National Fisherman


melissaMelissa Wood is associate editor for Professional BoatBuilder magazine and a former associate editor for National Fisherman.



Paul Stone's sunny demeanor among calm waters is a little deceiving. Rolled by limits in quota or outright bans, dips in price and unpredictable weather, he faces challenges undoubtedly familiar to his U.S. counterparts with a smile.

The U.K. trawl fisherman is the star of the short film, "Fishing for the Long Haul?" In a behind-the-scenes write-up, producer Jo Stewart-Smith describes going out with Paul and his two crewmen during the summer, catching squid on the 15-meter (49-foot) trawler Sparkling Star out of North Devon. Though the weather is nice, the crew spends much of their time sorting below decks, where the heat is almost unbearable. After a 24-hour trip, the cameraman staggers off the boat while the fishermen drop off their catch and head straight back out.

This is just the beginning of Stewart-Smith's newfound appreciation for the small-boat guys. The uncomfortable conditions are the least of the fishermen's worries, and the filmmaker is even more in awe of the "roller coaster ride" of the small boat fishermen's life on and off the water:

"This film has been my biggest learning curve and the biggest roller coaster ride. It's the film where the story has changed most often — in fact almost every time I speak to Paul he's facing some new obstacle, whether it's the tail end of a hurricane, a change in the quota or price, something which needs fixing on the boat or a ban on one of 'our money fish'. Yet through it all Paul has remained relentlessly cheerful and good humored, with plenty of quips to keep everyone's spirits up and optimism that next week the fishing will be better. And ironically it's rarely the fishing itself which is a problem — even the weather has been pretty kind this year."

Sound familiar? The squid had disappeared when the Bristol Channel was hit with the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha (squid prefer hot weather). So, as fishermen do, Paul switched to rays. But the roller coaster took another dip down shortly after the film was completed. The ray season ended abruptly when the overall quota had been exceeded. The ban took away more than a key species. The ban on rays — a key species — also threatened to close down processing in the area.

Back to the film. While the sorry plight of another small-boat fisherman might seem depressing, Paul is all smiles on the water. I suppose this is what they mean by "in it for the long haul." If you truly are, then you must accept the bad, adapt and move forward as much as you can. Seeing his love of fishing and ability to roll with the punches makes this 5-minute film well worth watching for me. You can watch it below:

"Fishing for the Long Haul?" is part of Boat Stories, a series of short films about the working boats of North Devon. The series' other fishing films include "Lobster Potting and Berried Hens," "Salmon Netting on the Taw and Torridge" and "Life's Journey on the Torridge."


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I wouldn’t say that the Supreme Court has restored my faith in Washington. 

2014.11 grouperBut it clearly has displayed a sense of proportion in a case involving a Florida commercial fisherman.

In 2007 John L. Yates’ vessel Miss Katie was boarded by a Florida fish and wildlife officer who examined the catch and wrote Yates up for possessing undersized grouper.

The fish cop sent Yates ashore under orders to preserve the evidence.

Instead, Yates did what any number of us would have done – he told his crew to throw the undersized fish overboard.

He no doubt regrets not having one of his crewmen thrown over as well – the one who later confessed to authorities.

In their wisdom, the federales charged Yates not with a fisheries violation but with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which arose out of the Enron scandal and was intended to prevent the destruction of “any record, document, or tangible object” that was the subject of a federal investigation.

Yates was sentenced to 30 days in prison, a sentenced that was upheld on appeal.

Justice department prosecutors allowed that they brought the charges under Sarbanes-Oxley because it carries a maximum sentence of 20 years as opposed to the fisheries statute, which would have been worth a maximum of five years.

The outrageousness of this was not lost on Justice Antonin Scalia. “What kind of mad prosecutor would try to send this guy up for 20 years?” he asked. “Who do you have out there that exercises prosecutorial discretion?”

Or common sense. It costs the taxpayers about $30,000 a year per inmate in federal prison. We’d have been on the hook for upward of $600,000 if Yates had drawn the maximum sentence, for tossing overboard a handful of fish. Does that seem proportionate to you?

Supreme Court reporters note that this case has the prosecutorial trappings of Bond vs. United States, a farce in which the feds charged a woman under a chemical weapons treaty for applying irritants to a former friend’s car, mailbox and doorknob in an effort to provoke a rash. (The ex-friend was carrying the woman’s husband’s baby, but not as a surrogate mom.)

Only in America.

The Yates case is amusing because it’s clear that the justices are convinced Sarbanes-Oxley is far too broad. There is nothing funny about prosecutors who contrive to send American citizens to prison for decades in cases that are at best, in the words of Justice Samuel Alito, “trivial matters.”

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Fish for a living and it’s easy to become jaded about “do gooders” who, sometimes naively and sometimes not, make it their business to save the ocean and all its fish from the evil predations of commercial fishermen.

2014 1030 Jonathan GonzalezJonathan Gonzalez shares what he’s learned about gillnet fishing on his website, photoBut the truth is that every now and then someone like Jonathan Gonzalez, a graphic designer in Santa Barbara, Calif., comes along and reminds us that humans are blessed with reason, and some use it.

Gonzalez suffered the laudable bias to conserve that all too often leads folks to jump to conclusions about human interactions with their environment, particularly when it comes to fishing, agriculture and so-called extractive industries.

He was no exception, at least in the beginning.

As a volunteer for the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center he came to view gillnets as curtains of death, largely as a result of sea lion bycatch, even though the sea lions were released alive. But he made his bones on sharks with the launch in 2009 of, which was dedicated to getting local restaurants to stop serving shark fin soup.

(He is perplexed to this day at the willingness of shark conservationists to grant him “expert status” for little more than advocating a position and laying out a website.)

Fortunately, the same honest intellect that led him to question gillnets and shark fishing stood him in good stead when he spoke with local fishermen and chefs, and he followed up his conversations with research. He discovered that responsible conservation, like responsible fishing, is a nuanced business.

 His story is compelling and reasserts the power of ideas. You can find it on his blog, Organic Creativity

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Yesterday morning, I pulled my camel-colored wool coat from the closet for the first time this season. A simple act in the past, this was a terrible decision.  

2014 1028 Coastlines TolmanAlaskanSKiffs coverforwebI moved Down East about two months ago, to work as an editor for Professional BoatBuilder magazine in Brooklin, Maine. From my former home of Portland, Maine, Brooklin is about three hours away, northeast — and then south down one of the fingers of land that hang from Maine’s coast. This peninsula is thick with deer, and hunting season is about to start (it began already with a youth hunting day last Saturday). Wearing a light brown coat would be practically suicidal. 

Life is different. I’m adjusting to a new job, new home, and new people. But I haven’t left everything behind, including blogging for National Fisherman. As an editor for a heavily technical journal about boats, I’m privileged to learn about the latest developments in design, building techniques, materials, systems and propulsion. When it’s relevant to the commercial fishing industry, I’m happy to share.

Renn Tolman’s move was much greater than mine, and his adjustments made lasting impacts on boatbuilding and commercial fishing. He grew up in New Hampshire then headed west, eventually making his way to Homer, Alaska. When he got there, in 1971, his first boat was a double-ended dory he called “wonderfully seaworthy,” but also the slowest boat on Kachemak Bay. He sold that dory and decided to build a Carolina Dory Skiff, which traded the former’s sluggishness for an unstable, wet ride. He began a quest to design and build what he called a “proper skiff.”

Even if you haven’t heard of Tolman, you’ve seen the result of this quest. “These skiffs, which became known simply as Tolman skiffs, were the thing to have if you were a setnet fisherman in Alaska,” wrote NF North Pacific Bureau Chief Charlie Ess in “Reflections in wood” (National Fisherman, April 2011). According to Ess, Tolman built 103 skiffs of his own design (which included the standard, wide body and jumbo models) before retiring from boatbuilding in 2000. Tolman also gave amateur boatbuilders the tools to make their own, publishing “A Skiff For All Seasons: How to Build an Alaskan Skiff” in 1992, which was updated and reprinted as “Tolman Alaska Skiffs: Building Plans for Three Plywood/Epoxy Skiffs” in 2003.

Tolman died in July 2014 at the age of 80. You can read more about his work in “Renn Tolman and his high-endurance skiff” on Professional BoatBuilder’s website. For me, part of his legacy is a reminder that a big change can also be a blessing. It depends on what you make of it.

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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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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 3/10/15

In this episode, Online Editor Leslie Taylor talks with Mike McLouglin, vice president of Dunlop Industrial and Protective Footwear.

National Fisherman Live: 2/24/15

In this episode:

March date set for disaster aid dispersal
Oregon LNG project could disrupt fishing
NOAA tweaks gear marking requirement
N.C. launches first commercial/recreational dock
Spiny lobster traps limits not well received

Inside the Industry

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is required by state statute to appoint someone to the Board of Fisheries by today, Tuesday, May 19. However, his efforts to fill the seat have gone unfulfilled since he took office in January. The seven-member board serves as an in-state fishery management council for fisheries in state waters.

The resignation of Walker’s director of Boards and Commissions, Karen Gillis, fanned the flames of controversy late last week.


Keith Decker, president and COO of High Liner Foods, will take over for the outgoing CEO, Harry Demone, who will assume the role as chairman of the board of directors. The Lunenburg, Nova Scotia-based seafood supplier boasts sales in excess of $310 million (American) for the first quarter of the year.

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