National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
Some things change while others never do. A lawsuit dug up by an archivist at the Library of Virginia gives an illustration of commercial fishing traps used around 1900. Though technology has certainly changed since then, the dispute is over something timeless — a fishing spot.
The lawsuit involves a dispute over fishing weirs in the Potomac River near Hack Creek. Two men entered into partnership over two weirs in 1895. When one of the men died, his widow sought to have the sites divided between them so she could contract the equipment to someone else. She then sued the surviving partner to stop him from interfering with her use of the more profitable spot.
She lost, but the interesting part is that the archives of the lawsuit include descriptions and illustrations of fishing techniques used back then, such as how fishermen claimed their spots by "bushing a stand":
"When an individual chose a site for his weir, he installed a pole at the spot and attached a green bush to the top of it to indicate that he intended to occupy that particular location. After 'bushing a stand,' custom demanded that other fishermen place their traps no closer than roughly 1,200 yards."
The article, "Don't Bush My Stand" also includes illustrations of fish traps, a diagram of a fish trap with a glossary, and a plat of fish trap locations.
It doesn't mention what fish they were trying to catch. Could it have been American shad? In the same family as anchovy, menhaden and sardines, American shad were once the "East Coast's most abundant and economically important fish, according to an article on restoration efforts in the Potomac. I don't know much about this fishery, so I'd be glad if anyone has any knowledge and would like to weigh in. Apparently, it was worth fighting for.
Thursday, 04 April 2013
Have you ever had an argument with someone that lasted so long and made you so frustrated that you ended up forgetting how it all started? Ever had an argument like that for years? Relationship counselors call it a “lack of effective communication.”
It's a problem in the commercial fishing world too, and it's easy to see why when you consider the varied stakeholders, including environmentalists, government officials, fishery managers, scientists and, yes, fishermen.
But unlike couples who can get divorced, you’re stuck with each other. And as David Frulla and Shaun Gehan point out in our May issue (p. 10), fishing’s lack of communication can lead to even bigger problems:
"Management has become a language unto itself, spoken by those who participate in it. The effect is to alienate fishermen, the public, and public officials not steeped in the system, and create barriers to effective participation. It also permits management decisions based on little to no credible scientific information to be masked in technical verbiage."
For some, the only way to be heard has been to go outside the system like the commercial fishermen who filed lawsuits to keep gillnetters in the main stem of the Columbia River or the participants in the United We Fish rallies who marched on Washington, D.C. in 2010 and 2012 (pictured).
National Fisherman is a voice outside the system too, telling the stories of individual fishermen in our nation's varied fisheries. But despite their differences, every fisherman must fish by the same laws, and those are a part of the story too, whether stated or implied.
In their column, "It really is that simple," Frulla and Gehan give us a good reminder of what these laws are by providing a simplified overview of fishery management’s evolution.
It’s the type of article that’s helpful to set aside for when you need to stop the buzz of confusion that can surround controversial topics because it’s a good reminder of the basics — this is the law and this is how it works.
The article is not available online, but is in our May issue, which arrives in mailboxes this week. I hope you'll check it out.
Photo by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 26 March 2013
As a journalist, my future job prospects seem to mirror those of commercial fishermen. According to the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, both commercial fishermen and journalists are facing a 6 percent decline in their fields with estimated job losses of 2,000 and 3,200, respectively, between 2010 and 2020.
So why do we keep trying? For me, it's simple. I like what I do. I like meeting people, learning about their lives (and livelihoods) and sharing those stories. Often, you never know what you’re going to find out until you begin talking to someone. Or should I say, reeling them in? In another similarity, I think fishermen and journalists both enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
And we both must adapt to survive. For fishermen, survival means making the most for your catch in the face of ever-rising expenses and figuring out other ways to remain viable on the water. I’ve written about some of these recently, such as direct marketing, catering to tourists and targeting different species when the primary one becomes scarce.
In covering this industry, I’m often impressed by the on-shore efforts of fishermen on top of their long hours on the water — which would be more than enough to exhaust me.
When markets are flat, you create new ones. I've seen fishermen work with top chefs to promote under-utilized species, and take part in initiatives to target invasive species like lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. You're also quick to mobilize when action is needed, like the men and women with Commercial Fishermen of Bristol Bay who are working to halt the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska.
But how possible is adaptation for U.S. fishermen? Regulations with good intentions may ultimately make it harder for fishermen to stay on the water. Catch shares, for instance, have worked very well for some commercial fishermen who’ve wisely used their shares to bring up their catch’s value and create a more stable market. But heavy investments in quota may be hard to maneuver around if and when fisheries change, which may be happening more as species shift their locations because of changing water temperatures.
As I consider my own future, I realize we have something in common. Our jobs may be very different, but we’re both doing what it takes to keep on doing what we love.
How are you adapting to survive?
Above photo of groundfishermen on the Gulf of Maine — one of commercial fishing's endangered species — by Melissa Wood.
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Salt of the Sea: Stories Told by the Fishermen of Point Judith
By Cindy Follett Guldemond
Fowler Road Press, 2012
Paperback, 210 pages, $22
What's the worst thing you've ever caught in your net? You probably can't beat Rhode Island fisherman Leon "Buddy" Champlin who hauled up a torpedo:
"In 1947, the boat was blown up. We picked up a torpedo in the net. We were steaming and pulling it behind the boat, going two to three miles an hour. It was heavy. We were trying to get it up to the surface so we could pull it in. I was looking for it to come up, and just as it got to the surface, it blew up. Bent the stern of the boat up and sheared off sixteen five-eighths bolts, which left the engine sitting in the bilge."
Buddy is one of the fishermen interviewed for the book "Salt of the Sea: Stories told by the Fishermen of Point Judith" by Cindy Follett Guldemond.
These stories come direct from the people who lived them. Guildemond, who grew up in a fishing family in Point Judith, interviews 28 elderly fishermen from her community. She also includes a section of old photos and of the true "old timers" who fished these waters from around the turn of the last century.
The sea has plenty of bombs it can throw, and these fishermen have seen it all. From decades on the water they share stories about surviving hurricanes, sinkings, run-ins with the law and being run through the middle by a Norwegian steamer.
Besides drama, the book also provides a look at what it was like to be a fisherman back in the 30s, 40s, 50s. Back then electronics included a short-wave radio at best. You had no facilities, no heat in the wheelhouse, and certainly no fish-finders. The fishermen interviewed here were dedicated professionals who knew what they were doing.
In her introduction, Guldemond said growing up in Point Judith, she always idolized the fishermen, who included her father and now three brothers. "Above all I loved hearing the stories they told when they returned from the sea. Having talked about recording their stories for the past twenty years, I finally raised my nerve and did it."
She should be commended for doing so. If you like stories about fishing, check out this book.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
If you ever want to take a look at the seafood industry at a global level, come to Boston.
For the last three days I've been at the International Boston Seafood Show, which I cover in my role as assistant editor for SeaFood Business (both NF and SeaFood Business are published by the same company).*
This show is huge. Held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center from Sunday through today, the annual event had more than 1,000 exhibiting companies from 46 countries. It was expected to attract more than 19,000 buyers and sellers of seafood.
The U.S. guys are here too — and they're doing business. I saw exhibitors from all coasts displaying their products on the show floor.
U.S. producers were also here to talk about the latest efforts of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition during a luncheon session on Sunday.
Those involved believe that marketing is the only way U.S. seafood will recover market share lost to imports (91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported, according to NOAA). The marketing would tout the unique products from the different U.S. regions, raising them above cheaper imports.
The bill to create this didn't gain traction after being introduced last summer by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich. Bruce Schactler, the coalition's executive director and Kodiak fisherman who works with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said it will be introduced again and soon.
Marketing can also help create markets for under-utilized species. I saw Bruce again on the show floor today. One of his goals for the show is developing a market for herring.
"Most of Alaska herring is used in the Japanese roe market. We're trying to branch off and get Alaska herring into the world food market," said Bruce. "In Europe they eat it for breakfast."
Those efforts using herring in the Global Food Aid Program. Alaska salmon is the only protein that comes out of the U.S. for world hunger aid. From what Bruce was telling me, it sounds like the program has already made some big differences sending canned herring to malnourished people in Liberia.
The show also gives a much different perspective on this industry than that from the docks. I asked Corey Arnold, a Bristol Bay fisherman from Portland, Ore., who was attending the show what he would tell other fishermen about his experience here.
Corey said he was surprised by the number of aquaculture companies here, and the number of breaded fish products. It's a much different world than when you live on the coast and are used to fresh fish.
"The rest of the world is used to eating fish out of a box," he said.
But seafood's global reach can ultimately mean good news for U.S. fishermen who may find a higher price for their quality product in high-end, overseas markets. Speaking at the national marketing coalition session, Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, pointed out that soon 50 percent of the world's middle class will be in China.
"We have to be ready to get to those markets," he said.
*Full disclosure: Our parent company, Diversified Business Communications, also produces the Boston show.Add a comment
Wednesday, 06 March 2013
For fishermen hoping to make some extra money selling fresh seafood, there’s a simple way to find a good location.
“Go west until you find some community that is reasonably populated and ask yourself, ‘Where can I buy fresh seafood?’ If you can’t find a place you’ve got a location,” said Bernie Feeney a/k/a “The Lobster Guy.”
Feeney, a Boston lobsterman who sells lobster — and now other products — from his truck was part of the session, “How Else Can Fishermen Make a Buck? Spin-Off Businesses — From Idea to Implementation” at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum on Saturday.
This type of information couldn’t be timelier in New England, where groundfish quota cuts could end careers on the water. How bad is it? National Fisherman’s Contributing Editor Kirk Moore explains the current situation for these fleets in his story, “Ground down,” on page 24 of our April issue.
Times are tough for lobstermen too, who saw their prices drop while bait and fuel prices won’t stop rising. At the forum, Feeney and Clive Farrin, who takes passengers on lobster boat tours, talked about how they’re using side businesses to stay afloat.
He sells seafood by the roadside
Feeney lives in Whitman, Mass., which is about an hour from his home port in Boston — far enough from the coast to make seafood a hot commodity. Though he still goes out for lobster six days a week, he decided to try selling his catch to make more money after lobster prices dropped four years ago.
Massachusetts’ laws favor enterprising lobstermen, who can choose from two types of permits. One allows them to sell directly to restaurants. With the second they can sell lobsters from the back of their trucks.
Town officials helped Feeney figure out additional permits that he needed. The building inspector also gave him a tip on a prime location, and he sells from a large parking lot of an empty restaurant for sale on a state highway.
“The Lobster Guy,” who is also president of the Massachusetts Lobstermen Association, is there every Friday and Saturday afternoon from 3 to 7 — and customers are too. On a holiday weekend, he counted 38 people in line when he arrived and was sold out in 45 minutes. When he missed a Saturday because of a hurricane he got phone calls.
“Friday and Saturday are the best time to sell. I make more money in eight hours than my boat does in six days,” he said.
One of the first lessons Feeney learned was not to just sell what he caught. He now buys more from his dealer than he sells, unloading what he can’t sell direct and picking up a few hundred pounds of selects each week.
Another key to Feeney’s success is that he listens to his customers. After selling just lobster and scallops the first year, he expanded his product line to include stuffed quahogs, lobster bisques, chowder, crab cakes and rib-eye steaks. The idea to carry steaks came after a customer commented that he was only buying seafood for his family — if he had a good steak he’d buy it.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” said Feeney, who now stops at a Boston butcher on his way from the dock. “I have people who come just for rib-eye steaks and scallops. They don’t buy lobsters.”
He’s also pretty savvy in marketing his catch. Soft shells are “new shells,” and you can get a deal if you buy them in bulk. “When the boat price is $3 a pound and I’m selling 13 pounds for $52, I’m doing pretty good,” he said.
Taking tourists out for lobster
Clive Farrin, a Maine lobsterman, takes tourists on the F/V Sea Swallow out of Boothbay Harbor. His tours, called “Go Lobstering,” have become so popular that they’ve rated as a top 20 activity — nationwide — on the popular website Trip Advisor.
He got started after his stern man pointed to another lobsterman who was taking out tourists and questioned why they didn’t do that as well?
“It helps with cash flow when prices are down,” said Farrin.
Farrin is limited to six passengers per one-hour trip and requires everyone under 12 to wear life jackets. He also understands that some people really want to get their hands dirty and actually catch some lobster. He said his Class 2 license covers an additional person without a permit.
Farrin has added personal injury insurance, which costs about $700-$800 a year, and a “walk and plank policy” to insure the space between the dock and the boat.
While tiny lobsters or big ones with eggs may be especially interesting to his passengers, he’s learned not to hold onto them. Instead, he encourages a quick photo session before they’re thrown over.
He’s lucky enough to have a stern man who’s great with kids, who also positions himself to create a barrier between passengers and the rope that hauls the traps.
When passengers ask what would happen if they get caught in the rope, “I tell them it depends how good you can swim if you’ve got 50 pounds tied to one leg,” said Farrin.
Learn more about Feeney and Farrin’s businesses:
In addition, Maine Sea Grant has published a fisheries and tourism fact sheet, which you can view here:Add a comment
Tuesday, 05 March 2013
I don’t think anyone would disagree with Togue Brawn’s statement that “nowadays everyone wants to get as much money for their product as possible, and that includes fishermen.”
But while everyone can agree that fishermen want to make more money for their catch (who wouldn’t?), is direct-marketing worth the extra effort?
Brawn, owner of Maine Dayboat Scallops, moderated an interesting panel discussion about direct marketing at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport on Friday. Fishermen may make more money by selling to consumers, but it’s also much more complicated than unloading your catch in one transaction to a dealer.
The short answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. From the discussion, direct marketing seems to work best when a structure for selling is already in place (like a farmers market) or if a motivated middleman steps in to peddle your product for you. Direct marketing is important to explore because for small-boat fishermen, it may be a lifeline.
A unique middleman
Brawn is a middleman. She left a position at the Maine Department of Marine Resources because she saw a “huge opportunity” to peddle Maine day-boat scallops to high-end restaurants. In contrast to scallops from larger boats, which can be a couple weeks old when landed, her scallops come from Maine day boats, which means they’re only about four hours old when they hit the dock.
“We’re very close to a number of cities with consumers who love a good story,” she said. “I think scallops is the perfect way to do it.”
Brawn is creative in how she sells scallops. She ended up selling more than 200 pounds of scallops this year to a body shop. That’s right. She was getting her car worked on and the issue of scallops came up (which probably happens often when Brawn’s around). She offered a deal: For every 20 pounds of scallops they’d buy, she’d throw in a free pound.
“It created a bulk sale because they called all their friends,” she said.
Farmers markets and CSFs
Fishermen may use agricultural models to sell their catch directly to consumers. The farmers running the Skowhegan’s market, for example, are encouraging fishermen to join their program so that they can also offer seafood to their customers. For fishermen, the benefit is the marketing and customers are already in place.
Another idea from farmers, community-supported fisheries (CSFs), is based on community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, which sell consumers weekly shares of the harvest.
Port Clyde Fresh Catch is one successful CSF in Maine, though there were some missteps before finding a method that worked for both fishermen and consumers, said Robin Alden of the Penobscot East Resource Center:
As a bad example of a CSF, she talked about one using fish caught from a sentinel survey fishery. The fishery was just two fishermen using hooks to look for groundfish. Although they caught very little, they wanted to sell it. But they couldn’t overcome logistical problems — like no ice, nobody cutting fish, no regular schedule — and lost their consumers, who had been part of a previous scallops CSF.
“We had no idea when [the fish] were going to come nor how to get them from Swans Island (where they were landed) to a place where consumers were.... [The consumers] hated it. We lost them,” said Alden.
The current program, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, provides a much more stable supply. Port Clyde’s fleet of roughly two dozen boats supplies the CSF, which starts on June 1 and lasts 10 weeks.
“It’s really worth doing. If we can shorten the supply chain, fishermen will see a better return,” said Alden.
One of my biggest takeaways from the session is that you never know where ideas will come from. Be ready to jump on ideas when you hear them. An audience member at the session suggested that Maine lobstermen — who have been contending with low prices — could hire someone to sell their catch for them at a farmers market, and give them a commission on what they sell.
Do you think any of these ideas would work for you? Have you tried them and found success? Failure? For more information, here are links to the resources discussed by the panel:
There was a lot to learn in Rockport this weekend so I’ll have more from the forum in my next post. Thanks for reading!
Photo credit: Port Clyde Fresh CatchAdd a comment
Thursday, 28 February 2013
Make more money for your catch? Sure, why not? It's a topic most commercial fishermen would be interested in, and one of many that will be discussed at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, which takes place today through Saturday at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine.
The forum is a big deal in Maine. In it’s 38th year, the event will draw thousands of commercial fishermen and others in the fishing industry from around the region to visit the trade show and attend seminars and other forum-related events. National Fisherman will be there too. That's our crew from last year's show above.
The trade show and seminars are free to attend and well worth the time spent. I’ll be at the forum and am still deciding which seminars to cover. There are some compelling ones to choose from, but the most universal may be the ones about how to make more money. Two seminars address this issue directly:
On Friday morning, the seminar “Direct Marketing: Options and Obstacles for Maine Fishermen” will be held at 10:30. It's no secret that consumers are starting to care more and more about where their food comes, and fishermen absolutely should be a part of this trend. Food doesn’t get any more local and sustainable than when it's pulled out of the water from local fishermen.
But then you have to get that fish to the consumer, and that can be the tricky part. During this seminar, Togue Brawn of Maine Dayboat Scallops will moderate a panel of direct marketers who share their success stories of selling their catch in farmers markets, to restaurants and through CSFs. The panel also promises a brainstorming session to address hurdles fishermen face as direct-marketers.
The next morning, at 9, I’m going to check out the seminar “How Else Can Fishermen Make a Buck? – Spin-Off Businesses from Idea to Implementation.” This is especially important for those in the New England groundfish industry losing income from cuts in cod quota, but the ideas may be worth something to all fishermen doing whatever they can to make a living on the water.
So, how else can you make a buck? According to the event description, that could include taking paying tourists aboard, adding value to your catch and chartering for special trips or collaborative research. Of course there are legal and logistical hurdles to get started in a spin-off business. Here, we’ll find out what they are and meet people who can help overcome them.
That’s just two out of 30 seminars. The forum also includes a trade show, a benefit auction, dinner and dance, immersion suit training and fun stuff for families. If you’re in the area, head to Rockport to check out the show. You can find out more by visiting the Maine Fishermen's Forum's website.
Photo credit: Maine Fishermen's ForumAdd a comment
Thursday, 21 February 2013
My attempt to brine and pickle salmon is a story of overarching ambition leading to epic failure — and I haven’t given up yet.
The idea came from a trip to Kodiak last summer. My article about that trip was in the January issue of National Fisherman, but the untold part is that I brought back an “Alaska suitcase” stuffed with more than 40 pounds of salmon, halibut, rockfish and lingcod.
The cooler and its contents made the trip to Maine intact, and with a couple weeks of summer left, the first place for that fish was on my grill. (A tip for grilling fish, which I actually got during a trip to Idaho of all places, is to cut a potato in half and rub the cut end on the grill to make it a nonstick surface.)
I was happy grilling my fish, but winter was coming, and I had an idea. While I was in Alaska I had tried pickled salmon and loved it. Kevin Adams, a Bristol Bay fisherman, told me how he first brines salmon for three to four weeks then pickles it. I was intrigued.
I had never pickled or brined before, but the timing would be perfect. If I waited until November I could brine it for a few weeks then pickle it in time to jar it up for Christmas gifts. Per Kevin’s advice, I would use colorful peppers to stretch the salmon and give the jars a festive flair. Perfect.
Kevin instructed me how to brine it, which I didn’t write down so he can’t be blamed (and I’m kind of hoping he doesn’t read this). But the gist is you need to layer your salmon with salt in a container like a plastic paint bucket you buy at a hardware store. You top it off with more salt then cover it with a tea towel so it will collect the moisture that rises to the top.
A critical factor was finding a place to put the bucket for the next few weeks. It had to be cool, dark and dry. I live in a little beach cottage converted to year-round use. There’s not a lot of storage options because it’s tiny. There’s a shed, but it gets baked with lot of sun, and I have a crawl space but that is kind of dank with many spider webs. Who knows what other insects are crawling around?
I ended up picking an unusual spot: under the bathroom sink. I know that doesn’t sound promising, but it’s dark, dry and up against the back wall, which is cool to the touch when the outside is too.
When I was ready to brine, I defrosted a couple fillets of silvers and the next day cut them into about 2-inch pieces that I layered with salt in the bucket. Lastly, I pushed it to the back of the space under the sink and hoped for the best.
I thought about that salmon a lot during the month it was in my bathroom. I never smelled anything fishy during those weeks. I thought that was a good sign at least.
We did have a couple warm spells, and while I’m not sure if temperature was the culprit, something happened. When I finally uncovered my salmon, which I was then planning to pickle, the moisture that should have risen to the top to collect on the tea towel had not. Inside the bucket, the salt and salmon were wet near the top and then partly frozen near the bottom. It did not look good.
I dug it out. I rinsed it off. I smelled it. I thought about it.
I rinsed it some more. I thought about it. I smelled it again.
I threw it out.
I’m still not really sure what went wrong, but I’m not done trying. I found another recipe with a brining process that takes hours — not weeks. I'd love to hear from anybody who has any tips for making this work.
Either way, I’m getting back my confidence back and will make another attempt soon. I’ll let you know how it turns out.Add a comment
Thursday, 14 February 2013
Fishermen have their share of survival stories, but one that comes to mind for me, on Valentine's Day, is that of Nando Parrado, one of the members of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972.*
Parrado accomplished the impossible. He survived the crash, hiked out of the Andes while starving and suffering from a fractured skull. Grieving the deaths of his mother, sister and teammates, he wanted to tell his beloved father what had happened to his family, “each [stride] brought me closer to my father... each step I took was a step stolen back from death.”
Yet so close to death, he realized he was not pushed forward by hopes of staying alive, but of love he had for his father:
“Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Love is our only weapon.”
Those sentiments have stayed in my mind for a long time. But while Parrado's account is extraordinary, fishermen face death every day just by going to work. Your jobs are more death-defying than anyone else's. The love may be stronger too.
There’s a love of the life. Fishermen will tell you they can't imagine any other type of life. I've been on fishing boats and I can't imagine doing what you do. It's not an easy life. It's a lot of hard work with many uncertainties. Anything and everything can go wrong on the ocean: the weather, the boat, the crew. Anyone out there for the love of money isn't going to last too long.
I also sense a love of competition. So many times we see conflict in the industry with rules that favor one group over another or make it hard for fishermen to do their jobs. But when you get a group of skippers on a level-playing field, that’s when we find out who can really catch fish. One day you might be a champion and not so much the next, but the competition can be thrilling (and I don't mean that in a dangerous way, but just who fishes smartest).
Lastly, there's a love of family and community. The love is shown by the husbands and wives who fish side by side, spouses who endure long stretches at home alone with kids so their significant others can do what they love to do, and the communities who rally in times of adversity, putting up monuments to those lost at sea so that they may never be forgotten.
Fishermen can be a stoic lot. The word love may not get a lot of play out on the water (and that's probably a good thing), but there is no doubt in my mind that love is part of the motivation for doing what you do. Happy Valentine's Day.
*The story was depicted in the movie "Alive," but even better is Parrado's book "Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home," from which come the above quotes.
Page 8 of 11
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: