Written by Jerry Fraser
February 10, 2015
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.
Sullivan, 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.
Written by Melissa Wood
February 3, 2015
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.
So 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.
Written by Melissa Wood
January 27, 2015
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.
They 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!"
Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
January 22, 2015
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.
In 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.
Written by Jerry Fraser
January 13, 2015
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.
Carvel 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.Add a comment
Written by Melissa Wood
December 30, 2014
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.
Written by Jerry Fraser
December 18, 2014
But 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.Add a comment
Written by Melissa Wood
December 16, 2014
The case of Robert Thompson proves that people don't just steal lobster out of traps.
Thompson was the manager of the Spruce Head Fishermen's Cooperative in South Thomaston, Maine, and in that job he was in charge of buying and selling lobsters for one of the state's largest lobster cooperatives.
But he would also buy lobsters directly from co-op members as they unloaded at the dock. He covered the sales by issuing those lobstermen boat slips that didn't include the lobsters he bought. The fraud continued up the seafood chain: According to the U.S. Attorney's Office (as reported by the Bangor Daily News), those illegal lobsters were then bought by J.P. Shellfish in Eliot, Maine. Owner John Price gave his truck drivers cash to pay Thompson and the co-op members when making deliveries (J.P.'s was also Spruce Head's largest legitimate buyer).
By buying those lobsters, Thompson was stealing from the co-op. Its members are required to sell their catch back to the organization. His theft was suspected by co-op leaders who installed video surveillance when Thompson went on vacation and worked with NOAA officials and the local sheriff's office to help bring charges against Thompson, who was arrested in October 2012 for felony theft.
This week, Thompson, 53, pled guilty to one count of tax evasion and one count of violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits illegal sales of lobsters. Thompson, who is expected to be sentenced in the spring, may be given as much as five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine for the tax evasion. However, last year the state dropped theft charges against Thompson. (The U.S. Attorney's Office requested the state drop the theft charges because it would have been required to give materials to his defense attorney that it said could jeopardize the federal investigation.)
But if the co-op had not been involved in the original investigation, it's possible Thompson's scheme would have lasted much longer. While U.S. commercial fishermen necessarily abide by quotas, monitoring and other sustainability measures, it's apparently getting easier to commit fish fraud. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, the number of special agents trained to investigate seafood fraud cases has fallen from 147 in 2008 to 93, and their numbers are expected to be further cut. The Sun also found out that in that same time period, the number of civil and criminal cases sent to NOAA's general counsel and U.S. attorneys dropped almost 75 percent, from 793 to 215.
Despite the sometimes acrimonious relationship between NOAA and commercial fishermen in the Northeast, this isn't good news for the industry. Only eight agents monitor domestic fisheries from the coastline extending from New York to Virginia. Those eight agents are also responsible for monitoring 1.4 billion pounds of seafood imports annually. Marine Policy journal reported that 20 to 32 percent of wild imports — worth an estimated $1.3 billion to $2.1 billion — are illegally harvested.
"If I was gonna be a criminal, I would be in the fish and wildlife smuggling business." Scott Doyle, a special agent for NOAA who investigates seafood fraud on the East Coast, told the Sun. "Nobody has any idea what's going on. They just buy the fish."
Written by Jerry Fraser
December 11, 2014
In the 1960s, in the long summers of our youth, we would catch mackerel by the boatload off Ogunquit, Maine.
My boat was probably 10 feet long and had a flat, plywood bottom. When I was 10 my mother bought me a used 3-hp Johnson outboard (last year's model, $85), and when I wanted to stop or back down I spun it 180 degrees and slid the throttle to open.
Relatively speaking I was underpowered. The other kids had 5½-hp outboards on lapstrake Amesbury skiffs. But we all loaded up on mackerel.
We trolled daredevil lures with treble hooks and three or four worms, and in the calm of late afternoons and early evenings, particularly if thunderstorms had passed through, the bottom would rise up. Mackerel would roil the ocean from the beach to Bald Head Cliff, and probably beyond. We trolled through great bunches reeling in three or four fish at a time, for the most part throwing them over. (Who said you can't catch 'em twice?)
Back and forth we would go, each of us landing and liberating hundreds of fish until the sun set. There was nothing like steaming into the cove after night fell for aspiring 10-year-old fishermen.
There was no market for the mackerel, which is to say they weren't worth catching at our artisanal scale. From time to time seiners from exotic ports like Rockland would lay over in Perkins Cove, real fishing boats with masts and fish holds and nets, thrilling us to no end. But they were pogy boats and they, too, had no interest in our mackerel.
The mackerel were still there several years later when I graduated from high school. I had a bigger flat-bottomed boat (same outboard) and I figured, optimistically, no doubt, that I could carry 1,000 pounds of mackerel. But there was no market for mackerel, so that fall I pumped gas and torched herring with a friend, and the following spring I got a job on a redfish boat.
In the late 1960s and in the 1970s until the enactment of the 200-mile limit, mackerel, like everything else in the northwest Atlantic, were hammered by distant water fleets from Europe and the Soviet bloc.
American are not big mackerel eaters. So although stocks have recovered, they still aren't worth much money. Mackerel is now a midwater fishery, and getting on them and staying on them is a dicey proposition.
One reason is suggested by the research, which has found that in the years since my cohort and I fished them, warming water has spread out stocks to the north and east of their traditional winter grounds.
In any case, they no longer make themselves available in vast plentitude to little boys between Ogunquit Beach and the home shore, pining for the day when they can make a living on the ocean.
Written by Melissa Wood
December 9, 2014
Superstorm Sandy spared Maryland's Smith Island the heavy damage it flung on most of its neighbors, yet it still almost destroyed the historic commercial fishing community. That's because while 7,000 acres of tidal marshes, which are also home to abundant crab nurseries, kept the storm at bay, the federal government planned to use relief money as an opportunity to offer island residents cash in exchange for their property, as long as no one ever built on those abandoned parcels again.
Thanks to community organizing, Smith got lucky again. Though some residents were in favor of the government buyout, others opposed it. Wanting to protect their unique way of life, they formed Smith Island United and proposed government money instead be used to protect the island against erosion. It worked. Smith, home to about 250 people, is expected to receive $15 million in federal money toward building a new breakwater and jetty.
The story of Smith's near demise is told in "Come High Water: Sea Level Rise and Chesapeake Bay," a special report produced by Chesapeake Quarterly, published by the Maryland Sea Grant, and the Bay Journal newspaper. The articles, while short and focused, present a comprehensive yet easy-to-grasp assessment on the science behind rising sea levels as well as how the threat of rising seas is affecting low-lying communities on Chesapeake Bay.
As explained in the report, rising sea levels are one of the consequences of global warming thanks to melting polar glaciers and the fact that warmer water takes up more space than cooler water (because of its chemistry). Added to this, the Mid-Atlantic coastline had already been sinking because of a phenomenon called "glacial forebulge." During the last ice age, the ice sheet's massive weight pressed down on the land beneath it so much that it caused the land outside the sheet (including the Mid-Atlantic coastline) to tilt upward, so that it rose like the opposite end of a downward seesaw. Scientists expect the Eastern shoreline to be hit especially hard, with sea levels rising 3 feet or more by the end of this century — the fastest rate in the United States.
One of the most interesting parts of the report is the skepticism in these communities about global warming. In the article, "Snapshots From the Edge," Bill Boicourt, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, says he is often met with skepticism when talking about climate change to church groups and civic organizations. "They know what they are seeing, but many blame the problem on erosion, or 'tides.' Many don't want to talk about melting ice sheets or greenhouse gas emissions. They want to talk about fixes today that may help to get the water out of their yards, fixes such as the reconstruction of barrier islands in the Chesapeake Bay."
At first, it's hard to understand this skepticism. Why wouldn't people who can actually see their land sink into the ocean accept climate change as a real event? Why wouldn't they want to advocate for solutions that may slow down or halt the rising seas that may someday engulf their communities?
But then again, I see valid reasons for the denials. Even though rising sea levels are accelerating, the land has been sinking around here since Europeans first settled centuries ago. And messages about climate change have long been mixed, not just among politicians but also among scientists: For example, while they mostly agree that climate change is a real thing, there are differences of opinion on its outcomes, such as whether warming water is causing the Gulf Stream to slow down.
Going back to the story about Smith Island, I wonder if for some that skepticism/denial may be the best way to hang on. After all, erosion is a problem that can be dealt with at the local level. Stopping climate change requires global action that we have no control over. How do you argue in favor of preserving a way of life, if you're as good as doomed?
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SeaWeb and Diversified Communications are accepting proposals to present at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit up until Friday, September 30.Read more ...
Governor Bill Walker has officially requested that the federal government declare a disaster for four Alaska regions hurt by one of the poorest pink salmon returns in decades.Read more ...