National Fisherman

I moved to the Blue Hill Peninsula five months ago. Though I was already used to winters in Maine, I was warned that Down-East winters would be tough. It turns out this February may be the coldest on record.

The bitter cold is particularly excruciating if you're a Maine clammer right now. Winter prices are higher than they've ever been ($2.10 per pound, according to a report from WCSH-TV), but many diggers either can't get to flats banked in by relentless snowstorms, or they are prevented from digging by iced-up shores and winds. You know the weather's bad when fishermen aren't able to take advantage of high prices.

2015 217 Snow shotBrooklin's Naskeag Point, home of the town dock, is blanketed in snow and ice. Melissa Wood photo It's not just cold. Relentless storms have taken a toll on Maine's other fisheries too by keeping boats at the dock more days than not. Those who do go out must be prepared for the worse. Last Saturday, on Valentine's Day, two lobstermen were rescued after their boat sank off Matinicus Island. They had been heading to Rockland to get supplies before yet another blizzard arrived later in the day.

Also anticipating that blizzard, on the same day I took my dog to the beach on Naskeag Point in Brooklin. On the beach sit boulders glazed over like large donut holes. Underneath my feet, sand and stones were hidden by multiple coats of snow and ice, ice and snow. Naskeag Point is where commercial fishermen hoist their catches up on the crane to the town dock.

Though the renowned sailing waters of Eggemoggin Reach are close by, recreational boaters are advised to use the ramp on Benjamin River. It wouldn't be wise to get in the way of a lobsterman impatient to get on (or off) the water. Where else can you go on the Maine coast where commercial fishermen take precedent over tourists? That's one of the reasons I like it here.

The reach is frozen now. The crane is still. Most of the lobster boats have been hauled out, but through the large flakes of snow already coming down I see a couple boats in the water. February is more than half over. The days are getting longer.

Spring is coming.

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Sometimes good things come in small packages, and sometimes small things come well packaged.

2015 212 SpotterPilot 2 pFishermen who catch forage fish like menhaden typically don't see themselves as fishing for human consumption, says Andrew Jackson of the International Fish Meal and Fish Oil Organization, one of the panelists who participated in the Seafood Summit's forage fish debate. Saving Seafood photoAnd so it was that a conference session on small fish, for which I had no particular expectations, turned out to be a one of the jewels of the three-day Seafood Summit in New Orleans (Earlier this week I wrote about conferences held on Day 1 and Day 2.)

I believe it's permissible to say "small fish" when speaking of forage fish, but I'm not sure. "There's no distinct, clear definition" for forage fish, said Dr. Konstantine Rountos, a marine ecologist and conservation scientist who studies the effects of human impacts on coastal ecosystems. Rountos said forage fish species share a "critical" role in the ecosystem transferring energy from plankton to upper trophic species.

Rountos was part of a three-member panel charged with "debating" the guiding principles for forage fish management.

The nonetheless rancor-free discussion brought to lively light the particular issues that attend forage fisheries and was a reminder that in an ever-more-populous world, "how we use" will be no less of a consideration than "how much we use."

Rountos, who advocated for the integrity of the ecosystem, was joined by Andrew Jackson, technical director of the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organization, and chef Barton Seaver, head of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Jackson, who, it should be noted, on Monday received a Seafood Champion Leadership Award from SeaWeb, made the case that vast amounts of forage fish are necessary to produce the food we eat – meat as well as seafood. If I understood him correctly (and if I didn't it's on me), 5 million tons of fish meal are the "foundation" of 35 million tons of aquaculture production, 150 million tons of pork production and 110 million tons of poultry production. (Pigs, for example, get 5 percent fishmeal for eight to 10 weeks in their weaning diets.)

And he noted that while fish meal production has come down in recent years, the tonnage of production it accounts for has more than doubled. By the same token, the price has increased by a factor of four, from $500 per ton to $2,000 per ton.

Seaver spoke of forage fish as "part and parcel of our cultural fabric," but noted that forage fishermen typically do not view themselves as fishing for human consumption. "We are looking at a systemic use issue," he said. In Seaver's view it might be wise to "catch less at greater value for greater purpose."

Jackson wasn't sure menhaden, for example, represented a greater purpose. "You'll struggle to get people to eat canned menhaden," he said.

Jackson says fish oil has eclipsed fishmeal in value and will eventually drive the forage fish industry. Barring innovation, he's probably right. Fish oil, which contains DHA and EPA, the long-chain marine omega-3 fatty acids, must be added to the diets of farmed salmon.

"If salmon [production] wants to double," Seaver said, "what are they going to do but let the EPA and DHA come down?"

On this note Rountos, the conservationist, seemed to share Seaver's "greater purpose" perspective. Don't manage for abundance, he said, "Manage for maximum energy content."

"We shouldn't think of forage fish as salvation for a growing population."

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Those of us associated with the fishing industry often use the term "regime shift" to try to explain change in the ocean.

It now appears there may be a regime shift headed our way at the water's edge, with respect to how environmentalists, seafood label advocates, and ultimately, the public view farmed salmon.

2015 211 SWSS-logoA session entitled "Is It Time for a New Conversation About Farmed Salmon," at the Seafood Summit in New Orleans yesterday, highlighted the progress salmon farmers have made and the challenges they still face in their quest to earn broad consensus that their product is sustainable.

Salmon farmers contend with sea lice and pollution, consumers are wary of antibiotic use, and advocates for sustainability worry about the fish-in, fish-out ratio, which is how they describe the amount of fish meal consumed in producing farmed salmon.

But the reality is that salmon farmers are making progress. Scott Nichols, director of Verlasso, the only farmed salmon producer to have received a "good alternative" endorsement from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch consumer guide, talked about his company's one-to-one fish-in, fish-out ratio and lower pen density, both better than worldwide averages.

And Alf-Gøran Knutsen of Norway's Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett, talked about how his company is using lumpfish to combat the persistent issue of sea lice: they eat them. Not only are lumpfish preferable to pesticides, but over the years sea lice have become resistant to them.

If Seafood Watch is resistant to farmed salmon, Whole Foods made a decision to market farmed salmon that met its standards for production and traceability and embarked on a yearlong study to develop those standards.

"We could have said, 'There are too many things to worry about with farmed salmon, we shouldn't sell it,'" said Carrie Brownstein, the company's seafood standards quality coordinator. "But our model at Whole Foods is to create change."

Salmon, wild and farmed, is Whole Foods' largest selling seafood, Brownstein said.

Those of you who have read me over the years know that while I vastly prefer wild salmon to farmed, I am not offended by farmed salmon's very existence. I am convinced that farmed salmon paved the way for wild salmon to reach new markets by introducing salmon to Americans outside the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Nor should we feel threatened by the ascendance of farmed salmon. Fish consumption will continue to grow in this country, even if per capita consumption remains flat, which is unlikely in these health-conscious times.

By the same token, there will always be folks debating wild salmon vs. farmed. Some of them will likely be at today's session, "How Wild is Wild?" which will raise the issue of the relationship between wild, hatchery, and farmed salmon.

Indeed, the question came up at yesterday's session. "It's a complicated debate," said Peter Bridson, who is representing the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program at the summit.

Stay tuned.

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NOAA administrator Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan yesterday opened the 11th Seafood Summit, in New Orleans, underlining the scientific agency's commitment to resilience in the "lives and livelihood" of Americans. But she very quickly focused her message on an audience of 500 or more people linked by their interest in seafood.

2015 210 SullivanIMG 1688NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan talks to an audience of 500 people about U.S. aquaculture opportunities, and efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud at the 11th Seafood Summit in New Orleans. Jerry Fraser photoSullivan, a high-achieving scientist who became an astronaut, flew on three shuttle missions and is the first woman to have walked in space, enumerated the agency's priorities as deriving information that enables it to "keep the pulse of the planet," evolving the National Weather Service "to build a weather-ready nation," and providing information and technology "to help our communities become more resilient."

Healthy fisheries and coastal communities, she said, are "central to ecological resilience."

And while NOAA may be viewed in many minds as overseeing marine fisheries in federal waters, Sullivan, who served as head of an aquaculture panel on the Pew Oceans Commission around the turn of the century, takes the broad perspective when it comes to seafood.

Half of the seafood Americans eat is produced by aquaculture, she noted, and much of that is imported. Citing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's conviction that increases in the production of seafood will come from fish farming, Sullivan pointed to opportunity for U.S. enterprise. "Aquaculture is a bright spot and one we need to nurture," she said, because it offers the prospect of resilience and jobs to coastal communities.

The United States must "stop exporting jobs to countries that are more aquaculture friendly," she said.

NOAA has released a plan for the Gulf of Mexico that envisions 20 aquaculture operations developing over the next 10 years.

Sullivan serves on the presidential task force that recently released its recommendations on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing as well as seafood fraud.

A number of countries turn a blind eye to IUU fishing, which she characterized as an "assault on global oceans," and as a result, she said, a collaborative effort by industry, conservation interests and nations fishing responsibly will be required to eliminate it. IUU fishing costs the United States billions of dollars a year, she said, and suggested that offending nations could find trade barriers imposed on their products.

She also called for traceability programs to combat seafood fraud.

At its heart, Sullivan said, NOAA is a natural science enterprise. "The cornerstone of work at NOAA is prediction," she said, and the agency's product is the kind of environmental intelligence that begins with weather, tide and current tables, satellite imagery and research.

"Demand for that kind of information continues to grow," she said.

SeaWeb, which describes its mission as transforming knowledge into action toward healthier oceans, has hosted a series of seafood summits, in the United States and elsewhere, since 2002.

In 2013, Diversified Communications, the owner of National Fisherman and the producer of the Seafood Expo brand trade events in Boston, Europe and Asia, entered into a partnership with SeaWeb to produce the Seafood Summit sustainable seafood conferences, which draw representatives from the seafood industry and conservation community from around the world.

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I always assumed that falling into cold water was more dangerous because you can die from hypothermia. It turns out that it's even more dangerous than that. Falling into cold water can also trigger something called "cold shock response," which can cause you to drown in an instant.

Here's an example of how it works. On the official Coast Guard blog, Paul Newman, a USCG boating safety specialist, points to the case of a man who had taken a stand-up paddleboard (also called a SUP) onto Lake Tahoe. The man had brought a lifejacket with him, but instead of wearing it, he tied it the leash of the board (which should have been around his ankle). About 50 yards from shore, he fell off and drowned instantly.

2015 203 ship1726Cold water makes time critical. Crew members take part in a survival suit drill on the NOAA ship Ka'imimoana. NOAA photoSo what happened? Newman points out he didn't hit his head. Most likely, he died from cold shock response. Ever jump into a cold shower and gasp? It's that same reflex, he says:

"The sudden fall into cold water made him gasp underwater. Aspirating water he began choking, probably panicked and, sinking into even colder deep water, made ineffective, frantic movements with his arms which had been momentarily stunned by the cold water. He wasn't wearing a lifejacket and he died without ever surfacing."

According to findings from the 2008 research project Cold Water Bootcamp, cold water kills quickly and it doesn't even have to be that cold (just under 70 degrees F). That day on Lake Tahoe, it was summer and the air temperature 75 degrees with surface water temperatures around 60 degrees.

If cold shock response doesn't kill you in the first minute, within 10 minutes your limbs start to become incapacitated, making it difficult or impossible for even strong swimmers to get back to a boat. In about an hour, hypothermia sets in. As Newman repeats a half a dozen times, "wearing a lifejacket buys you time."

Though Newman targets his advice at recreational boaters, the same logic works for commercial fishermen who find themselves in cold water. Commercial fisherman Lee d'Entremont credited having his survival suit on with saving his life and those of two other crewmen and an observer from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans when the 64-foot Poseidon Princess sank off Nova Scotia last weekend.

They had about five minutes after waking up in the early morning to don their suits and put out a mayday call before the boat sank beneath them. The three crew members made it into a self-inflating life raft, while the observer, David Murphy, spent over an hour in the water. Nearby fishing boats responded to the distress call and pulled them out of the water. All four were wearing immersion suits and all four survived.

That's no coincidence, says d'Entremont. "All the gear was up to snuff, everything was working good and I can't say enough about the immersion suits.... For the one I had, it was the ultimate thing to have on in that situation. Saved my life, other than that I only had shorts on," he recalled to CBC News.

According to d'Entremont he was lucky: He lost his cell phone on the boat, but he had left his wallet at home. Preparedness, not luck, was the reason he and others survived that sinking. Check your safety equipment and make sure it's in good shape and that you can get your survival suit on quickly.

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Sometimes the weather that keeps most of us inside makes for ideal fishing. Not today, I hope. Right now a blizzard is raging with the wind gusting in 53-mph blasts, causing 10 degrees to "feel like" -20. (Fortunately, I'm inside, warmed with coffee, a woodstove, electricity that hasn't blinked yet and the knowledge that I don't have to go anywhere except for brief walks with a dog whose short legs limit him to a short path dug in the snow.)

Blizzards and negative temperatures are also common in Dauphin River in Manitoba, Canada. Located about 430 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota, next to Lake Winnipeg, the area is also home to about 65 commercial fishermen, according to Dale Einarsson whose husband, Helgi, is one of them.

2015 127 Coastlines Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.51.18 AMCommercial fisherman Helgi Einarsson uses this under ice crawler to set his nets under frozen Lake Winnipeg. YouTube screen shotThey introduce us to a unique form of winter fishing in a short video produced by the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters. It's part of a series showing Canada's commercial fishermen at work offered by the council, which was formed in 1995 to promote the country's fish harvesters and represent them at a national level.

Helgi Einarsson's weather challenges are similar to ones faced by all commercial fishermen. As Dale explains, it could be a nice morning when they go out, but conditions change so fast that you can be out there when a snowstorm blows up. "Out there" is on the frozen lake, where they string nets between holes in the ice using a device called an "under ice crawler" to target pickerel and whitefish. To see how it's done, watch the video below.

Here's something more that might warm you up on this winter day. Usually I avoid looking at Internet comments, but this video drew some positive ones expressing awe at this type of fishing ("that's baller!"). Even better, people also made the connection between the fishermen on the screen and the fish they eat! Says one, "I bought Lake Winnipeg pickerel right in my local grocery store yesterday in Qualicum Beach, B.C. Can you believe it? It's people like you that make this possible. And it was wonderful!"


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Fishermen have as many things to complain about as ever, but lately the price of fuel, down about 40 percent in the last year, isn't one of them. And that's true whether you own the boat or work the back deck. As most folks reading this know, a vessel's expenses typically are deducted from the crew's share of the proceeds.

2015 122 Jerry RI170Vessel expenses are typically deducted from the crew's share of the proceeds, so crew members welcome the recent drop in fuel prices. Jerry Fraser photoIn my youth, many New England trawlers shared according to what was known as the "broken 40" system: Forty percent of the vessel's stock (revenue from the catch) was held by the boat; the crew got 60 percent but paid for food, fuel and ice. There were some big paydays under this system, but if expenses were high relative to the stock, deckhands could earn nothing for their time at sea. Such trips were known as brokers.

Wallace Stewart, who in 1971 taught me how to run the big Fairbanks Morse diesel on the redfish trawler Vandal, once told me of a trip, on the eve of World War II, where the haddock were as thick as anyone aboard had ever seen them. The gang couldn't begin to get the deck cleared, and every time they opened up a hole the skipper would haul back and dump another bag of fish onto the deck.

They cut fish all the way to the dock in Gloucester, Mass., and after they unloaded the skipper climbed down the foc's'le ladder with the bad news: Haddock were two cents, and the trip was a broker. As a gesture of good will, he offered a $10 bill to anyone willing to sign on for another trip.

For his part, Old Stewart (as he came to be known in Portland) had seen enough. He went up over the wharf, and with the country gearing up for war, found work in a machine shop for the duration.

By way of a footnote, fuel may be relatively cheap, but it's no steal. A gallon of diesel is around $2.20 here in Portland, Maine, which translates to 36 cents in 1970 dollars. In 1970, diesel sold for between 16 and 23 cents a gallon.

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On Thursday morning, it was 7 degrees below zero in Wells, Maine, and that’s pretty cold when you go out to start your car. But it’s even colder when it’s 1:30 a.m. and you’ve just been rousted out of your bunk to haul back.

2015 113 Coastlines Kodiak DSCN1287 JFSnow and bitter cold add to the challenge of fishing in winter. Jerry Fraser photoCarvel Whaley, who I fished with on the Lady Jennifer in the winter of 1984 after my boat Hard Times had sunk, would let you wring every last second out of your mid-watch kink. Carvel was soft spoken and rather than bang on the stateroom door or holler at us to …grab our socks, he’d slow the engine down and throw the winches in gear. We’d awaken instantly and roll out on deck still digging the gunk out of our eyes. Depending on how deep we were fishing we might have 10 minutes before the doors came up, a few hundred seconds to jump into our oilskins, guide wire onto the drums, and pray the net was in one piece.

We were flounder fishing on pretty good bottom so we didn’t stave up often but when we did, Carvel was an excellent twine man and would work with us to get the net mended and back in the water.

Not all captains were so inclined, and some developed a reputation as “slipper skippers” in honor of the footwear in which they padded about the wheelhouse through the harshest winter weather and back-deck fiascos.

The Lady Jennifer was an 80-footer, or thereabouts, but had only one net reel, so fishing stopped when we rimracked. On boats with two reels you could set the second net if you destroyed the first one. This was efficient, but crews had mixed opinions about two reels because it meant there was no jumping back in the rack until the first net was fixed, however long it took.

I’m not a guy who thrives on cold weather — you’ll never see me shirtless at a Green Bay game with a big red letter painted on my stomach — but it didn’t bother me much in those days, especially once I yielded to common sense and started wearing long johns. My hands would get cold when I first came out on deck, but they’d warm up on their own and stay that way for hours, which is why I’d never leave the deck until we were done.

The warmest place for a deckhand was the fish hold (which also was the coolest place in the summer). I enjoyed working the hold and like most fishermen took considerable pride in the condition of my fish when they came out.

The Jennifer’s hold was nine or 10 feet deep, with another 18 inches or so to the top of the coaming, but there was no ladder. Instead, wooden blocks were fastened to a stanchion on either side of the slaughterhouse. You planted one foot, groped across perhaps five feet of hatchway for the next lower block on the other side, and worked your way up or down. It was fine once you got used to it, and it saved working around a ladder when shoveling ice, but it took getting used to.

In my case the learning curve may have steepened through weakness of the human flesh. My first trip as hold man commenced just a few hours after a Bat Juice marathon in which all hands, accompanied by their skipper, had joyously participated.

It was a late-winter night and despite the relative snugness of the hold I thought, once I’d managed to get down there without landing on my ass, that it was an open question whether or not they’d have to use the Gilson to hoist me out. But I made it on my own, as trawlermen have since they first cast their nets on the waters.

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I'm not that sentimental. But I admit that I get a little teary eyed every time Dr. Suess's Grinch discovers that Christmas doesn't come from a store, and that "maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more."

And sometimes I still believe it, too. Case in point: For some last week, Christmas came from the side of Route 1, where Noah Ames gave away lobsters from the back of his pick-up truck in Thomaston, Maine, on Christmas Eve.

In the parking lot of Midcoast Marine Supply, Ames put up a signboard to notify passing drivers: "Free lobsters today for those truly in need," and gave away 100 pounds of them. The requirements for getting a lobster were simple. All you had to do was stop and ask, he told the Penobscot Bay Pilot.

Ames catches lobsters on his 40-foot No Worries out of Maine's Matinicus Island. Ups and downs are a consistent part of any long-term commercial fisherman's career, and like most people who chase wild animals for a living, Ames has also known hard times around the holidays.

"We know what it's like to be down and out and to be hurting, and I've had holidays where I've been struggling just to get presents for the kids," Ames told Maine's WCSH-TV.

Ames' three children helped their father give away the lobsters on Christmas Eve. Like the free lobsters, this year one of his gifts to them did not come from the store. As Ames explained, he not only wanted to give back to the community, but also show his children the value in doing so.

That gift extended to passing drivers. Some of those who stopped didn't ask for lobsters but caught Ames' Christmas spirit and asked how they could help, too.

"I think the best present to give is a smile, and it's pretty easy to get a smile with lobsters," said Ames.

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There are far worse jobs than serving as publisher of National Fisherman and WorkBoat magazines. After all, as my grandmother liked to say, there’s no heavy lifting.

2014.12.18 coastlinesA shrimp boat festooned for a blessing of the fleet ceremony that was part of the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival photoBut the job does present challenges, one of which is reconciling for our audiences the sometimes competing interests of those who harvest fish and those who drill for oil and natural gas in the ocean. (Among others, the offshore service component of the U.S. oil and gas industries is a valued constituency of the WorkBoat brand.)

From the perspective of fishermen, particularly mobile gear fishermen, oil rigs can impede or prevent fishing in certain areas. And while the risk of spills may be remote, the specter of disaster looms, with historic precedent.

On the other hand, energy companies have to go where the energy is.

All this is by way of explaining why President Obama’s executive order putting Alaska’s Bristol Bay off limits for oil and gas exploration is a double-edged sword. Sure, I like the idea of ensuring that the waters of Bristol Bay remain pristine. But I liked it a whole lot less when the pristine waters at issue comprised the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a creation of President George W. Bush expanded by the current occupant of the White House, in which case U.S. fishermen found themselves on the outside looking in.

I think those of us who are in the business of extracting the Earth’s resources ought to have one another’s back. Society benefits when oil and gas producers and commercial fishermen do their jobs responsibly. Good government can facilitate prosperity and ensure healthy resources — an honorable mission, I’d like to think — by knowledgeably asserting, “OK, here’s how you’ve got to do this.”

In Morgan City., La., they hold the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival every Labor Day weekend. This past September marked the 79th, making it Louisiana’s oldest state-chartered festival. It began in 1937 as a blessing of the shrimp fleet and expanded out of recognition of the many people the oil industry employed. “Those were the two things that people did,” says Nathalie Weber, president of the festival. “There were shrimpers and then the oil industry brought in the oil boats and the rigs and the people working in that industry.”

The celebration goes on for five days. There is festival king and queen, fireworks, music and parades ashore and afloat. There is a Mass in the park, and the priest still blesses the fleet.

“Do you like your shrimp grilled, fried, blackened or boiled?” asks Paige Johnson, 2013 queen, the festival’s 78th. “We love our shrimp and we celebrate our oil.”

There’s a lesson there.

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Page 7 of 20

Inside the Industry

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. 

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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 ...
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