National Fisherman

Coastlines 

coastlinesJerry Fraser is  publisher of National Fisherman. Melissa Wood is the former assistant editor of National Fisherman.

 

 

PORTLAND, Maine – What looked Tuesday morning to be a milquetoast weather system over the Great Lakes shoved off for the East Coast later in the day and began acquiring energy and moisture.

2014 1023 Coastlines weather map20This satellite image shows the slow moving coastal storm that moved into the Northeast on Wednesday and will continue to bring periods of rain into Friday, according to the National Weather Service. National Weather service imageFor a while the radar looked showery, but the rain was forecast to become steadier and the wind to pick up. By late afternoon rain was under way across much of New England, but there was little wind offshore.

What wind there was was out of the southeast. We used to say, “Rain before the wind, storm won’t begin,” when southeast was in the forecast. And we set great store in the conventional wisdom that a southeaster was good for nine hours, no more. Indeed, these were articles of absolute faith when I fished.

Under the circumstances, then, I may be forgiven for wondering if the forecast for this week, which calls for three or more days of rain and wind, is overly enthusiastic.

It is my observation that people who make their living in warm, dry places that don’t shake, roll or pound when it’s windy love to hyperbolize about the weather. Mariners, pilots, mountain climbers and others for whom weather can have real, sometimes life-threatening impacts, are much less likely be sustained by admonitions to stock up on batteries.

As it happens, the weatherman took himself out from under the strictures that apply to southeasterlies by calling for the wind to back into the east and then the northeast, at 30 knots, with gusts to 45. It is supposed to blow onshore through Thursday and then back into the north and northwest throughout Friday.

Even if it’s wrong, this forecast makes sense. In the northern hemisphere, if you put your back to the wind and extend your left arm you’ll be pointing toward the low. Over time, the storm goes by. There’s a poem, most of which I can’t recall, that tries to explain this concept by mean of a storm-tossed mariner with his back to the mast. “And the wind blew up his ass,” goes the last line, which everyone remembers.

There are few verities about weather, but that’s one of them. So is the rather more general, “All weather is a result of uneven heating of the Earth’s surface.”

If there are any others, I don’t know them. If you do, feel free to send them along.

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2014 1016 Coastlines DSCN1310 JFraserDespite years of increasingly strict regulations on Northeast groundfish harvesters, cod continue to lag well below federal stock rebuilding target levels. Jerry Fraser photoI am a big boy and I am accustomed to commercial fishing taking it on the chin in the mainstream media. Even by that standard, however, The Boston Globe’s Oct. 13 editorial, “As codfish dwindle, communities need to reboot,” was a low blow.

Especially troubling was its cynical, world-weary tone.

For example, it suggests that fishermen view scientists as “nosy researchers,” when in fact the industry is totally committed to the gathering of data.  

Here are a few more free samples:

“Fishermen are again protesting that they will lose everything.”
Why wouldn’t they protest? After 20 years of sacrificing for a better tomorrow, they’re told tomorrow has been canceled.

“Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk has retreated to the decades-old political stance of calling the science ‘questionable.’”
The science in question is federal, and for decades — with monks, with scallops, and with dogfish, for starters — the questions have been more than justified.

“The reflexive insistence on the status quo is untenable.”
The reflex the Globe is dismissing is the survival instinct. And precisely because they have such instincts, fishermen are insisting on anything but the status quo.

“It is clearly time for a new model that shelves the insular response to new quotas…”
By insular I assume the Globe is referring to the small community that is the groundfish industry. It would be less insular if there were more fishermen.

“A full-scale effort to retool requires a complete attitude change.”
Yes it does. I have been saying for going on 20 years that advocates for the environment, editorial writers and politicians need to view harvesters as the linchpin of resource management. 

“Fishermen have relied on vote-counting politicians to enable them to avoid the inevitable by begging Washington for disaster relief and congressional earmarks.”
Inevitable? Well, at least we know where the Globe stands. The reality is that elected officials who count votes can ignore groundfishermen at little political risk. More often than not, the disaster from which fishermen seek relief isn’t the status of stocks, it’s wrongheadedness, as readers of Monday’s Globe can attest.

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Most of us know fishermen who have been plucked off the deck of a sinking vessel, or scarier still, out of the water by a Coast Guard helicopter.

2014 1009 Blue FoxA closure of the Newport, Ore., Coast Guard air rescue station has spawned a petition drive to keep it operating. Port of Newport, Ore., photoWe also know folks who weren’t.

Closing the Coast Guard’s air rescue station at Newport, Ore., is a bad idea, and people there are rightfully bent out of shape about it.

Assurances that modern direction finding equipment speeds the Coast Guard in its efforts to locate vessels in distress are none too comforting. If you’re in the water, determining your position is but the first step in the rescue process, and that’s doubly true if you’re injured, hypothermic, or both.

Nor is the agency well served by its assertions that its response times will meet or beat federal requirements. Fishing vessels have been known to sink in minutes, and they can capsize in seconds. When this happens, survival may depend most of all on the proximity of rescuers.

Recent years have found fishermen taking increased responsibility for their safety, often at the behest of the Coast Guard. But the ocean can be an extremely hostile environment, and there are always going to be those nights of ice, to borrow from Spike Walker, when we depend on the Coast Guard to live up to its mission of minimizing loss of life at sea.

The Newport Fishermen Wives have launched a petition drive in an effort to get the Coast Guard to reconsider, and they have the support of both of the state’s U.S. senators as well as four of its five representatives in the U.S. House.

I hope you sign it, wherever your home port is. The helicopter was installed at Newport because it was needed, and with all due respect, that need is not a function of the Coast Guard’s budget. And as someone who recalls a time when there was a helo in Rockland, Maine, the one thing you can be sure of is that if Newport loses the chopper, it will never get it back.

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Opponents of Pebble Mine — and they are legion — can take comfort in the dismissal last week of a lawsuit the Pebble Mine developers brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

2014 930 Bristol Bay gillnetter NMFSPlenty of Alaska salmon fishermen have registered their opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine, which threatens Bristol Bay’s world-famous sockeye fishery. The Environmental Protection Agency has received approximately 625,000 comments — 20,000 of them from Alaskans — supporting EPA protection of the sockeye resource. NMFS photoBeginning with the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, Bristol Bay watershed resources generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year and provide thousands of jobs. These are circumstances that cannot always be argued by opponents of economic development, who are often depicted as tree huggers with nothing better to do.

The EPA has received upward of 625,000 comments on Pebble and has held seven public hearings as well. The open-pit mine, to be located in the Bristol Bay watershed, would be three-quarters of a mile deep and span an area larger than Manhattan.

The risks of such a mine were brought home in August when a tailings dam burst at a mine on a tributary of the Fraser River in Vancouver, turning loose 2.6 billion gallons of wastewater and 1.2 billion gallons of metals-bearing sand on the eve of a sockeye run projected at two million fish.

Nonetheless, with copper and other minerals at stake in Pebble valued at half a trillion dollars, it’s not likely Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. is simply going to go away mad because of an adverse legal decision. (A judge ruled that the EPA was within its rights to consider limits on mining activity at Pebble even before an application for a Clean Water Act permit was submitted. The EPA says it will announce a decision in February.)

Activists who oppose Pebble mine don’t need me to warn them of the risks of complacency. Those of you who sympathize with them from afar should consider engagement.

Economics are a force of nature and $500 billion is a hurricane. Take some comfort, but don’t get comfortable.

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You may have read that NMFS is developing new protocols for assessing fish stocks.

20140925 assessmentThe Government Accounting Office analysis found that there are wide variations in how often fish stock assessments are conducted. Assessments are conducted most frequently in Alaska, the report says. Government Accounting Office photoNot a moment too soon (which should not be taken as an endorsement for whatever the agency comes up with)!

An analysis by the Government Accountability Office released last week reported what most of us figured we knew, which is that not all stock assessments are created equal.

This alone is not the stuff of conspiracy. Not all stocks require the same degree of surveillance. But among the findings of researchers was that Alaska stocks are more likely to be assessed than stocks elsewhere.

Is there a correlation between the relative health of stocks there and their more frequent assessments? Hard to say.

But what we can say is that NMFS is obliged to get a handle on stocks that are regarded as stressed, particularly if landings seem to be at odds with the data, as has been the case this year with Gulf of Maine cod.

We’ve also seen real divergence of opinion with respect to federal science on red snapper stocks and the observations of fishermen.  And last summer a new wrinkle was added to the business of counting red snapper when federal scientists reported landings nearly two and a half times what the state of Alabama reported.

If the federales were wrong in their estimates, as both the state and fishermen believe is the case, Alabama fishermen paid a substantial price: the season was shut down after nine days.

For its part, Alabama planned to conduct further stock assessments, which could conceivably back up its landings data.

It’s one thing when stock assessments inaccurately model the number of fish in the ocean. It’s thoroughly discouraging that we can’t account for the fish we have caught.

We understand that scientists cannot count every fish and must rely on models to assess stocks. Unfortunately, fishermen and communities that depend on fish cannot use models to pay bills and conduct commerce.

Comprehensive and reliable stock assessments ought to be job one for NMFS.

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Not for the first time, scientists and fishermen are at odds in New England, not for the first time on the subject of Gulf of Maine cod.

2014 918 Bedrosian Fleet31Since May 1, 153,000 pounds of cod have crossed the docks in Portland, Maine, this year. Linc Bedrosian photoSo far this year, cod landings at the Portland Fish Exchange are up by a factor of nearly two over 2013. NMFS contends stocks are down significantly from just a year ago.

Yet not only are the fishermen catching more cod, they are doing so with less effort ­– 93 fewer trips so far this year, according to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.

Scientists say that fish tend to hyper-aggregate when stocks are depleted, and that when fishermen locate them their landings suggest much more widespread abundance than is the case.

In other words, fishermen cannot win. If landings are low, they’re told stocks are depleted, and if they improve, they’re told the outlook is even grimmer.

Granted, we’re not talking about a tremendous amount of fish: 153,000 pounds have come across the floor at the Portland Fish Exchange since May 1 vs. 85,000 during the same period last year.

Not a lot of fish, but enough to suggest that further reducing landings may serve neither fish nor fishermen.

The reality is that only the fish know whether they’re recovering or hyper-aggregating. We need to stop this business of turning to old models to explain new data. When landings run contrary to models, the answer has to be new research, not old explanations.

 

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Consider this a shout-out to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council members and others who traveled to the White House to make the case, if in vain, that the proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 700,000 square miles is misguided policy.

2014 911 Monumnet Map167This map illustrates the vast expanse of ocean that would be off limits to fishermen with the proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Wetern Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council illustrationIn what was described as a "frank discussion," the nine-member delegation told the White House Council on Environmental Quality that the monument would penalize the U.S. Pacific islands and American fishermen while accomplishing little environmentally.

This is accurate. For one thing, the area is pristine, which forecloses on the notion of environmental improvement. For another, the fish the monument would "protect" are highly migratory. U.S. fishermen could pursue them outside the monument at hideous expense, or, more likely, they'll be harvested by the Chinese.

By the way, for those of you who do not regularly consume political news, "frank discussion" implies that the delegates expressed the truth bluntly and that the representatives of the administration, which included John Podesta, counselor to the president, didn't want to hear it.

No surprise there. Had the administration been inclined to consider the issue on its merits it would have in the first place consulted with the fishery council and stakeholders.

As Ray Hilborn of University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, observed last month, "The key question with respect to the expanded protections proposed by President Obama is, 'What will they do to aid solutions to the problems facing oceans?"

"I am afraid the answer to this is they will do nothing. Closing additional areas to fishing will have no impact on ocean acidification or ocean pollution, and the impact of these closures on overfishing will almost certainly be negligible."

Hilborn is correct, for what good it amounts to. The administration has pursued the "do it if it feels good" policy which colors so much of our environmental regulation today. And however well meaning, if uninformed, this policy is, the opposite result is certain to obtain in the western Pacific once China starts vacuuming things up.

Clair Poumele, a member of the Western Pacific council and director of the American Samoa Port Authority, said the monument would have a disastrous impact on the territory's tuna canning operations, which employ one-third of the population.

As Sean Martin, of the Hawai'i Longline Association observed, "This attempt at crafting an environmental legacy for our nation will ultimately prove to accomplish the opposite by disenfranchising our own fishermen and outsourcing domestic seafood demand to nations whose standards for environmental protections pale in comparison to our own."

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Most of us associate labor with unions, but that's much less the case now than it was a generation or more ago.

In New England, thousands of non-union employees at Market Basket supermarkets, through resolve and unity, forced the sale of the $4.6 billion chain to the CEO who only weeks before had been ousted largely because of his loyalty to those same workers.

Fast-food workers throughout the United States, who are also non-union, are attracting attention and growing support for their campaign for a higher minimum wage law. Typically these folks qualify for one government assistance program or another, meaning that the taxpayers in effect supplement the wages paid to the workers.

2014 909 Grant-Bundy lGrant Bundy of Bundy Seafood in Lafitte, La., off-loads shrimp at his docks. Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink photoThe federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

In Louisiana, shrimp prices are so low that fishermen (who are not guaranteed even $ 7.25 an hour) on Monday declared a moratorium to halt harvesting. "This is not a strike," said Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, of the stoppage, which ended Tuesday. In drawing the distinction, he may have been attempting to disassociate shrimpers from organized labor, which in the minds of many has outlived its usefulness as a result of workplace rules that counter productivity.

Guidry understands that when fishermen don't deliver, everyone – dock owners and processors as well as the boats and their crews – suffers, and is counting on getting all the players around the table and working things out.

Fishermen, of course, are not hourly wage earners. But their frustration with a status quo that seeks to disenfranchise them economically is much the same as any wage slave's frustration. As a result, they share the sense that it is time to take a stand.

Whether these folks are the vanguard of the ascendance of American labor in the 21st century, only time will tell.

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Pardon me if I politely decline to drink the fishery observer Kool-Aid. Fact is, I smashed the mug, into which someone had poured catch share Kool-Aid, in the fireplace long ago.

Observer programs are not inherently evil, but they're not inherently sensible, either. Billeting qualified scientists on fishing vessels is often impractical and never cheap, regardless of who is picking up the tab.

2014 0904 NOAA MarineObserverA NMFS observer checks the dimensions of a net and its catch. NMFS photoI don't quarrel with the collection of fishery-dependent data; it's just that observers are an expensive way to gather it. I realize that observers are scientists gaining valuable insights in the field. But much of the information is within the grasp of the average fisherman, so let the fishermen gather it at sea and the scientists deal with it ashore. To the extent that they collect biological data that would ordinarily be beyond the scope of a deckhand's duties we should think in terms of innovation and not resign ourselves to what a biologist's job has always been.

I am also skeptical of observers as compliance monitors. Call me naïve, but I am not inclined to view fishermen as lawbreakers or cheaters. Besides, we know where folks are fishing and with a modicum of shoreside enforcement we can be certain of what they're landing. That said, bycatch, particularly in some high-volume pelagic trawl fisheries, is an issue that needs to be addressed. Seasonal closures are one method of accomplishing this, but there are times when observers may represent another. At the scale at which the pelagic trawlers operate it may be easier to justify an observer's limited presence.

The answers to the challenge of fishery management will seldom be certain, but they need to make economic sense with respect to all resources, by which I mean the ocean's, the fisherman's and the taxpayer's.

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Sometimes when I want to check out what the world is saying about commercial fishing, I'll go to Twitter and type "commercial fishing" in the search box. A sampling from today includes links to a video about commercial fishermen in Gaza struggling with Israeli restrictions and an article on how "China is using its immense commercial fishing fleet as a surrogate navy" for clashes in the contested waters in the South Asian Sea (the fleet has 695,555 vessels, making it the biggest in the world and double the size of the next largest, Japan.)

Sorry for the distraction. That's what these social media sites do — distract. Often the distractions that come up about commercial fishing will be negative. There are many users who "care about the oceans" (a favorite phrase) and use platforms like Twitter to sound off on commercial fishing. Yet, they know very little about the industry they're criticizing.

I care about the oceans too, and the health of our planet, but I don't think it's productive to constantly point fingers at commercial fishing while ignoring the growing threats of climate change, acidification and pollution. I remember learning during a pretty basic science class in high school that the pollution you can't see is often more of a threat to the environment than the visible. That's the problem that commercial fishermen have: You are a visible target.

During my time at National Fisherman I've been lucky to meet interesting, hardworking people whose idea of a typical day in the office is of course anything but. While it can be a struggle to not know what you're going to bring home each day, I think commercial fishermen also enjoy the challenge of keeping up with the fish within the parameters of time and fuel.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 2.04.33 PMCommercial fishermen, advocates and bloggers alike make their thoughts known on Twitter. Screenshot via TwitterThose challenges make great stories. Keep telling your stories through good reporting at your local newspapers and blogs. These writers are always looking for material to write about, so if you feed them some juicy stories (with some education about fisheries to boot) you'll probably get a bite.

I believe in the power of stories, and you guys have the best ones. Providing greater understanding will hopefully allow for greater flexibility. For example, when fish move because of warming waters, will management and science acknowledge that change or blame the fishermen? Commercial fishermen need friends wherever they can find them during these changing and sometimes challenging times.

As our Senior Editor Linc Bedrosian pointed out to me when I shared this blog, commercial fishermen are both visible and invisible. You're an easy target to pick on, yet nobody really sees you because when you're off fishing, you're out of sight and out of mind to the general public.

Some are visible. If you go to Twitter and type in "commercial fishing," you'll see there's a good group of bloggers (some are also commercial fishermen) sharing those good stories. You can follow National Fisherman's Editor Jessica Hathaway @NFJes. If you want to follow me, I'm @melissafwood. Thanks!

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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 10/21/14

In this episode:

North Pacific Council adjusts observer program
Fishermen: bluefin fishing best in 10 years
Catch limit raised for Bristol Bay red king crab
Canadian fishermen fight over lobster size rules
River conference addresses Dead Zone cleanup

National Fisherman Live: 10/7/14

In this episode, National Fisherman Publisher Jerry Fraser talks about the 1929 dragger Vandal.

 

Inside the Industry

NOAA and its fellow Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have announced the signing of a formal Record of Decision to implement a gulf restoration plan. The 44 projects, totaling an estimated $627 million, will restore barrier islands, shorelines, dunes, underwater grasses and oyster beds.

Read more...

The Golden Gate Salmon Association will host its 4th Annual Marin County Dinner at Marin Catholic High School, 675 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Kentfield on Friday, Oct 10, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.

Read more...

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