National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
The very idea that a human being could be kept as a slave is shocking. But I was not shocked when I recently read about slave labor harvesting prawns in Thailand. It's a familiar story.
I wrote about seafood industry labor violations for a cover story in Seafood Business a year ago. Back then I noticed a pattern: A human rights group finds violations, the media covers them and then things quiet down until the next report comes out. I'm sure it will happen again.
In the latest case, the UK's Guardian newspaper interviewed 15 migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia. The workers had paid brokers to find work in Thailand but were instead sold to boat captains as slave laborers. For more, watch the video from the Environmental Justice Foundation below:
This is another familiar part of the story. Thailand's industry depends on immigrants from poorer neighboring countries. Though Thailand has improved conditions in its shrimp processing plants, there remain loopholes that these vulnerable, undocumented workers continue to slip through. In some of the most shocking reports, interviewed workers have told about other workers murdered on the high seas, their bodies thrown overboard and fates never known to the families they left behind for economic opportunities.
There may be ramifications for Thailand. The U.S. State Department is considering downgrading it to a Tier 3 country among North Korea and Saudi Arabia in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons report. But it's not enough to instigate change. That must come from the marketplace, said Pedro Bueno, an FAO consultant I interviewed for the Seafood Business story. He told me industry-wide codes are more effective than legally prescribed standards that only give one motivation for improvement: not to be penalized. "Market-based standards tend to reward adherents with better prices," he said.
Change from the marketplace usually comes from the end user: consumers, but people like their cheap imports (in particular, they like cheap shrimp).
But we also have good and abundant seafood products from the United States like pink salmon, which is currently the subject of an Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute promotion. The U.S. industry should follow the institute's lead and develop and promote these abundant species along with the higher-end lobster, king salmon and red snapper.
Word of mouth is helpful too. Tell your neighbors, your friends and, of course, your family to buy American. If that doesn't work send them the video above.
Photo: A laborer displays battered hands from hauling fishing nets on a Thai vessel. The Environmental Justice Foundation photoAdd a comment
Thursday, 05 June 2014
I’m not a food blogger, foodie or any other type of self-promoting gourmand. So when the tempura-coated butterfish I ordered last weekend at Pai Men Miyake arrived as a whole fish propped in an upright, swimming position my first thought was not to take a photo. Instead I thought, “How am I going to eat this with chopsticks?”
I succeeded with the chopsticks — using my fingers to pick out some of the bones — but by the time I thought about taking a photo the bones were pretty much all that was left.
Butterfish is small and bony, but it’s also delicious and from the Gulf of Maine. Our region’s groundfish fishermen recently learned what they’ll be receiving for federal disaster aid. But commercial fishermen also need people like Chef Masa Miyake, who’s made it his mission to emphasize local fish on the menus of his three Portland, Maine, restaurants.
National Fisherman caught up with some of local seafood’s champions for the special marketing section in our July issue, which is out this week. Ryan Speckman of North Carolina’s Locals Seafood, for example, grew up inland, so he didn’t experience fresh local fish until he worked on the coast as a wildlife biologist. But when he moved back to the Raleigh area, which is about three hours inland, he was disappointed that he couldn’t find that same fresh fish. He and business partner Lin Peterson started bringing fish in from the coast, selling it to farmers markets and restaurants.
In California’s Morro Bay, locals and visitors are well aware of how good fresh salmon is: It’s tradition to buy it off the boat there. However, after a total shutdown followed by another year with hardly a season, people didn’t know salmon was again available. From that need came the Fishline app, which alerts those who download it on their smartphones when boats are coming in to 12 California ports from San Diego to Fort Bragg. So far, says app creator Joe Falcone, close to 7,000 people have downloaded it.
Their stories reminded me of a session on direct marketing I attended at last year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Bernie Feeney, a Massachusetts lobsterman who sells some of his catch direct, gave this advice for finding new local markets:
“Go west until you find some community that is reasonably populated and ask yourself, ‘Where can I buy fresh seafood?’ If you can’t find a place, you’ve got a location.”
Is it really that simple? Most fishermen don’t have the time to sell their catch direct, but I believe that much more can be done to promote local seafood by building on and replicating the ideas of enterprising seafood lovers like Speckman and Falcone. It’s not like anyone gave these guys a blueprint for success: they simply figured out ways to connect more people to fresh fish. I was so inspired I might even look into it myself if the writing career doesn’t work out (I do have to get better at taking food photos).
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
It was the height of Alaska salmon season when I visited Kodiak a couple summers ago, and there was a lot to be had: to be grilled, smoked, pickled and, most importantly, eaten. But the addiction to this fish goes beyond the fresh stuff coming off the boats. During dinner at Kodiak resident Jeff Stephan's home he demonstrated his easy DIY salmon burgers. Open up a can, shape the stuff inside into a patty, put it on a plate and microwave it.
I left questioning why I didn't buy canned pinks more often. Salmon wasn't something I thought of when I was trying to save money at the grocery store. Hopefully more people will be thinking of it in that way thanks to the recent passage of a revised product development bill and a promotional campaign focusing on pinks.
Salmon has already gone through a transformation. Over the last ten years, the 72 percent of Alaska's pink salmon that went into cans dropped to 49 percent in 2012. Part of the reason for that change was a bill that gave tax credits to processors that invested in equipment for creating new product forms.
Canned salmon products were excluded from that credit until now. In April the Alaska Legislature passed a new version of the bill (called The Salmon & Herring Product Development Tax Credit) that expanded the credit to new herring products and new sizes of canned salmon. For salmon that will likely mean smaller can sizes that will help processors hit lower price points, according to Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau.
While the number of cans has gone down, average ex-vessel prices have gone up — from 9 cents per pound in 2003 to 48 cents in 2012. But this past year people in the industry have worried that record high landings of pinks would cause a glut and lower prices. To address this, ASMI has kicked off a marketing campaign targeting "über" athletes and will be advertising in running and cycling magazines and promoting at rock 'n' roll marathons.
Too much of a good thing is not a bad thing — when it comes to Alaska salmon. I hope the word gets out to more working families out there too. It's an easy sell, a cheap, healthy meal in a can, caught by American fishermen. The advertising slogans practically write themselves.
Photo: A salmon seiner docks in Kodiak between sets; Melissa WoodAdd a comment
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
When I interviewed Dorothy Lowman, fisheries advisor and chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, she told me she was a workshop skeptic. That was surprising considering she had organized the first national electronic monitoring workshop in Seattle in January.
But I knew what she meant. I’ve been in plenty of meetings where people talk a good talk, but nothing happens after.
I don't think that will happen with electronic monitoring. The national workshop was timely. Fishermen on all coasts are working toward electronic monitoring. That makes sense because around the country an increasing number of fisheries are under quota management systems that require greater catch accountability.
With so much going on and so many interested parties, Lowman organized the workshop to bring people together from different fisheries and councils. Dan Falvey, a workshop participant who is working on electronic monitoring in the Alaska longline industry, told me there have been over 40 EM pilot programs around the country. It makes sense for those people to talk to each other.
For National Fisherman it’s an issue that’s important to get in the magazine, especially considering that people on all coasts are working toward implementation so that they can better track their catch and make it easier for fishermen to do it.
The skepticism comes in with what happens next. When I talked to people for a story about electronic monitoring for National Fisherman’s June issue, they were far from done. Several told me their own councils were holding EM workshops.
In addition, the workshop generated a great online resource for those continuing to work on its implementation. At www.eminformation.com, you can find a workshop summary and takeaways, videos and papers of presentations from the workshop as well as pilot program studies and contacts within the EM world.
The website is intended to continue to be used as an information sharing resource for fishermen and others interested in electronic monitoring. I expect the number of people interested will only get bigger.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
What exactly is local fish? That question came up during my research for a couple recent stories. It seems simple, but it’s not.
The way distribution is set up for commercial fishing makes it difficult for diners who want to make sea-to-table connections. In North Carolina, Ryan Speckman of Locals Seafood discovered that most seafood was being landed and shipped out of state to major hubs like Boston and New York before making its way to back to the state — and no longer as fresh as when it first arrived.
Likewise, in Maine, our commercial fishermen steam out to the Gulf of Maine to fish. If that fish is landed in Massachusetts and makes its way back to Maine, is it still local? Believe it or not, these things matter (a lot) to those invested in promoting local food. They want to ensure that food is consumed as close to the source as possible.
But when it comes to fish it’s probably better to look at the bigger picture. In her presentation, “Integrating Seafood Into Maine’s Food Systems,” Amanda LaBelle points out 90 percent of the fish we eat is imported. Most consumers don’t know that fish caught in U.S. federal waters are sustainably managed by law. Even species at low levels like cod are being caught at rates that won’t further deplete those levels. In the many reports on seafood sustainability, that’s a story people usually don’t hear.
The other problem is that local fishermen are often left out of the local food conversation. I wrote about this in a story about selling fish at farmers markets for the Maine Sunday Telegram. Only about 30 of Maine’s 140 markets have fish at all (and that’s a high estimate). Advocates for the industry like Monique Coombs of Lobsters on the Fly and Ben Martens of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association are working to change this. There’s a lot of work to be done educating people about local fish species. Farmers markets may be useful forums to spread the word about the industry to people who care about what they eat.
It seems the fishing industry could use more middlemen like Speckman. I interviewed him for an upcoming National Fisherman story. He wasn’t initially involved in the seafood industry but had been working on the North Carolina coast and got used to enjoying fresh seafood. When he moved inland, he was disappointed to find it wasn’t readily available. He and business partner Lin Peterson started Locals Seafood to make this possible. He told me the most important part of local is that the fish be fresh and come from North Carolina fishermen and support that state’s industry.
Don’t forget that all seafood is required to carry country of origin labeling. Telling people to check that label and buy U.S. fish is the easiest way to support our commercial fishermen.
Screen shot of Maine fish being unloaded at the Portland Fish Exchange by Leslie TaylorAdd a comment
Tuesday, 06 May 2014
For our June issue I wrote about electronic monitoring. The story starts with the well-known frustration commercial fishermen feel toward regulators. In Massachusetts, groundfish fishermen have been demonstrating through pilot programs for 10 years that electronic monitoring should be an option for small boats that are challenged with squeezing a human observer onboard. However, implementation remains out of reach for the members of the Cape Cod Fishermen's Alliance.
"We got stuck trying to cross that threshold from pilot to full implementation," says Tom Dempsey, policy director for the alliance, "and that's still where we are right now."
It turns out that commercial fishermen on all U.S. coasts have been looking into electronic monitoring. The movement is especially strong on the West Coast, which makes sense since that region's groundfish fishermen are required to have 100 percent observer coverage.
They pay about half the cost of observer coverage now, but the push for cameras on boats is not just about cost. Paul Kujala, a fisherman out of Warrenton, Ore., told me that for some small ports it's just not feasible to have observers ready and available when the time is right for a boat to go out.
It's not that electronic monitoring hasn't been proven to work. It's working for fishermen right now in British Columbia. But that plan was developed with cost as a primary consideration, said Sarah McTee, a fisheries consultant with the Environmental Defense Fund who coauthored the group's Fishery Monitoring Roadmap:
"They either had to start monitoring their program or stop fishing, and they realized that human observers were going to be expensive, that if they required 100 percent human observers they would lose some small vessels on their fleet. So they started at the back end," she said, by asking, "How much money do we have? What can we afford? And they had scientists come in and review how to design a program."
So we know that electronic monitoring is important for some fishermen to remain viable on the water (and catch accountability is probably going to keep increasing), and we know that it can be done. But going back to the Cape Cod fishermen's dilemna, what about implementation?
Hope is not lost. Dempsey is encouraged by national efforts to push electronic monitoring forward (or else he wouldn't get out of bed in the morning, he told me). In January a national workshop brought different regions together to talk about monitoring. Let's hope that if one U.S. fishery can make it work, it will pave the way for others to follow.
You can learn more about these efforts in the story, "Camera ready," beginning on page 27 of our July issue.
Photo courtesy of Dan FalveyAdd a comment
Tuesday, 29 April 2014
BP can't shift responsibility for the cause of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But four years later it can — remarkably — portray itself as a victim.
It's a supposed victim of its own settlement: That plan allowed businesses with no direct connection to the gulf to file for damages if they could show a loss of income during the spill. This, not surprisingly, led to many, many claims being filed. Some of those claims are far-fetched. Some are fraudulent. Because of this, the company is now seeing the error of its ways and trying to shift the blame.
“It’s not just bad for this company that illegitimate, dubious claims are being paid to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars; it is bad for, dare I say, America,” Geoff Morrell, senior vice president for communications and government affairs at BP America, told the New York Times. That article describes how the company shifted its position on the settlement.
There are some problems with this new role for BP. The company's own legal team "not only helped create, but also fought for and hailed" the settlement.
BP's legal and PR battle against its own settlement has led to a more complex, 88-page-long claims policy. It also hasn't helped fishermen and others who do make their living off the Gulf of Mexico. In the article, gulf shrimper Barry Labruzzo says he was offered only $14,500 when he had expected $188,000 and was asked for financial information he had already submitted.
A look back at National Fisherman's coverage of the spill shows this is nothing new. Fishermen and seafood dealers have been jumping through hoops to prove their losses since 2010.
In our August 2010 issue, writer John DeSantis talked to people on the gulf who were having trouble reaching the claims center, or were challenged with coming up with financial records because they were destroyed during hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.
Shrimpers and seafood dealers were also frustrated by damage calculations based on a decade of historically low prices that were just rebounding when the oil started to gush.
They fought to maintain a positive attitude and (unfortunately) correctly predicted the long road ahead.
"Now we need to lift each other up, because it is going to be a long haul," said Anna Luke, wife of fisherman Henry Luke of Houma, La. "If we keep knocking down BP or knocking down the Coast Guard it is not going to let us get anywhere but sickness in the body. It has been a learning process for all of us."
I think we're still learning. The most recent lesson is one in public relations.Add a comment
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Commercial fishermen are often the targets of negative publicity that goes viral. In the most recent example, Oceana's report on the nine dirtiest U.S. fisheries provided material for at least a week's worth of news and social media headlines, rewrites, blog posts, tweets, likes and shares.
Words are needed to fill all that space on the web, and the Oceana report is an aggregator's dream. It provided a number (those get more clicks) and a provocative word. Do you really believe "dirty" was chosen because it's the most accurate description?
The message was successful. Or was it? Despite the movement having more money and power, environmentalists' shift from organizing to political dealmaking and viral messaging has actually made them less successful, argues critic Nicholas Lemann.
The subject comes up in Lemann's review for the New Yorker of “The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-in Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation” by Adam Wong. Though lacking central coordination and big-money, that first event drew millions of earnest participants and preceded the passage of important environmental legislation in the 1970s like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In contrast, the modern movement failed to pass the carbon emissions bill — its most important recent legislation — in 2010. Lemann writes it's arguable there's been no significant environmental legislation since an acid rain reduction bill in 1990. He points out the difference between then and now:
"The organizers of Earth Day never would have been able to get a substantial group of corporate chief executives to sit down with them and negotiate, even if they had wanted to. Today’s big environmental groups recruit through direct mail and the media, filling their rosters with millions of people who are happy to click 'Like' on clean air. What the groups lack, however, is the Earth Day organizers’ ability to generate thousands of events that people actually attend — the kind of activity that creates pressure on legislators."
I used to think commercial fishermen were at a disadvantage because they lack a simplified and cohesive message. But the kind of grassroots activity Lemann talks about still happens in commercial fishing, and it has been successful. That was the case when fishermen from Alaska traveled around the country to successfully obtain Clean Water Act protection for Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine.
I'm glad to know real people doing things is still worth more than meaningless buzz. As new threats to Bristol Bay's protection arise and the reauthorization of Magnuson proceeds, it's critical to keep up that type of activity: Attend hearings and write your legislators. Let them know what's important to you.
This subject gave me a lot to think about and I'm curious what our readers will think about it too. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!
NASA imageAdd a comment
Thursday, 17 April 2014
If you're doing everything right, isn't it a good idea to be able to show that to people? Justine Simon runs Salt & Sea, a community supported fishery in Portland, Maine. Her husband is a fourth generation fisherman. Her goal is to connect Maine consumers to the best quality local fish. The fishermen she works with — who catch their fish using best practices — want that connection, too.
"The fishermen we work with take tremendous pride in what they're doing. They'll have heated conversations about which way to lay fish in the hold," she says.
Quality is priority, and they don't like it when their fish is not given the recognition it deserves.
"For these guys, it kills them when their boat's being unloaded and it's kicked off the boat or mixed in with other fish" for which maybe the same care wasn't taken. "For them it means a lot when we give them the customer feedback — people are raving about their fish."
The conversation reminded me of a discussion I had with Eric Brazer of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance. I interviewed him for a story I'm writing for the June issue of National Fisherman about efforts to use cameras for catch monitoring instead of or in addition to human observers.
It's a cost issue, but it's also one of recognition. The fishermen Brazer works with would like electronic monitoring to help tell the story of the quality and sustainability of their fish. That story includes the success of the recently rebuilt red snapper fishery.
Extra accountability from cameras on fishing boats could help reinforce the Gulf Wild program, which tags a fish so the consumer can see the boat it came from and/or dock it was landed at. He says it was developed partly to disprove myths and rumors about gulf fish that followed the oil spill.
"It's more than just traceability, it's getting the most accurate information into the hands of anyone who touches the fish," he says.
It shows the importance of marketing. It's not just about adding value through best practices, but getting the word out about those practices. There are challenges to doing this, but consider this: Are you doing enough to ensure your fish and your hard work are getting the recognition they deserve?
As we've seen with the recent report from Oceana about the United States' "dirtiest fisheries," sometimes others will gladly tell the story for you, but it won't be a good one.
Photo by Bill Cochrane/Gulf Seafood NewsAdd a comment
Tuesday, 08 April 2014
David Soares knew he had hooked a big one when his line practically vanished. It was around 10 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2013. He was trolling for wahoo and yellowfin tuna on Challenger Banks about 12 miles southwest of Bermuda when 950 yards of a 1,000-yard reel was gone in seconds.
It wasn’t just a big one. It was the big one. After the fish took him two miles in reverse and fought a "straight up and down battle” for two hours, Soares reeled in a bluefin tuna weighing 1,003 pounds, gutted and gilled. It was the biggest one ever caught in Bermuda, said Soares.
“Right away, when anything takes that much line off a reel that fast, I realized he was quite large,” said Soares. “I’ve never had them take it that fast or that much. I’ve had them take 400 or 500.”
For the two-hour battle, Soares said his reel was set at its maximum drag of 55 pounds and at low speed for a slow and steady pull-in.
About halfway through, the fish dashed away with 400 yards of line. But Soares, who caught the big bluefin single-handedly, persisted. When finally the fish was about 10 to 12 yards away, he harpooned it and brought it in.
Once you learn more about Soares, the monster catch is an achievement but not a surprise. At 43, the third-generation commercial fisherman has been fishing from Bermuda for 25 years. His grandfather was the island’s last whaler and last person to build and sail a trade schooner. Soares has caught four of the 10 bluefin tuna landed in Bermuda, which also included a 630-pounder in November 2009 and a pair on the same day — weighing 403 pounds and 395 pounds — in February of 2012.
When I talked to him last week he was stateside at Platypus Marine in Port Angeles, Wash., which is building him a 55-foot power catamaran for personal use. He and his wife plan to make its first journey to Southeast Alaska toward the end of this summer when the salmon fishing is hot (and fishermen love to fish on their vacations).
Soares fishes year-round from his Central Marine 44-footer, which was built in 2003 on Prince Edward Island, mostly trolling for yellowfin tuna and wahoo with some longlining for swordfish. He said of the small island’s 65,000 population, there are about 150 full-time fishermen and lobstermen. There’s a handful like Soares who go out each morning alone and are back in time to sell their catches directly to hotels and restaurants.
“There’s no fishhouses in Bermuda,” Soares explained. “We go out and catch the fish and we sell off the fish directly to them, tell them what we have and they tell us what they want and then we sell it off piece by piece.”
He told me he had a personal goal to catch a tuna more than 1,000 pounds on his own. “The way I truly wanted to do it was by myself, that’s the way I’ve been fishing for the last 15 years now… this is the way I really wanted it to happen.”
He sold the bluefin to the restaurant company MEF, which distributed the fish to the restaurants it owns (those are listed on the promotional poster of Soares with his fish).
At National Fisherman, we talk to fishermen on all coasts about the concerns surrounding their fisheries. But when I asked if commercial fishermen in Bermuda were facing any troubling issues, he had nothing for me. “Life’s good. It’s sunny, nice weather, average temperature 70, 72. In the dead of winter you might get down 60 to 65.”
He’s clearly passionate about life on the water. Soares tells me he jumps out of bed in the morning ready to go fishing. “The true fishermen fish for the love and the passion of fishing, they don’t fish for the money,” he said.
Life is good.Add a comment
Page 2 of 11
National Fisherman Live: 8/14/14
In this episode:
National Fisherman Live: 8/5/14
In this episode, National Fisherman's Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley talks with Frances Parrott about the Notus Dredgemaster.