only last so long, and then it’s expensive to get rid of them. They have to be taken apart by hand, and once that’s done, most of the materials are only fit for the landfill. In places like Florida and Michigan, abandoned boats litter backyards and canals. Sometimes a boat owner simply files off the serial numbers and leaves the boat to sink. You can’t give these boats away.

2015 0716 Coastlines DeadBoats“I hope they don’t tell me who it was because I’ll get my own justice,” the understandably angry Rhode Island fisherman Bob Cerenzia told a TV news crew after his boat, Elizabeth Victoria, was set on fire and sank Friday morning. WPRI screenshot.There’s more than one way to destroy a boat, which is apparently what somebody wanted to do in Narragansett, R.I., where three commercial fishing boats were set on fire before dawn at the Galilee State Pier last Friday.

According to the Coast Guard, responders arrived at the pier after receiving a report of a fishing vessel fire at 3 a.m. on Friday, June 10. One fire heavily damaged the vessels Gator and Blue Thunder while about a mile away on a different dock, a second fire sank the Elizabeth Victoria. The cleanup and investigation are ongoing, but investigators are already saying they believe the fires are suspicious.

Three destroyed fishing boats also means the destruction of three small businesses. That loss is made even worse by the loss of income that comes with it. Summer is peak fishing season. Each day these fishermen don’t have a boat working, they lose money.

There’s no walking away in this business, however. Less than a week after the fires, two of the fishermen are determined to get back the water. Ryan Labriole is raising money through a Go Fund Me page titled “Can’t burn me down” to restore his boat, the Gator. According to the page, Labriole previously worked as an offshore skipper, which meant he would be out fishing for a week at a time. He bought the dayboat to spend more time with his 6-year-old daughter, Annika. When the boat is restored he plans to rename it Anni’s Gator after her.

Squid and fluke fisherman Bob Cherenzia’s boat, the Elizabeth Victoria, was a complete loss. He is heartbroken but not discouraged, according to his daughter, who wrote about what the loss of his boat means on a separate Go Fund Me page. “We need to get my dad back into action,” she writes.

“Owning a boat is not like owning a car or a house — this really is his livelihood. He has had the Elizabeth Victoria for as long as I can remember — this is where he built his business and chances are, you've eaten some of his catch. Off season is a tough time for commercial fishermen, especially when they cannot work to their potential in the summer, and whether you share this story, help us find whoever did this or donate a $1, we need all of the help that we can get.”

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The most recent death was on June 22. George McBeth, 56, a contractor from Santa Rosa, was about 150 yards offshore when he became ill and couldn’t be revived. He was the fifth person to die this year diving for abalone off the Northern California coast.

But as one of the “strongest divers on the California coast,” according to his wife, he had more experience than others, who are usually vacationers with little experience with local ocean conditions.

2015 0709 abalone photo 1Though California banned commercial abalone diving in the 1990s, poaching continues to threaten the species. NOAA photo

Case in point: Three of the divers who died in April were part of a group that had rented a vacation home nearby. They drowned after becoming trapped in rough waves in a narrow channel surrounded by rock outcroppings. Nate Buck, a lifeguard for California’s Department of Parks and Recreation who patrols that area, told the San Francisco Chronicle that more experienced divers—usually not locals—tend to avoid the water when it’s rough.

“The rougher the conditions, the less skilled the divers tend to be,” he said.

California banned all commercial fishing of abalone in the 1990s, but recreational diving for it is still allowed north of San Francisco from April to November, but with restrictions. Divers, who aren’t allowed oxygen tanks, hold their breath and weigh themselves down to reach the mollusks on the ocean floor.

The ban was protested by commercial divers, who predicted there would be no abalone industry. In a sense, they were wrong. While legal commercial catches have been banned, the black market is another matter. Poaching is a problem that comes to the surface on a regular basis by way of high-profiles busts (one case in 2013 netted 13 people alone). Most recently, in April, two San Francisco poachers were sentenced to three years of probation fined $20,000, and ordered to serve 240 hours of community service after being caught with 59 red abalones (the limit is three).

The year before, a commercial diver from Santa Barbara was found with four lives abalones onboard his boat with his legal sea urchin catch. He paid for it too, not only was he fined $15,000, but he also lost his commercial fishing license for life. 

It’s hard not to imagine a better way. Could rules for the recreational fishery be amended to allow a limited number of licenses with applicants showing some technical skill—or even an endorsement of new divers from older, more experienced locals? I realize that kind of change would limit the number of divers, but it’s hard to be fair when you’re dealing with a limited resource.  

And in some ways that limited number could be a good thing, with divers known to each other and (hopefully) invested in protecting a local resource. Perhaps, with such changes, a limited amount of commercial fishing could be allowed too?

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When I attended a couple sessions on aquaculture at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum this spring, there was a lot of excitement about the future of the industry in Maine.  It’s understandable. Thanks to its well-known lobster industry, Maine has made itself into a brand for sustainable (and delicious) seafood, it’s close to major markets like Boston and New York, and can boast clean waters: In other words, it’s a marketer’s dream come true.

It’s not just Maine, but on all coastlines that aquaculture is growing or at least touted as the next big thing. Thanks to new rules allowing aquaculture in federal waters, offshore mussel farms have been approved off Southern New England and California. Additionally, oyster aquaculture has helped maintain watermen on Chesapeake Bay; and there continue to be yearly predictions that finfish farming will start up in the Gulf of Mexico.

But aquaculture’s success does not just depend on reaching big-city markets, providing jobs and funding farms. It also has to be compatible with its surrounding environment. In places like Southeast Asia, for example, overcrowded shrimp farms have not just hurt the ecosystem, but also led to diseases like early mortality syndrome that have devastated the industry in some areas. Even in places where best practices are followed carefully, there are understandable risks in introducing a non-native species (though it’s important to note that some filter-feeders like mussels can actually be good for the water).

A recent initiative is trying to better understand that risk. Researchers in Canada have started a three-year experiment tracking escaped farmed salmon from open-water fish pens. The project records the behavior of escaped salmon from farms on the south coast of Newfoundland that have been tagged and released into the wild.

“What we do is simulate escapes,” explained Dounia Hamoutene, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a video about the project (above). “We have a certain number of fish that we tag, and then we have deployed receivers in some strategic areas, and we basically detect whether they went through that area or not.”

Some of the questions the researchers are trying to answer through this work are where the salmon go, how fast they are going, whether they are reaching rivers, and if they are able to be recaptured.

The biggest concern is what effect such escapees will have on native salmon if they interbreed: Will such interbreeding alter the genetic makeup of the native species and hurt their chances of being successful in their native environment? According to the researchers, this information will help them better manage the industry.

Of course, I’m also wondering what happens if they find out that escapees threaten the survival of local salmon? What then? But at least this research acknowledges that aquaculture can have an effect on its environment and tries to find out what that might be.

Caption: Canadian researchers are tracking what happens when salmon escape from open-water pens. Youtube screenshot.


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When U.S. fishing stocks are deemed fished beyond sustainable levels, it means a cut in fishing and a shrinking number of commercial fishing boats. In some places fleets face extinction, like in Maine, New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts, where the loss of an iconic species, cod, could mean the end of the inshore fleet.

2015 0611 Coastlines ChinaIn response to dwindling inshore stocks, China’s fishing fleets have expanded so they can reach fisheries around the world. YouTube screenshot.So it is interesting to see a vastly different approach to diminished fish stocks on the other side of the globe. In China, the loss of nearshore fisheries from overexploitation and pollution has led to the expansion of fishing fleets. The number of fishing boats is not just expanding but rapidly so to reach fishing stocks around the world.  

China’s demand for fish is huge. Not only is it the largest consumer of fish, it is also the world’s largest producer and exporter. In response to that demand, the country has invested in a global fleet of more than 2,000 boats that fish around the world. Though it reported an annual catch of 368,000 tons, a European Parliament study estimated the annual catch is around 4.6 million tons, mostly fished near Africa but also near Asia, Central and South America, and Antarctica.

The scariest thing to me is the inability to cooperate with other countries. In a book about the contested waters, “The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia,” author Bill Hayton recounts problems with disputed territory there. In the South China Sea, China has been using its growing world dominance to assert its rights to resources on waters that have traditionally belonged to nations like Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

That of course has led to problems with fish stocks. According to Hayton, the Philippines provides a quarter of the canned tuna on American supermarket shelves. The recorded catch grew from 870,000 tons in 2001 to 1.9 million in 2008, but it has since dropped to 1.6 million in 2010 — not because of decreased demand but decreased fish.

For all the millions who depend on a healthy tuna supply, an agreement to jointly manage the tuna has been blocked by the region’s contested waters. The countries can’t even agree on an investigation to determine the health of the fishery.

“All countries around the sea depend upon cheap supplies of fish to feed their populations,” he writes. “In the absence of any agreement to safeguard the stocks, increasing short-term exploitation is putting all countries in the region at risk of a major food crisis. If China and its neighbors can’t agree on basic steps to avoid the risk of starvation, how likely are they to reach agreement on wider issues of sovereignty and territory?”

Our ability to manage our shared fishing stocks can provide lessons on how to manage (or not manage) other valuable resources, like water in California. In a best-case scenario, well-managed fisheries could be a role model to the rest of the world of how to do it right. In a worst-case scenario, the decrease of fish populations from bad management and an inability to agree can be a sign of troubles to come.

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The case for eating local seafood is an easy one to make: First, you know what you're getting is sustainably caught and healthy, and you get to support your local fishermen and the industry that relies on their productivity.

2015 0604 Coastlines Shrimp “Maine” shrimp from Canada. Melissa Wood photoSo what should the consumer do when a local fishery is shut down, like the New England northern shrimp closure, now in its second consecutive year? Consumers, like me, should switch to another local species, right? But what if I can find a similar version of the same product, caught from a nearby fishery that happens to be across an international border? What I’m trying to ask is, is it OK if I buy Canadian shrimp?

I found the Canadian pandalus borealis frozen by the pound at a great local seafood market, Coldwater Seafood, in Stonington, Maine. The shrimp is essentially the same product I would be buying if the Maine shrimp fishery were open, though for $12.99 a pound it's also more expensive. I’d rather buy Canadian shrimp than the frozen bags from Thailand, which is the only shrimp available at my local supermarket, but I realize that the shrimp I’m buying is still part of the overwhelming 91 percent of seafood in the U.S. marketplace that's imported.

Maine fishermen's loss has been a gain for our northern neighbors. The value of Canada's shrimp imports grew 20 percent 2013 to 2014, with imports of coldwater shrimp to Maine more than doubling to almost 100 metric tons, according to Canadian officials.

There actually was a small sample harvest of Maine shrimp earlier this year (shrimp caught during a survey that the fishermen were allowed to sell at auction), but that didn't stay in the local market. Unbelievably (to me at least), in one auction in February featured in a story about that harvest, of 1,200 pounds landed, 800 was bought for a Japanese buyer to sell to sushi restaurants.

Prices at that auction of around $4 per pound were higher than average because of the scarcity, but they may go right back down (the average is under $2) when the fishery comes back, according to an outbid New York buyer at that auction, because they've been absent for so long: “They’ll have to develop that market all over again.”

Gary Libby, of midcoast Maine’s Port Clyde Fresh Catch, predicted that Canadian shrimp may benefit Maine shrimpers because at least it will keep that product on their minds: “Once we get the resource back, we’re going to own it because we’re going to be able to deliver the product for less than Canada can,” he told the Portland Press Herald.

Ideally, the Maine shrimp fishery will come back and the price will stay high. So how do we make that happen?

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The consideration that fishermen must have for other users’ rights is a necessary part of sharing a limited resource. In most cases, fisheries are divided by recreational and commercial users, different gear types, and beyond that, individual fishermen. When the resource is dwindling, everyone takes a hit.

That is, unless you’re a California farmer. As the statewide drought continues in its fourth year, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that for the first time ever, some residents will be required to cut back on their water use. His executive order mandates that the state's 3,000 urban water providers reduce their water use by 25 percent, and it includes other water-saving initiatives such as replacing 50 million square feet of green grass lawns with drought-tolerant plants, rebates for consumers who purchase water-saving appliances and bans on watering street meridians and irrigation systems for new housing developments. But there were no restrictions for the state's largest segment of water users, the agriculture industry.

For the state’s commercial fishermen, the lack of water means salmon either can't reach spawning grounds. And the problem isn't just because of the drought in and of itself: Fresh water is being diverted to support agriculture. A whopping trillion gallons goes to the Southern Central Valley, to be soaked up by the especially thirsty nut trees. To give an idea of how much, agriculture uses 80 percent of the state's water, while almonds suck up 10 percent on their own.

When water is diverted the salmon is misled into waterways that are too shallow and warm for them to survive in, according to San Francisco salmon fisherman Mike Hudson, interviewed for a PBS News Hour report about the competing interests of salmon and almonds for the state's water.

"I would argue that this is a fight for the livelihood of a farming family who has been doing this for generations,” an almond grower retorted in his industry’s defense. You can watch that report below:

How many times have commercial fishermen seen their livelihoods dwindle when agencies require cutbacks for preservation purposes? In some cases, a fishery will lose members, leaving the survivors with hopefully enough to carry on. It’s not ideal, but that’s the reality of a sharing a limited resource. But commercial fishermen seem to be the only ones required to make sacrifices compared to other industries in California that need water. Nestlé, which bottles water in California, has stated its refusal to slow down its water use. In fact, the company plans to increase the amount of water it bottles in California, according to the Guardian newspaper. “People need to hydrate,” said Tim Brown, chief executive of Nestlé Waters North America.

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“They Came to Fish” is the title of a well-known (for locals at least) history book about my hometown of Portsmouth, N.H. “They” were the European settlers who came in the 1600s to fish the rich waters of the Gulf of Maine. Most valuable was the plentiful cod, which were dried, salted and shipped back across the Atlantic.

2015 0521 GroundfishThe view off the back of the 44-foot Ellen Diane, which drags for groundfish out of Hampton, N.H.
Melissa Wood photo
While those glory days are long past, cuts to cod quotas have left New Hampshire’s groundfish fishermen in dire circumstances. They lost 70 percent of their cod quota from 2014, which was already cut low. An allotment of 2,500 pounds per fisherman will likely mean a quick shutdown of the season that started May 1.

“You can catch (2,500 pounds) in a day,” Peter Kendall, manager of the Yankee Fishing Cooperative in Seabrook, told the Fosters Daily Democrat. “You can catch that in two hours if you’re looking for codfish.”

And to make matters worse, Gulf of Maine shrimp, a boom-and-bust winter fishery that often helps the fleet cobble together a fishing year, has been closed for two years.

The one piece of good news may also be the beginning of the end. Fishermen may be able to take part in a buyout of permits and boats, as part of the federal disaster relief granted to New England fishermen for the 2012-2013 season. Of the $33 million granted, New Hampshire fishermen received $2 million. As part of that, $200,000 will go toward forming a committee to examine the buyout option, according to John Bullard, NOAA’s Northeast administrator.

So what’s next? Will such a buyout lead to a 10-year shutdown while cod recovers? It may take longer. It looks like cod is finally returning to the coast of Newfoundland, where a collapse shut down codfishing for more than 20 years.

But the end of New Hampshire’s fleet has been predicted before. So far the fishery has remained active by having some keep their boats at the shore while leasing their quota. The members of the state’s only CSF, New Hampshire Community Seafood, are trying to establish a market for nontraditional species like hake, pollock and dogfish by educating the farmers market set about those species’ sustainable features.

Portsmouth is a fortunate little city, favored by a picturesque downtown and a restaurant scene that lures celebrity chefs from Boston. But a port without a working fleet just becomes a postcard — pretty but with no substance. The big question to me is will people care?

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Inside the Industry

NMFS has awarded 16 grants totaling more than $2.5 million as part of its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.

The program supports the development of technological solutions and changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch and aims to to find creative approaches and strategies for reducing bycatch, seabird interactions, and post-release mortality in federally managed fisheries.


Abe Williams, who was elected to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association board last spring, has been selected as the new president as of September.

Williams fishes the F/V Crimson Fury, and is president of Nuna Resources, a nonprofit that supports sustainable resource development in rural Alaska, including fighting for an international solution to issues raised by the proposed Pebble Mine project.

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