National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
Tuesday, 20 August 2013
"Invented" fish are nothing new. In the early 1960s Washington State fishery managers thought if they could get chum and pink salmon (humpies) to breed they'd come up with a new type of Pacific salmon that would combine the best qualities of both.
"A 'chumpie' is a cross between a humpie (pink) and a chum, the latter — though delicious in flavor — is less desirable of the five species because of its color which does not stir one's appetite like the red, medium-red and pink salmon."
Back then as now, the rule in the commercial salmon market is the redder the fish, the higher the price. Because pinks only spawn on odd years the biologists hoped that combining the two would create a new salmon with pink flesh that runs every year.
By October 1963, National Fisherman reported that developments were promising. Two years earlier, 155,000 chum males and pink females had been released from Hoodsport Hatchery on Hood Canal. Returns of around 5 to 6 percent were very good. It looked like the new hybrid species were among them:
"A number, identified as the new hybrid, have been taken on lures [unlike chums, which rarely take a lure] and are reported to be stronger and put up a better fight than the humpie (pink). They also run slightly larger, and the flesh has a darker color than the pink."
Despite those promising beginnings chumpies obviously never fulfilled their goal of becoming a new type of commercial species. It's likely the hybrid — like other hybrids — was sterile.
One of my favorite parts of working for National Fisherman is the historic perspective provided by back issues of the magazine, which go back more than 75 years. As the controversy about genetically modified salmon shows, we're still trying to tamper with nature to create something more convenient for us.
Though I've met a few chumps but never a chumpie, it is apparently possible. A quick Google search reveals a couple mentions of the hybrids in angler forums. I'm curious, if this is true, have any of our salmon fishermen readers caught one? What did you sell it as?
*A quick note about the illustration: At least for now, the fish pictured here does not exist in nature or in the lab. It is a mishmash of a wolffish and chinook put together as an imaginative depiction of a hybrid by Laura Dobson using illustrations from the Seafood Handbook published by SeaFood Business magazine.
Thursday, 15 August 2013
Lobsters are so delicious they even eat each other. Noah Oppenheim, a marine biologist from the University of Maine, says that when scientists placed underwater cameras off the coast of Maine in 1992 they found that fish were the primary predators. Now there’s more lobster-on-lobster predation.
It’s easy to imagine the main reason lobsters are eating more of each other: There’s a lot more of them. In 1992, Maine lobstermen landed about 27 million pounds of lobster. They landed almost 127 million pounds in 2012.
Oppenheim talks about lobster in the “Attack of the Cannibal Lobsters” video posted by Climate Desk. Beyond the video’s initial theatrics is a brief look at some of the challenges facing the Maine lobster industry, whose lobstermen are not enjoying high prices along with their high catches.
Some people believe lobster needs an image makeover. I recently talked to John Hathaway of Shucks Maine Lobster about this problem. In Maine, lobster processing is beginning to catch up to its high landings. He hopes to grow its potential in the raw meat category by opening a new processing plant on Portland, Maine’s waterfront next year.
“We believe that people come to Maine to find the ‘Maine lobster experience’ — to have that Maine lobster bake on the beach or at someone’s house in the summertime,” says Hathaway. “The problem is, those people go home and don’t enjoy Maine lobster until they come back for next summer’s visit.”
As he points out, consumer demands have changed. People no longer buy live chickens and pluck the feathers, nor do they buy fish with the head-on and de-bone them.
Though the live lobster market is important, perhaps it’s time for lobster to change too: As he puts it, “At Shucks, we are selling food, not a live animal.”Add a comment
Thursday, 08 August 2013
The announcement of devastating quota cuts and subsequent disaster declaration for New England’s iconic groundfish fishery made a big splash in the media. But while the rest of the news cycle moved on to other stories, journalist Farhod Family believed there was still much more to tell.
“These guys can’t come up with a proper business plan because of all these cuts they’re facing,” he says. “Wow, they've been doing this for 400 years out of ports of New England and now it could all be finished.”
The Brooklyn-based filmmaker is working on a (still untitled) documentary telling the story of New England’s disaster through the people experiencing it.
The stories are heartbreaking, like that of Scituate fisherman Frank Mirarchi. Family says Mirachi — who in the clip below is shown on his boat and at a council meeting, saying, “This basically is perhaps the end of an era” — is a tireless advocate for the industry. But it's not enough.
“The story about Frank is he bought this boat eight years ago thinking he would fish until his retirement and pass on to his son,” says Family. But Mirachi’s son has moved away from fishing.
Family’s goal is to show how the disaster is affecting different Massachusetts towns. In New Bedford scallops have helped the industry thrive, but they are also threatened by cuts to yellowtail, an important bycatch in the scallop fleet. On the trailer, the city’s scallop boss Carlos Rafael passionately tells a council meeting what that could mean for this port:
“Some of the people in this room, they are on their last leg. You pull the plug here, they’re going to fall,” he says.
And in Scituate and Gloucester fishermen are tying up their boats because they don’t have scallops to fall back on.
“Scituate is a very small town with a small fishing fleet,” says Family. “They’re all about to be done because of these cuts.”
Though Family’s work is focused on the people in the industry, and not politics, he has taken away some things from the experience of going out on fishing boats (including a 10-day trip on Rafael’s Athena), attending council meetings and touring processing plants. He found it frustrating to observe the lack of communication between NOAA and fishermen, whom he feels have a right to question fluctuating survey data.
“One universal thought is in a few years the cod could come back, and at that point so many people will have sold their boats,” he says. “If they sell their boats, they sell their boats, that may be the end of it, who knows?”
Family, who works as a freelance journalist, is paying for the film himself, which he conservatively estimates will be released in spring 2014. He has applied for grants and may open a Kickstarter account to help with funding. Check NationalFisherman.com for updates.
Wednesday, 31 July 2013
Welcome to Washington County. Brushing against Canada, it's the easternmost spot in the United States, Maine's poorest county and for two months in spring, part of the state's booming elver fishery. Over the last two years, tiny baby eels have become Maine's second most valuable catch, creating a Wild West atmosphere on these usually quiet riverbanks.
To read my feature on elvers, check out page 22 of the September issue of National Fisherman. As a web extra, I've added some photos and information that didn't make it into the magazine from my trip Down East below. Enjoy!
Monday, 29 July 2013
Small coastal fishing communities depend on small commercial boats to survive. The health of fish stocks may depend on them as well.
Earlier this month a high court in England ruled that unused quota can be redistributed from larger boats to small ones. Though the decision will likely be appealed, for small-boat operators it’s a victory toward fixing unfair quota allocations they say are putting them out of business.
The numbers certainly don't look fair for small boats in England. Though fishing boats that are under 10 meters (33 feet) make up 77 percent of the fleet and account for two-thirds of fishing-related employment, they only get 4 percent of fishing quota. More than 95 percent of quota is allocated to the larger boats — often large trawlers owned by foreign conglomerates — which are granted individual quota while smaller boats share from a national pool.
Though there are many differences in our countries' quota programs, the U.K. ruling could be meaningful to U.S. fleets as a sign of a larger trend recognizing the importance of small boats.
The benefits of keeping them in the water were pointed out in an interview following the ruling. Small-boat advocate Jerry Percy from the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association was asked whether, in terms of economies of scale, it made more sense to have a small fleet of large boats catching the fish instead of a large fleet of small ones?
Percy was adamant: smaller boats are more sustainable on every level.
"Small scale vessels have a much lower environmental impact, not just in terms of impact to the seabed but in terms of carbon emissions and so forth," he said. "At the same time they have a very high social and economic benefit and impact to coastal communities. They employ local people, they utilize local services and of course they land top quality day-caught fish to the local consumer."
I believe both big and small boats play important parts within our diverse U.S. industry. But policy often makes it harder for small boats to compete, especially when quota shrinks. Small boats aren't able to move offshore to target something else, and they can be excessively burdened by the expense of 100-percent observer requirements.
We've seen some movements in the United States for protecting small boats like Maine’s permit bank program for groundfish. The Nature Conservancy recently made an agreement with the N.H. Fisheries Sector to buy groundfish quota from a retiring fisherman and lease it to fishermen who agreed to use it for research. And in Alaska, there are ongoing efforts to develop technology and rules that would allow small boats to carry cameras instead of costly observers.
To me, that seems better than having fishermen with smaller boats sell their quota when they can no longer make ends meet. It's a loss for everyone when a small-boat guy drops out: Often he takes with him generations of local fishing knowledge as well his port’s future as a fishing community.
Photo is a crew shot of the 32-foot salmon driftnetter Arctic Dawn submitted by Dave & Tanya Thynes. Ed Tagaban is owner/operator and homeport is Petersburg, Alaska.Add a comment
Thursday, 25 July 2013
I remember seeing green crabs on the beach when I was a kid. They were tiny and tended to scamper under rocks when I reached into tidepools to scoop up a starfish or a snail, which I always wanted to catch out before they shrank into their shells.
Green crabs were faster, and I couldn't always catch them. Sometimes I'd shift the rock to see where a crab had gone and it would disappear into the the whirls of sand. Someone told me they were an invasive species, which sounded exotic (I grew up in Maine), but I didn't think much of it. Apparently, no one else thought much of green crabs either.*
Now they've become a threat to mussels and clams, Maine's third largest fishery, and there are concerns that lobster will be next. Green crabs came from Europe reportedly riding over in the ballast water on ships. Though they've been here for more than 100 years, a couple of warm winters combined with warming water temperatures have caused populations to explode in Maine. Green crabs may be small, but as I saw, they can burrow down into the sand and eat tiny clam spat.
The state is taking action to limit green crabs, which you can read about here. Although there's no commercial fishery for the crabs, among the efforts is a private-sector initiative to grind them up into a protein that can be used for aquaculture feed. But the priority is to get rid of them. (Such initiatives are also of interest to those on the West Coast where they're a growing threat to shellfish populations there as well.)
How much it will take remains to be seen, but our track record for fighting invasive fish species is not good. Yesterday, a federal plan with a $50 million price tag was released in the latest fight against Asian carp's reaching the Great Lakes. The plan includes strengthening barriers as well as some alternative methods that include the use of water guns and hormonal fish love potions.
It's a lot of money, but that's just a fraction of what is being spent in the Asian carp battle. Including the $50 million, in four years the Obama administration will have spent $200 million. Plus there's no plan to get rid of these harmful invaders, which continue to spread in the Mississippi. They're just trying to keep them out of the Great Lakes, and no one's sure if it will be successful.
Will Maine's action be enough and in time to stem the green crab tide? I hope so. But it seems like too much of management is waiting until a problem becomes so great that it is often too late to solve.
*A historical note: Green crabs have gotten some attention through the years during other spikes in their populations. I found a 1959 article from National Fisherman's archives that reported a jump in green crab populations that were threatening Maine's soft-shell clams. Warming water temperatures were blamed for the increase then too.Add a comment
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
Last month I wrote that nobody should die over lobster after three Cape Breton lobstermen were charged with killing a man they allegedly caught stealing from their traps. (To update that story, Phillip Boudreau's body has still not been found.) Many people disagreed with me, at least on Facebook, where comments were all along the lines that "he got what was coming to him."
It must have been immensely frustrating for the crew of the Twin Maggies, especially since Canadian news outlets report that Boudreau had been (again, allegedly) stealing from them for years. I got more insight about what they may have been up against from "J.R.," who commented on the blog about his experience with a poacher while commercial crabbing. Even though the man was caught and charged, he was not punished beyond a fine and the loss of his recreational license for a year.
"If we wanted to pursue getting any compensation for our loss we had to hire a lawyer and sue in civil court. Even the officer handling the case was disgusted [with the] slap on the wrist he got. This would have taken more money and time off the water. So basically the man got a slap on the wrist for taking food off our table," he wrote.
Another poaching story came out yesterday from Australia. Commercial crab fisherman Greg Sichter of Sarina Beach was fed up with people stealing from and actually taking his pots. He had lost $4,000 in equipment since Christmas when he decided to take action. The problem is apparently an epidemic there with people thinking of pots as "fair game" according to one official.
So Sichter bought bright pink and gray floats so that nobody could claim they mistakenly thought his pots belonged to them, and he bought two portable cameras, which he hid in the mangroves. What he found shocked him: He knew some of the people who were stealing from him.
"It really hurts me to think that people who know us, and family people, would do this to us," said Sichter, who turned the images over to police. The violators face up to $55,000 in fines.
I understand the fishermen in Cape Breton didn't have mango trees to tie cameras to, but they did allegedly catch Boudreau in the act. Could they have filmed him on their camera phones? Maybe the product companies need to come up with an underwater camera that can be camouflaged in gear? But even that wouldn't do any good if the gear itself is stolen.
And after reading what happened to J.R., it made me wonder what options, if any, fishermen have for dealing with people who steal from their traps. For all I know, since few details have come out about the case, the Cape Breton fishermen could have tried many tactics before the violent confrontation with Boudreau.
But again, I don't think killing should be a solution. Not only is someone dead, but those fishermen are sitting in jail. How can they support their families now?
Photo by Melissa WoodAdd a comment
Thursday, 11 July 2013
About a month ago a friend of my neighbor's stopped by (we share a backyard) and somehow we started talking about the Appalachian Trail. Chris had hiked it a couple years ago, and said it was a life changing experience.
The more he talked, the more I believed it. For a while after that conversation, I was tempted to drop everything and do it too. It was early summer in Maine. It was the right time of year to start on Mt. Katahdin and make it down to the Georgia woods in five or six months before winter really set in.
For now, I'm still here. The dream of escaping into the wilderness is alive but dormant — put aside by the distractions of everyday life. It was sparked again today, however, after I watched the video, "I am a Commercial Fisherman." It's part of the Indie Alaska series produced by Alaska Public Media with PBS Digital Studios.
Originally from suburban Connecticut, Toby Sullivan setnets for salmon with his partner, Katie Oliver, from Uganik Bay on Kodiak. The clichés in the story of his journey west — riding boxcars with a copy of Jack Kerouac's On The Road — make it no less inspiring.
"I remember thinking this is the life. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," says Sullivan.
He's been fishing from Uganick for 31 summers, and in the video you not only see the stunning scenery but also feel the tranquility of this wild place. Watching Sullivan and Oliver poking around the bay on their skiff in the middle of alll that, it's hard not to want to join them.
Dropping everything isn't always feasible, but it can be possible. I'm still thinking about hiking the AT; for now it's a maybe. Life changing experiences don't happen every day — unless you fish in Alaska.Add a comment
Monday, 01 July 2013
Thirty years ago, Mike and Pat Burns' definition of a good season was having enough money the next spring to buy the fuel they needed to make it back up to Cordova. Times have changed.
Roger Fitzgerald caught up with the brothers both then and now — in a 1983 article for Alaska Fisherman's Journal and in his August column for National Fisherman ("Blue is the new green," p. 8) coming out this week.
When we first meet the Burns brothers — East Coast natives from Fayetteville, N.Y. — they're relatively new to fishing. After a couple successful seasons crewing on salmon seiners they decide to buy a former Chesapeake Bay buyboat they named the Chesapeake. That's Mike and Pat at the bow, right.
The Chesapeake was in rough shape when they first saw it near Astoria, Ore., "tied up in a river slough which looked like a Louisiana swamp. You had to wade to get to her." Even worse, after they fixed her up for halibut, prices collapsed, and they spent much of their time tendering for North Pacific in Prince William Sound. (For the whole story, read "Two brothers and a boat from Chesapeake Bay," which was reprinted in the July 2012 Pilot House Guide.)
Now here's the sequel. Thirty years and many boats later, the brothers, founders of Blue North Fisheries, are building the Blue North, a 191-foot longliner for the Bering Sea cod fishery, which promises to be the first of its kind in U.S. waters.
Designed by the Norwegian firm Skipsteknisk and being built by Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash., Blue North is set to be launched in late 2014. Among its many state-of-the-art features, the boat makes fuel-saving and sustainability top priorities. Her diesel electric engine is supposed to reduce fuel costs and emissions by 30 percent, and her hull will be designed to lessen resistance for even greater fuel economy.
There are many more "wow factors" about this boat that you can read about in our August issue. But Fitzgerald also has to ask, with cod prices "through the floor," why they're spending $35 million on this vessel now?
It turns out (or at least it seems) that not everything has changed. Though written 30 years apart, I thought this quote from the 1983 story sums up their attitude both then and now:
“Success is not going backwards,” said Pat. “If we were in it strictly for the money, we’d have been out of it a long time ago.”
Photo courtesy of Mike and Pat Burns.Add a comment
Thursday, 27 June 2013
I met Allyson Jordan about a year and a half ago. In January 2012, she allowed me to go out for a day of shrimping on one of her family's two groundfish draggers, the 65-foot Jamie & Ashley out of Portland, Maine. That's when I first learned about her business, Eat Local Fish, for which she sells her boats' catch directly to consumers.
When I first heard about what she does, It seemed almost unbelievable. How could anyone have enough time to manage the fishing side of the business as well as the promotion and customer care required for direct sales? But when I met Allyson it made sense. She doesn't stand still for long. She told me she lies awake at night thinking of ideas to keep her family's two boats, which also includes the Theresa & Allyson, viable. She's also been an advocate for the industry since taking over the business 14 years ago, after her father, longtime fisherman David Jordan, died at only 57 years old.
And she keeps moving. I was reminded of Allyson's hard work yesterday when I saw her smiling face on the opening page of our local paper's food section. The paper's food writer had heard about Jordan's business after meeting a couple from Boston. They had bought her fish on a visit to Maine after hearing Allyson on a local radio program (talk about word of mouth). The couple told the writer that their Atlantic pollock and Acadian redfish was the freshest fish they'd ever tasted.
This is how Allyson makes it work: She has a newsletter announcing when her boats are landing and what's on board to buy. She sells fish year-round and this summer will be concentrating on flounder (American plaice or dab). She'll also be selling redfish, hake and pollock, which are being promoted to consumers through the Gulf of Maine Research Institute's "Out of the Blue" promotion of underutilized species.
Though species like pollock and hake aren't as familiar to Maine consumers as classics like haddock, Allyson helps the home cooks feel less intimidated by includng recipes in her newsletters and interacting with customers on her company's Facebook page.
She makes her own deliveries too. After customers let her know what they'd like to buy, she'll either arrange for a pickup at Portland's Holyoke Wharf (where her boats land) or set up a shipment or delivery. In some cases she'll bring fish, which people can buy whole or in fillets, to workplaces or homes. People don't need to be home to get their orders but just leave a cooler at the door with enough ice so that fish is fresh when they do get home.
I don't need need to remind anyone how bad this year's quota cuts have been for New England's groundfish industry. There's not enough to go around. For instance, I talked to New Hampshire's sector manager last week who told me the number of active boats dropped from 22 to just 14 over the past year. The boats still going out are leasing from the boats who are sitting out. When I saw Allyson's photo and read how she was doing I was reminded that's there's still a lot of fight left in this community.Add a comment
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National Fisherman Live: 7/17/14
In this episode, National Fisherman's Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley talks with Mike Hillers about the Simrad PX Multisensor.
National Fisherman Live: 7/8/14
In this episode: