Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 04 November 2015
While curating the Fishing Back When section for the December issue of National Fisherman, I read a story about Hurricane Rita, the destructive storm that ravaged the Gulf Coast, picking up where Hurricane Katrina had left off just a few weeks before.
Because the damage from the hurricane was mainly from water instead of wind, it caused much more damage to the seafood industry’s shoreside infrastructure.
Hurricane Rita is often described as a forgotten storm, as it was not as covered in mainstream media as Hurricane Katrina was. But fishermen surely remember.
“We got socked in the jaw and then kicked in the gut,” said Dulac, La., shrimp packer Robert J. Samanie.
But even immediately following the storm, fishermen were hopeful.
“Your true commercial fishermen, they’re getting back together right now to go back to work,” said Samanie.
Story after story of fishermen helping each other get back on their feet was reported in the months after the storm. That fishing family motif that everyone in the industry always talks about shined through the otherwise awful hurricane season the gulf saw that year.
George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association, was made homeless by Hurricane Katrina, but was helping to direct supplies to families in need.
Cindy Johnson of Bayou La Batre, Ala., wife of fisherman Doug Johnson, was delivering supplies to the coast just before Rita and was brought to tears by the destruction that had already happened.
“It was like traveling through a nightmare,” she said.
But, as they say, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And this is especially true of fishermen.
Johnson recalled moving to Alabama over 20 years prior and not being a fan of the smell coming from the oyster, shrimp and crab plants and the docks. But she remembered something her grandfather used to say about the smell of his pig farm. It was a money smell.
And that money smell is coming back to the Gulf Coast, despite all the hardships that fishermen have gone through.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 28 October 2015
If you’re focused on fish, you’re probably more interested in the sea than the sky. But recently more and more fishermen and scientists are sticking their head in the clouds to learn more about the ocean.
We’re talking about drones. While mini-helicopters might make you think of children’s toys, higher quality copters are becoming popular for research.
"[In] previous attempts to photograph from the air, we’ve been in manned aircraft, like helicopters, so we’ve been a lot higher," NMFS marine mammal biologist John Durban said on a NOAA podcast released last week. "This is the first time we’ve seen this kind of behavior in this kind of clarity.".
Using small, unmanned drones makes it easier to get close to the water. With higher quality photos, scientists can more accurately measure whale growth and health.
A New York Times story on the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet and its potential effects on sea levels featured beautiful stills and video from drones, allowing the reader to get a first-hand look at climate change. Drones didn’t play a hand in research here, but NYT journalists thought their first major drone assignment was successful..
“In this extreme environment, both harsh and stirringly beautiful, the New York Times used a drone to report the assignment, opening a new path for readers to experience our stories. Flying a camera-equipped drone over this terrain resulted from many months of work,” wrote photographer Josh Haner on the experience. “While we cannot yet fly drones in the United States without an FAA exemption and a licensed pilot at the controls, the largely unpopulated country of Greenland proved to be an excellent, if challenging, first drone assignment.”.
The places we can reach using drone technology is amazing. The fact that scientists can now track the location, size and health of certain species almost remotely is an incredible development.
Research aside, some fishermen have been experimenting with using a drone to fish. This angler attached bait and tackle to his quadcopter and actually managed to catch a fish while controlling the drone on land. I doubt one of those personal drones can hold up more than a single fish at a time, so it might not be a good option for your commercial vessel. Who knows though? The uses for this technology seem endless and there are a lot of users experimenting with them right now.
If you don’t have the tools to do serious research and the one-at-a-time fishing method doesn’t work for you, at the very least you can get some great photos and video of the work you do on your vessel and your catch.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 21 October 2015
In celebration of National Seafood Month, NOAA scientists Julie Rose and Suzanne Bricker took to Reddit on Monday to answer questions from the community about shellfish, which they dubbed the “unlikely heroes” of the nation’s bays. The Ask Me Anything thread received comments from fishermen, environmental consultants, fishery biologists and consumers from around the globe.
Rose and Bricker recently contributed to a study of nitrogen removal by shellfish farms. The team is currently exploring how shellfish farming and restoration could be incorporated into existing programs that manage nutrients in coastal waters, ways to pay shellfish farmers for the nutrient removal services they are providing, and the economic benefits that shellfish provide to coastal communities. Using data collected from field and lab studies, shellfish farmers and models, they’ve found that shellfish, being filter feeders, can improve water quality by removing excess nutrients from the water when they eat plankton — the same excess nutrients that are causing huge problems in coastal water quality.
According to Rose and Bricker, who answered questions jointly, one of the biggest hurdles in their research is getting the data at the appropriate time, making accurate analyses and model simulations, and coordinating the help they receive on the federal, state and local levels.
They had a wide variety of questions thrown at them and answered nearly all of them — from explaining the difference between bivalve shellfish and shrimp and lobster, to discussing how filter feeders could help specific bays. Some questions were answered in full, but the scientists linked to a collection of NOAA and outside sources as well.
The whole thread serves as an introduction to the complexities of shellfish and their potential uses. Give the website a look and chime in if there’s a topic you’re interested in. While the Q & A portion is complete, you can still speak to users in the comments.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 07 October 2015
In 1985, exactly 142 years from the day the ill-fated Isidore set sail off the coast of Maine, an Ogunquit fisherman pulled a chunk of rudder out of the ocean that he believed was a part of the ship that crashed just off the York coast.
Digging deeper into the story and the legend, while combing through the archives for our Fishing Back When page, I discovered an especially eerie side to this sinking. A lot of the crew members had a bad feeling about the ship before it set out; and as it turned out, they should’ve trusted their gut.
On Nov. 26, 1842, fisherman Tom King dreamed he was standing on the deck of the Isidore looking toward the shore, where he saw seven coffins laid side-by-side on the beach. He called out, to no one in particular, asking what the coffins were for. According to the legend, “For the crew of the Isidore,” was the reply he heard.
That same week, other members of the Isidore’s crew encountered bad omens while preparing. Dogs howled outside the home of John Crowder for three nights in a row. Paul Grant also dreamt about coffins.
On Nov. 30, these three men, along with 12 other crew members, boarded the Isidore for her maiden voyage to New Orleans from Kennebunk, Maine. That night the crew faced one of the worst snowstorms to hit New England that century, and the crew perished eight miles from their port of sail.
Some retellings of the legend say only seven bodies were recovered — seven bodies for the seven coffins King had seen in his dreams.
There doesn’t seem to be a single member of the crew who felt safe getting on the boat that day.
According to the tale, crew member William Harding stood on the deck of the ship hours before it set sail and said to a bystander, “I wish she was 1,000 miles at sea and I on shore.”
Some say it was the captain’s fault — that he was cursed. According to some accounts, his first ship also went down on its maiden voyage. There are reports that his wife demanded her burial plot be planned away from his because he was so unlucky.
Others say the boat was doomed from its creation. They had a tough time getting the Isidore into the water the day of her launching, a terrible omen for any superstitious fisherman.
No one really knows what happened at sea.
In 2011, Ken Young turned the rudder over to the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit after it had sat it his home for more than 40 years.
Young said he never considered himself an expert on the wreck or a superstitious person, but when he found the rudder and learned more about the legend in ’85, he had some words of wisdom to share with National Fisherman.
“Some people just don’t understand the sea,” he said. “They don’t understand that you have to respect it.”
Who knows whether the ship was destined to be destroyed or was just caught off guard by the storm. Was the captain fatally unlucky or just made some bad judgment calls about weather conditions?
Whatever you believe, do your best to be prepared, stay safe and respect the sea.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Samuel Hill
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
As part of the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival last weekend, the fisherman’s association there took on a daunting task: making a giant sandwich.
A lobster roll to be specific, and they sure did succeed. The final product measured in at 79 feet and 1 inch long and the chefs and volunteers (needed to carry the enormous bun around) celebrated their giant lunch, which reportedly fed about 300 people.
The roll also was made with 75 pounds of lobster donated by the fishermen’s association, as well as over five gallons of mayonnaise, 24 lemons and five pounds of red onion. It was prepared by three chefs: Charlottetown’s Ross Munro, Food Network Canada’s Lynn Crawford and Matt Nolot from Indiana.
“Partying, shucking and shellfish. It’s great,” said Munro in an interview with the Guardian. “I’m very happy, it’s always fun to bring something different to the Island.”
Some organizers thought the roll was long enough to earn the Guinness world record. But before the stamp of approval could be made, their story circulated online and in Canadian newspapers.
Fishermen in Shediac, New Brunswick, who held the record with a 72-foot-4-inch lobster roll in 2014, took issue with the record-breaking claim.
While it didn’t hit the newsstands as hard, a behemoth of a roll was made during Shediac’s Lobster Festival in July of this year at 85 feet 6 inches. That’s a whole 6 feet longer than the Prince Edward Island sandwich.
While the battle for longest sandwich might be stirring up some bad blood between lobster lovers, leaders in the community are having fun with it.
“I am happy to see a rivalry between two maritime communities,” Pierre Cormier, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Shediac, told CBC News.
In the end, neither town is getting in the record books just yet, at least not the Guinness Book of World Records. That organization doesn’t have a lobster-specific sandwich record. And the longest sandwich on record — at 2,411 feet 5 inches long — was made by a group in Lebanon in 2011.
So North America has a long way to go if we want to be known for oversized sandwiches.
And if you think all this talk about giant lobster rolls is a tad ridiculous, stay out of the serving line when one of these towns cooks up something special again next year.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Melissa Wood
Monday, 24 August 2015
Last fall the Asbury Park Press reported on the first archeological expedition of the shipwreck Robert J. Walker. The wreck dates back to 1860, when the government survey vessel collided with the schooner Fanny and subsequently sank, killing 20 of the 73 people onboard.
The ship’s final underwater resting place remained a mystery for 100 years until a lobsterman caught his traps on the wreck. Since wreck sites are known for being productive, the lobsterman sold the coordinates, which were about 10 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., to a local head boat captain for $25. Today, the 132-foot iron steamer is listed on the National Record of Historic Places. That means it’s protected from salvagers and treasure hunters but open to diving and fishing.
In some places, however, fishing has damaged historic shipwrecks sites, leading to some researchers calling for making these sites into marine protected areas. A paper recently published in Marine Policy by Jason Krumholz and Michael Brennan makes the point that since shipwrecks create artificial reefs protecting them benefits both historical/societal good and the commercial fishing industry by contributing to higher fish populations. In fact, they found that shipwreck sites that were heavily damaged tended to have a lower abundance of fish.
The researchers studied shipwrecks in the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean seas, where a 100-year-old wreck would seem modern compared to the ancient vessels in these waters. The damage from trawl fishing can be devastating to these ancient wrecks. In an earlier interview with National Geographic, Brennan, an expedition leader with Robert Ballard’s group, described how trawling damaged the Eregli E, the most trawled shipwreck in the Black Sea. It is 2,300 years old.
“The site had been so disturbed, it uncovered materials from beneath the sediment, including human bones,” he told National Geographic. “ The bones had been preserved in the mud, but then had been ripped out by trawls and that’s why we actually could see them. When we returned this year the artifacts we had seen the year before were either further damaged or gone, including the bones that were completely missing, again due to trawling.”
The perils of wreck fishing have been well documented in National Fisherman. Those who dare to fish near wrecks can hope to be rewarded with an abundant catch, but they also risk losing their nets if they get too close and the lines snare on the gnarled wreckage below. Not to mention, shipwrecks are also usually found in waters that were dangerous enough to take them down in the first place. (However, some of the ancient sites in the study were well worn down and in channels that had shifted, which may have contributed to why they were so heavily fished.)
Krumholz and Brennan’s proposal makes sense. But good ideas don’t always turn into sensible management policies. It’s interesting to note that in their research they did not see any difference in fish abundance if a site had been fished or not. In other words, it was the destruction of the habitat created by the artificial reef/shipwreck that mattered. So I think it also makes sense that if anything develops from this research, the focus should be on greater protection of wrecks/artificial reefs that are in actual danger, and hopefully not a new MPA that simply eliminates all fishing in the area.
Beyond that, I confess I’m totally fascinated by underwater photos of shipwrecks and deep-sea creatures. If you are too and want to see more of the work of Ballard’s team, visit the expedition website: http://www.nautiluslive.org/.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Melissa Wood
Thursday, 16 July 2015
I’m researching a story on dead boats. Certain boats, think of the many fiberglass boats used in the recreational industry, only last so long, and then it’s expensive to get rid of them. They have to be taken apart by hand, and once that’s done, most of the materials are only fit for the landfill. In places like Florida and Michigan, abandoned boats litter backyards and canals. Sometimes a boat owner simply files off the serial numbers and leaves the boat to sink. You can’t give these boats away.
There’s more than one way to destroy a boat, which is apparently what somebody wanted to do in Narragansett, R.I., where three commercial fishing boats were set on fire before dawn at the Galilee State Pier last Friday.
According to the Coast Guard, responders arrived at the pier after receiving a report of a fishing vessel fire at 3 a.m. on Friday, June 10. One fire heavily damaged the vessels Gator and Blue Thunder while about a mile away on a different dock, a second fire sank the Elizabeth Victoria. The cleanup and investigation are ongoing, but investigators are already saying they believe the fires are suspicious.
Three destroyed fishing boats also means the destruction of three small businesses. That loss is made even worse by the loss of income that comes with it. Summer is peak fishing season. Each day these fishermen don’t have a boat working, they lose money.
There’s no walking away in this business, however. Less than a week after the fires, two of the fishermen are determined to get back the water. Ryan Labriole is raising money through a Go Fund Me page titled “Can’t burn me down” to restore his boat, the Gator. According to the page, Labriole previously worked as an offshore skipper, which meant he would be out fishing for a week at a time. He bought the dayboat to spend more time with his 6-year-old daughter, Annika. When the boat is restored he plans to rename it Anni’s Gator after her.
Squid and fluke fisherman Bob Cherenzia’s boat, the Elizabeth Victoria, was a complete loss. He is heartbroken but not discouraged, according to his daughter, who wrote about what the loss of his boat means on a separate Go Fund Me page. “We need to get my dad back into action,” she writes.
“Owning a boat is not like owning a car or a house — this really is his livelihood. He has had the Elizabeth Victoria for as long as I can remember — this is where he built his business and chances are, you've eaten some of his catch. Off season is a tough time for commercial fishermen, especially when they cannot work to their potential in the summer, and whether you share this story, help us find whoever did this or donate a $1, we need all of the help that we can get.”
Written by Melissa Wood
Thursday, 09 July 2015
The most recent death was on June 22. George McBeth, 56, a contractor from Santa Rosa, was about 150 yards offshore when he became ill and couldn’t be revived. He was the fifth person to die this year diving for abalone off the Northern California coast.
But as one of the “strongest divers on the California coast,” according to his wife, he had more experience than others, who are usually vacationers with little experience with local ocean conditions.
Case in point: Three of the divers who died in April were part of a group that had rented a vacation home nearby. They drowned after becoming trapped in rough waves in a narrow channel surrounded by rock outcroppings. Nate Buck, a lifeguard for California’s Department of Parks and Recreation who patrols that area, told the San Francisco Chronicle that more experienced divers—usually not locals—tend to avoid the water when it’s rough.
“The rougher the conditions, the less skilled the divers tend to be,” he said.
California banned all commercial fishing of abalone in the 1990s, but recreational diving for it is still allowed north of San Francisco from April to November, but with restrictions. Divers, who aren’t allowed oxygen tanks, hold their breath and weigh themselves down to reach the mollusks on the ocean floor.
The ban was protested by commercial divers, who predicted there would be no abalone industry. In a sense, they were wrong. While legal commercial catches have been banned, the black market is another matter. Poaching is a problem that comes to the surface on a regular basis by way of high-profiles busts (one case in 2013 netted 13 people alone). Most recently, in April, two San Francisco poachers were sentenced to three years of probation fined $20,000, and ordered to serve 240 hours of community service after being caught with 59 red abalones (the limit is three).
The year before, a commercial diver from Santa Barbara was found with four lives abalones onboard his boat with his legal sea urchin catch. He paid for it too, not only was he fined $15,000, but he also lost his commercial fishing license for life.
It’s hard not to imagine a better way. Could rules for the recreational fishery be amended to allow a limited number of licenses with applicants showing some technical skill—or even an endorsement of new divers from older, more experienced locals? I realize that kind of change would limit the number of divers, but it’s hard to be fair when you’re dealing with a limited resource.
And in some ways that limited number could be a good thing, with divers known to each other and (hopefully) invested in protecting a local resource. Perhaps, with such changes, a limited amount of commercial fishing could be allowed too?Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Melissa Wood
Thursday, 18 June 2015
When I attended a couple sessions on aquaculture at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum this spring, there was a lot of excitement about the future of the industry in Maine. It’s understandable. Thanks to its well-known lobster industry, Maine has made itself into a brand for sustainable (and delicious) seafood, it’s close to major markets like Boston and New York, and can boast clean waters: In other words, it’s a marketer’s dream come true.
It’s not just Maine, but on all coastlines that aquaculture is growing or at least touted as the next big thing. Thanks to new rules allowing aquaculture in federal waters, offshore mussel farms have been approved off Southern New England and California. Additionally, oyster aquaculture has helped maintain watermen on Chesapeake Bay; and there continue to be yearly predictions that finfish farming will start up in the Gulf of Mexico.
But aquaculture’s success does not just depend on reaching big-city markets, providing jobs and funding farms. It also has to be compatible with its surrounding environment. In places like Southeast Asia, for example, overcrowded shrimp farms have not just hurt the ecosystem, but also led to diseases like early mortality syndrome that have devastated the industry in some areas. Even in places where best practices are followed carefully, there are understandable risks in introducing a non-native species (though it’s important to note that some filter-feeders like mussels can actually be good for the water).
A recent initiative is trying to better understand that risk. Researchers in Canada have started a three-year experiment tracking escaped farmed salmon from open-water fish pens. The project records the behavior of escaped salmon from farms on the south coast of Newfoundland that have been tagged and released into the wild.
“What we do is simulate escapes,” explained Dounia Hamoutene, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a video about the project (above). “We have a certain number of fish that we tag, and then we have deployed receivers in some strategic areas, and we basically detect whether they went through that area or not.”
Some of the questions the researchers are trying to answer through this work are where the salmon go, how fast they are going, whether they are reaching rivers, and if they are able to be recaptured.
The biggest concern is what effect such escapees will have on native salmon if they interbreed: Will such interbreeding alter the genetic makeup of the native species and hurt their chances of being successful in their native environment? According to the researchers, this information will help them better manage the industry.
Of course, I’m also wondering what happens if they find out that escapees threaten the survival of local salmon? What then? But at least this research acknowledges that aquaculture can have an effect on its environment and tries to find out what that might be.
Caption: Canadian researchers are tracking what happens when salmon escape from open-water pens. Youtube screenshot.
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Written by Melissa Wood
Thursday, 11 June 2015
When U.S. fishing stocks are deemed fished beyond sustainable levels, it means a cut in fishing and a shrinking number of commercial fishing boats. In some places fleets face extinction, like in Maine, New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts, where the loss of an iconic species, cod, could mean the end of the inshore fleet.
So it is interesting to see a vastly different approach to diminished fish stocks on the other side of the globe. In China, the loss of nearshore fisheries from overexploitation and pollution has led to the expansion of fishing fleets. The number of fishing boats is not just expanding but rapidly so to reach fishing stocks around the world.
China’s demand for fish is huge. Not only is it the largest consumer of fish, it is also the world’s largest producer and exporter. In response to that demand, the country has invested in a global fleet of more than 2,000 boats that fish around the world. Though it reported an annual catch of 368,000 tons, a European Parliament study estimated the annual catch is around 4.6 million tons, mostly fished near Africa but also near Asia, Central and South America, and Antarctica.
The scariest thing to me is the inability to cooperate with other countries. In a book about the contested waters, “The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia,” author Bill Hayton recounts problems with disputed territory there. In the South China Sea, China has been using its growing world dominance to assert its rights to resources on waters that have traditionally belonged to nations like Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
That of course has led to problems with fish stocks. According to Hayton, the Philippines provides a quarter of the canned tuna on American supermarket shelves. The recorded catch grew from 870,000 tons in 2001 to 1.9 million in 2008, but it has since dropped to 1.6 million in 2010 — not because of decreased demand but decreased fish.
For all the millions who depend on a healthy tuna supply, an agreement to jointly manage the tuna has been blocked by the region’s contested waters. The countries can’t even agree on an investigation to determine the health of the fishery.
“All countries around the sea depend upon cheap supplies of fish to feed their populations,” he writes. “In the absence of any agreement to safeguard the stocks, increasing short-term exploitation is putting all countries in the region at risk of a major food crisis. If China and its neighbors can’t agree on basic steps to avoid the risk of starvation, how likely are they to reach agreement on wider issues of sovereignty and territory?”
Our ability to manage our shared fishing stocks can provide lessons on how to manage (or not manage) other valuable resources, like water in California. In a best-case scenario, well-managed fisheries could be a role model to the rest of the world of how to do it right. In a worst-case scenario, the decrease of fish populations from bad management and an inability to agree can be a sign of troubles to come.
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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...