Written by Samuel Hill
March 7, 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.
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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
March 2, 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.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
February 24, 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.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
February 17, 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.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
February 3, 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.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
February 1, 2016
Fishermen are a hardworking bunch of people, there’s no question about that. Last week, I had the opportunity to see that work ethic first-hand. But I wasn’t on a fishing boat. I was at the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit in Juneau, Alaska.
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This conference is put on by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program and is meant to serve as a comprehensive education program for young fishermen looking to break into the industry or expand their existing operation.
More than 70 fishermen from 30 communities throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest gathered to share their expertise and experiences. This next generation of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry discussed and learned about Alaska’s role in the U.S. and world market, the management of state and federal fisheries by the government, insurance, debt management and a slew of other must-know topics.
The attendees listened to speakers from prominent organizations and spent the week growing their network across the state. These fishermen might be experts at catching fish in their own fishery, but there’s a lot more to running a boat.
While most of the fishermen in attendance were Alaskans, they were from different walks of life. Some were looking for info on how to lease or buy a permit, while others had just purchased their first vessel. Some sought help working on processor relations and others were looking to market directly to consumers in their area and abroad.
The knowledge these young fishermen had about their fisheries and their dedication and passion for the business were inspiring.
The summit was an intense three days and much too complex to sum up here, so look for my feature on the summit in the next issue of National Fisherman!
Written by Samuel Hill
January 20, 2016
Have you ever uploaded a family photo or crew shot to Facebook and had the website know who was in the picture? That’s their advanced facial recognition software that keeps tabs on our facial features in tagged photos for quick and easy photo sharing.
This software is convenient (albeit a little creepy) and makes sharing or organizing photos much easier.
Now imagine uploading a photo of a whale you took out on your boat last week and having Facebook ask, “Would you like to tag Quasimodo in this photo?”
That’s (sort of) what members of the right-whale research community and data scientists have been working on.
Christin Khan, a biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center is part of a team that flies aerial surveys off the East Coast to look for and track North Atlantic right whales. They track individual whales by their distinct features and help keep tabs on them in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. The catalog includes a page for each tracked whale that includes photos, sketches of identifying marks and any other pertinent biological notes (think your ‘about’ section on your own profile).
And yes, a lot of the whales have names. Javelin (No. 1112) and Pegleg (No. 1217) were my personal favorites, for the record.
The catalog is very detailed, but identifying a whale can still take up a lot of time using this system. Khan got the idea of creating an algorithm to identify whales after scrolling through her Facebook page one day.
After looking for help in online forums, a team of data scientists created an algorithm that could identify whales with 87 percent accuracy. The software and application for this algorithm has yet to be developed, and Khan is looking for support in the community.
Khan’s search for the right supporters was detailed in “Making Facebook for Whales” published in the Atlantic just last week.
I don’t think we’ll be naming the world’s salmon anytime soon, but the amount of collaboration that went into this project is impressive and is a good example of industry innovation. Without having spend long hours digging through the catalog just to identify a whale, researchers can do a bit more research. By streamlining one tedious process, the entire field will be able to work more efficiently.
Also, it might be time to start brainstorming cool whale names in your spare time.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
January 13, 2016
As a 20-something college student, I didn’t start thinking about where my food comes from until recently. Big-name supermarkets seemed like the only option financially and, aside from an occasional trip to the local farmer’s market, that’s where I bought all of my groceries.
Since I’ve been working at National Fisherman (and realized that Domino’s pizza doesn’t count as a well-balanced meal), I’ve been thinking more about what my food goes through before it winds up on my plate.
This week I spoke with Tyson Fick, the communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, about the recent events regarding Alaska pollock. Now, legally, only pollock from Alaskan waters can be labeled as “Alaska pollock,” fighting lower-quality Russian products that wind up on the market bearing the state’s name.
As a consumer with little knowledge of the seafood industry prior to being hired at NF, I was a little taken aback. They were allowed to do that? Isn’t that lying?
Thankfully, that isn’t allowed anymore. But after talking to Fick about this from a marketing perspective, I realized the battle isn’t over. He says ASMI is set to work on a few educational campaigns for consumers.
Just because it’s easier to pick out Alaska seafood now, doesn’t mean consumers are going to be or are thinking about labels at all.
My girlfriend prepared some salmon for dinner last week and I asked her where it was from. “Hannaford,” she said. That’s one of the biggest supermarket chains in the Northeast.
Just a few weeks ago at a family Christmas party, a little tray of shrimp was plopped down in front of me. The week before I had written a blog post about the Associated Press investigation that traced slave-peeled shrimp from Thailand to the shelves of major U.S. retailers. I didn’t want to damper the holiday spirit by discussing slavery, but I couldn’t help thinking about it. This is in central Maine, by the way, not fresh-off-the-boat-seafood coastal Maine. If there was any venison at the table, I would’ve known the deer was probably shot by my neighbor.
There has been a lot of backlash because of that AP report, but not as much as there should be. Seafood Source confirmed yesterday that some U.S. supermarket chains are boycotting Thailand shrimp now. But it sounds like the chain Seafood Source spoke with, left unnamed in the story, chose to do so as a PR precaution, not because of demands from their customers.
The retailer noted that “only two customers asked about the Thai slavery allegations.” I think it’s safe to assume that the rest of their customers weren’t silently protesting and went about buying their shrimp as usual.
Convenience is king in U.S. markets, and consumers can be quick to pick up the first generically labeled seafood product they see most days. The difference in quality and the businesses behind the product may seem obvious to anyone involved in the industry, but the average consumer just doesn’t think about it.
Hopefully the Alaska pollock name restrictions and the revealing of Thailand’s crueler labor practices means selling more seafood caught by U.S. fishermen. But we can’t assume that will happen because of one bill or news story. Be sure to share your expertise whenever you get that chance and make people start thinking about where their seafood comes from.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
January 4, 2016
For the New Bedford dragger Venture I, trouble started shortly after daybreak on Jan. 9 more than 100 miles south of Nantucket where a winter gale was running them ragged.
The skipper was having a hard time controlling the vessel, when huge waves crashed through the pilothouse. He sustained multiple fractures in his left leg and one of his six crew members received deep cuts on his face from broken glass. The waves continued.
Facing an emergency situation at sea, the crew had to rely on another for survival. While this isn’t a rare occurrence on the water, this rescue was anything but typical. The rescuers didn’t know the troubled crew, and they weren’t from a nearby port. They weren’t even American. They were Russians, and this was 1966. Half a world away, America and Russia were opposing forces in the Vietnam War.
Soviet-American cooperation wasn’t unheard of on Georges Bank, but this rescue involved an unusual amount of communication and maneuvering.
Without power, lights or radio, the crew were left foundering until the boat was spotted by the 376-foot factory ship Zelenogorsk of the Russian fishing fleet. Capt. Tschist Jakov, after determining that the vessel was in distress, pumped oil to calm the waves and shot a line to the Venture I so the crews could pass messages back and forth in an empty bottle. He took the injured men aboard and arranged for another Russian vessel to tow the Venture I.
Communication was difficult. Through talks with the Russian Embassy and the Coast Guard Commandment in Washington, D.C., a rendezvous was arranged and all of the men were transferred to Coast Guard vessels.
A New Bedford Standard Times editorial said of the rescue: “Everybody here knows that if the men afloat do not help each other, inevitably some will not come back. Thus, the man at the lunch counter the other day asked, ‘If they can help each other at sea, why are we at each other’s throats in Vietnam and the United Nations?”
The editorial staff wrote that the answer is bigger than the question: “Perhaps it is because politicians, not sailors, run the countries of the world.”
The fishing family is strong through thick and thin.
And, of course, as soon as the rescued crew was off their deck, those Russian vessels went right back to fishing.Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
December 16, 2015
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that shrimp processed in plants using forced and child labor in Thailand was on the shelves in U.S. stores.
Tacking on to a string of investigative stories on slavery in the Thai seafood industry, AP reporters describe the experience of Tin Nyo Win — or Number 31 as he was called — and his experience working in the Gig Peeling Factory. There he was forced, along with his wife, to rip the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.
For 16 hours a day he was forced to work. If he did not, he was beaten.
In recent months, Thai businesses and government have promised to begin cleaning up the country’s $7 billion seafood export industry, which is reportedly filled with cruel and unethical treatment of workers.
But AP reporters were able to track shrimp from this factory that enslaved hundreds of workers to Thai exporting companies and tracked the producer globally using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports.
According to those records, the shrimp that resulted from slave labor made their way into major stores and retailers in the United States, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden. They also entered well-known seafood and pet food brand products, like Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast.
Many of those businesses immediately issued statements condemning the labor practices described in the AP report, some noting they had been assured by their supplier, Thai Union, that their shrimp was not processed by slaves.
Meanwhile, Thai Union admitted it didn’t know the source of all its shrimp.
The company promised to exclusively use in-house labor starting Jan. 1.
AP reports on Thailand’s seafood industry have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars' worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws in the past year. The problem is, cleaning up an entire industry full of corruption is going to take time. We can read the PR statements for days on end, but that doesn’t mean anything is being done to stop these terrible practices quickly.
U.S. consumers don’t have the political power to stop these injustices, but they can affect those companies through their purchasing power. Despite these stories of slave labor being told more often and more prominently in the media, there is still a disconnect for consumers.
As fishermen and other members of the industry, it’s important to share these stories with people who might not be so in touch with seafood news.Add a comment
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The Center for Coastal Studies recently announced that Owen Nichols, Director of the Center for Coastal Studies’ Marine Fisheries Research Program, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the John Annala Fishery Leadership Award by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.Read more ...
Cummins announced the opening of a new Alaska service location on Kodiak Island last week that will serve as a service and support location for commercial marine applications.Read more ...