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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 24 February 2016
I probably spend too much time on Twitter.
A lot of people look at the social media platform and ask, “what’s the point?” I don’t need to know about every trip my friend takes to Starbucks or every thought that runs through their head in a given day.
But it’s a good tool for journalists and occasionally you run into some new information or a story worth digging into.
This past week, I was adding to my massive list of “fish news” sources and came across Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s official feed. She had just tweeted about the upcoming season 12 premiere of “Deadliest Catch,” and revealed that she had a family connection to the show.
So proud—my cousin’s son Sean is the newest Captain in the Deadliest Catch fleet! https://t.co/CX0GDMZWTf— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) February 22, 2016
Now I know “Deadliest Catch” and other commercial fishing TV shows are for entertainment and aren’t hard-hitting documentary material, but the connection serves as a nice reminder that, despite the Hollywood of it all, these crews are hard at work.
23-year-old Sean Dwyer, will be the youngest skipper in the history of the show.
Sean’s dad (and Murkowski’s cousin’s husband), Pat Dwyer was a well-established Bering Sea fisherman before tragically succumbing to ALS in the summer of 2013.
According to John Gray, one of the show’s executive producers, Pat had purchased a boat, the Brenna A, with the specific goal of setting Sean up for the future. He said Sean being on the show this season will tell the “story of Sean carrying the torch from his father into captaincy.”
Sean will be working to catch Captain Sig Hansen’s 290,000 pounds of Bairdi crab.
Surely the show’s producers will hit this storyline hard throughout its next season, but don’t let that make you scoff at the story.
Behind the show designed to entertain the masses is a real fishing family.
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 17 February 2016
The number of salmon returning to rivers in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in Japan has decreased significantly since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that damaged Japan in 2011, according to reports from the Chicago Tribune.
Salmon eggs are collected and young salmon are released into rivers in those districts each year, but fewer salmon were released following the 2011 earthquake. Those salmon were supposed to return last fall, but came back at the lowest levels since the disaster.
Can you blame them? The magnitude 9.0 earthquake was the most powerful one to ever hit Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.
It’s bad enough trying to help a stock recover from natural population fluctuations or overfishing, let alone a national disaster that shakes the entire country.
According to reports, about 236,000 salmon had been caught in Iwate rivers as of Dec. 10, a decrease of 22 percent from the previous year. Numbers from Miyagi saw a 31 percent decline.
Data gathering for Fukushima stocks has not been completed, but the industry has only been operating in six of the 10 rivers they would normally since the nuclear accident and expects numbers to be very low.
Returns have been low as of late, but the industry is cautiously optimistic and has collected more than 90 percent of their target egg supply. Not a bad plan.
The disaster, of course, had people worried back in the states, too. As much as the corners of the internet would like to have you believe radiation from the nuclear disaster is still making it’s way to North America, scientists have officially said “don’t worry about it.” Your Pacific tuna and salmon are safe.
While we aren’t problem-free across the Pacific, remember to be thankful of the stocks when they’re healthy. It has been an uphill battle for Japanese fishermen since 2011, but it looks like they’re finally getting to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Lert's hope they can get back to full-throttle fishing soon.
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 03 February 2016
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.
While 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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The American Fisheries Society is honoring recently retired Florida Institute of Oceanography director Bill Hogarth with the Carl R. Sullivan Fishery Conservation Award — one of the nation's premier awards in fisheries science - in recognition of his long career and leadership in preserving some of the world's most threatened species, advocating for environmental protections and leading Florida's scientific response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.Read more ...
The Marine Stewardship Council has appointed Eric Critchlow as the new U.S. Program Director. Critchlow will be based in the MSC US headquarters in Seattle. He is a former vice president of Lusamerica Foods and has over 35 years in the seafood industry.Read more ...