National Fisherman

If one species could serve as a poster child for fishery conservation efforts, it would probably be bluefin tuna. When NMFS was devising its new Atlantic bluefin tuna regulations, for instance, it received more than 200,000 public comments, according to a Reuters article announcing the new regulations.

Announced this week, those new rules will affect commercial fishermen by making surface gillnetting off limits during bluefin spawning months in the Gulf of Mexico in April and May. Longline restrictions will also be in effect off Hatteras, N.C., an area considered a prime feeding ground for bluefin, between December and April.

20141204 bluefintuna marinebioDOTorgNew bluefin tuna regulations will affect Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic bluefin tuna harvesters. MarineBio Conservation Society photo Another change for longliners is that their bycatch and discards of bluefin will now be counted against their individual vessel quotas, meaning they must shut down fishing if they exceed it. The new rules start on Jan. 1.

According to NMFS and conservation organizations these new rules are a win-win: "The United States is committed to protecting Atlantic bluefin tuna using sustainable, science-based management, and we will continue to be an international leader in its management," said Eileen Sobeck, director of NMFS, in a statement. "These measures allow fishermen to continue fishing for their target species using alternate gear. We are balancing the needs of the fishermen with the recovery of bluefin tuna."

"This is a balanced solution to the problem, a good balance," Tom Wheatley, conservation manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts, told the Associated Press.

But do you, commercial fishermen and the people most affected, believe these new rules are balanced? Greg Abrams, a seafood dealer and boat owner from Panama City, Fla., told the Miami Herald that the restrictions were over the top and that they unfairly hit gulf fishermen while leaving the issue of bluefin take in Mexican waters untouched. "They've put so many fishermen out of business," he said.

Speaking of balanced, what gets left out in reports about bluefin is that U.S. fishermen sustainably harvest the species, playing by the rules and staying within quotas (but of course fishermen make up a small percentage of the 200,000 comments that came into NMFS when considering the measures). In fact, at the November meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, quotas for Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks were slightly increased.

Sometimes if you play by the rules, you just get more rules.

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2014 1125 Coastlines lobsters DSC 0233China can be a profitable market for lobster and other seafood products provided demand remains healthy. Laura Dobson photoLast week, the e-commerce site Alibaba made headlines in Canada when it sold 90,000 Nova Scotia lobsters from a single operator in one day. The company that made the sale, ZF Max International, was described as a “Canadian-based operation with a parent company in China. ZF Max employs up to 60 Nova Scotians and runs a lobster plant near Halifax.” In other words, those Canadian lobsters are being sold to Chinese consumers by a Chinese company over a Chinese website.

You may have never heard of it, but the Alibaba Group is the world’s largest online retailer. Taking advantage of the country’s growing middle class, Alibaba sites account for 80 percent of China’s online sales, racking up $248 billion in sales last year, which is more than the United States’ two biggest retailers, ebay and Amazon, combined.

It’s big business, and a market as big as China can dominate. The problem is that if all of a sudden that market is shut off, it can be difficult to make up the difference in domestic markets that may have been neglected. This is what happened when China boycotted geoducks earlier this year: Fishermen, divers, growers and dealers in the Northwest suffered heavy losses.

I’ve covered other fisheries, like Maine elvers (or glass eels), that depend on overseas markets. A couple years ago, prices peaked at around $2,500 per pound for these tiny glass eels to help stock Asian eel farms whose global supply was limited by conservation measures on glass eels taken around the world. That spiked prices, and helped create a contentious fishery of Maine fishermen fighting over who gets to put their net where, and, later, who gets a share of the quota.

With such a prized catch, fishermen should have had control of the market. Instead, they had almost no idea about where the elvers were going. I visited a seafood dealer in Pembroke, Maine, in the spring of 2013, and happened to be there when Asian exporters Jason and Kevin (last names were not provided) of American Elver Depot in Flushing, N.Y., came to weigh, package and ship the tiny elvers to China. I tried to find out more about where they were going, but neither Jason nor Kevin would speak to me, and I was hung up on when I tried calling the company (read more about the global elver trade here).

Why so secretive? Could Maine fishermen, if better organized, have demanded much more than what they were getting?

I understand the positive side of the Alibaba story. Creating new markets for seafood should help to increase demand and provide diversity so that when one market is weak, another one will (hopefully) help make up the difference and keep dock prices healthy. We should be figuring out ways to make the most of those new markets, rather than letting them make the most of us.

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DSC 0017Competitors in the 2013 Fisherman of the Year contestNational Fisherman’s Fisherman of the Year competition has emerged as one of the enduring highlights of Pacific Marine Expo.

It’s no surprise. The deck of a fishing vessel is a demanding workplace, and fishermen depend on each other to work safely and efficiently under any conditions.

That’s why the Fisherman of the Year contest challenges fishermen to display three skills their co-workers prize: the ability to put a rim-racked net back together, or to quickly splice an eye into a piece of rope, or to tie a knot – correctly – in the shadows of a moonless night. If they compete successfully at those tasks, they move on to the final event, one that demands they exhibit a skill that could someday save their life: the survival suit competition.

As many as three fishermen will line up side by side on stage to see who can properly get into a survival suit in the least time.

Safety counselors say fishermen need to be able to don an immersion suit in a minute. We have had Fishermen of the Year winners do so in less than half that time.

The winners of the net-mending, knot-tying and rope-splicing competition each earn $100. The grand prize, for winning the survival suit competition, is a personalized “Fisherman of the Year” jacket (and another $100!).

The Fishermen of the Year contest takes place Friday at 1 p.m. in the keynote area. If you can’t compete, you can watch.

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2014 1113 Coastlines FraserDSCN1310 JFraserEmergency cod closures in the Gulf of Maine cloud the future for New England groundfish harvesters. Jerry Fraser photo.For those of you across the fruited plain, here’s how it went down in New England’s cod fishery.

Beginning 20 years ago or so, NMFS cut the number of days boats could fish. Then it cut them again. Then it bought back some vessels. Along the way it discovered its stock assessments were flawed. It bought back more vessels and cut more days. 

So much for effort controls. 

In 2009 Jane Lubchenco, a college professor from the West Coast, took over the reins at NOAA and led the effort to convert New England to catch shares management. Kool-Aid drinkers with a taste for this regime believe that catch shares “rationalize” fisheries, scaling production capacity to match a desired harvest level.

As of today, the desired harvest level for cod is zero. “Thanks for playing,” fishermen have been told.

So much for output controls.

“We couldn’t be any worse off, either the resources or the people, if we had no management at all for the past 20 years,” Maggie Raymond, owner of two groundfish boats and a longtime industry activist, told Maine’s Portland Press Herald this week.

Which brings to mind Thomas (Diddy) Martin. Diddy was a first-rate welder and mechanic who worked on a lot of the fishing boats around southern York County, Maine, in the 1970s and ’80s, including mine. Diddy could make anything run but his specialty was putting scrap metal to indestructible use by fishermen who otherwise could be counted on to break anything. “This has got worms,” he’d say about whatever he was rigging. “But we’ll rube” — as in Rube Goldberg — “something together."

When we were done work we would go to a bar and argue. Diddy believed that fishery management was a waste of time. I was a champion of fishery management, which at the time had no impact on me as an inshore fisherman. I didn’t even fill out the logs.

“Diddy,” I’d say earnestly, “we’ve got to manage these fish.”

“No way!” he’d declare. “All you’ve got to do is catch them. If you can’t make any money catching dabs you’ll catch something else or go out of business.

“I’m tellin’ ya,” which he always said when he was telling us something, “The last thing you want is for the government to get involved.”

I miss you old friend. And you were right all along.

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Paul Stone's sunny demeanor among calm waters is a little deceiving. Rolled by limits in quota or outright bans, dips in price and unpredictable weather, he faces challenges undoubtedly familiar to his U.S. counterparts with a smile.

The U.K. trawl fisherman is the star of the short film, "Fishing for the Long Haul?" In a behind-the-scenes write-up, producer Jo Stewart-Smith describes going out with Paul and his two crewmen during the summer, catching squid on the 15-meter (49-foot) trawler Sparkling Star out of North Devon. Though the weather is nice, the crew spends much of their time sorting below decks, where the heat is almost unbearable. After a 24-hour trip, the cameraman staggers off the boat while the fishermen drop off their catch and head straight back out.

This is just the beginning of Stewart-Smith's newfound appreciation for the small-boat guys. The uncomfortable conditions are the least of the fishermen's worries, and the filmmaker is even more in awe of the "roller coaster ride" of the small boat fishermen's life on and off the water:

"This film has been my biggest learning curve and the biggest roller coaster ride. It's the film where the story has changed most often — in fact almost every time I speak to Paul he's facing some new obstacle, whether it's the tail end of a hurricane, a change in the quota or price, something which needs fixing on the boat or a ban on one of 'our money fish'. Yet through it all Paul has remained relentlessly cheerful and good humored, with plenty of quips to keep everyone's spirits up and optimism that next week the fishing will be better. And ironically it's rarely the fishing itself which is a problem — even the weather has been pretty kind this year."

Sound familiar? The squid had disappeared when the Bristol Channel was hit with the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha (squid prefer hot weather). So, as fishermen do, Paul switched to rays. But the roller coaster took another dip down shortly after the film was completed. The ray season ended abruptly when the overall quota had been exceeded. The ban took away more than a key species. The ban on rays — a key species — also threatened to close down processing in the area.

Back to the film. While the sorry plight of another small-boat fisherman might seem depressing, Paul is all smiles on the water. I suppose this is what they mean by "in it for the long haul." If you truly are, then you must accept the bad, adapt and move forward as much as you can. Seeing his love of fishing and ability to roll with the punches makes this 5-minute film well worth watching for me. You can watch it below:

"Fishing for the Long Haul?" is part of Boat Stories, a series of short films about the working boats of North Devon. The series' other fishing films include "Lobster Potting and Berried Hens," "Salmon Netting on the Taw and Torridge" and "Life's Journey on the Torridge."


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I wouldn’t say that the Supreme Court has restored my faith in Washington. 

2014.11 grouperBut it clearly has displayed a sense of proportion in a case involving a Florida commercial fisherman.

In 2007 John L. Yates’ vessel Miss Katie was boarded by a Florida fish and wildlife officer who examined the catch and wrote Yates up for possessing undersized grouper.

The fish cop sent Yates ashore under orders to preserve the evidence.

Instead, Yates did what any number of us would have done – he told his crew to throw the undersized fish overboard.

He no doubt regrets not having one of his crewmen thrown over as well – the one who later confessed to authorities.

In their wisdom, the federales charged Yates not with a fisheries violation but with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which arose out of the Enron scandal and was intended to prevent the destruction of “any record, document, or tangible object” that was the subject of a federal investigation.

Yates was sentenced to 30 days in prison, a sentenced that was upheld on appeal.

Justice department prosecutors allowed that they brought the charges under Sarbanes-Oxley because it carries a maximum sentence of 20 years as opposed to the fisheries statute, which would have been worth a maximum of five years.

The outrageousness of this was not lost on Justice Antonin Scalia. “What kind of mad prosecutor would try to send this guy up for 20 years?” he asked. “Who do you have out there that exercises prosecutorial discretion?”

Or common sense. It costs the taxpayers about $30,000 a year per inmate in federal prison. We’d have been on the hook for upward of $600,000 if Yates had drawn the maximum sentence, for tossing overboard a handful of fish. Does that seem proportionate to you?

Supreme Court reporters note that this case has the prosecutorial trappings of Bond vs. United States, a farce in which the feds charged a woman under a chemical weapons treaty for applying irritants to a former friend’s car, mailbox and doorknob in an effort to provoke a rash. (The ex-friend was carrying the woman’s husband’s baby, but not as a surrogate mom.)

Only in America.

The Yates case is amusing because it’s clear that the justices are convinced Sarbanes-Oxley is far too broad. There is nothing funny about prosecutors who contrive to send American citizens to prison for decades in cases that are at best, in the words of Justice Samuel Alito, “trivial matters.”

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Fish for a living and it’s easy to become jaded about “do gooders” who, sometimes naively and sometimes not, make it their business to save the ocean and all its fish from the evil predations of commercial fishermen.

2014 1030 Jonathan GonzalezJonathan Gonzalez shares what he’s learned about gillnet fishing on his website, photoBut the truth is that every now and then someone like Jonathan Gonzalez, a graphic designer in Santa Barbara, Calif., comes along and reminds us that humans are blessed with reason, and some use it.

Gonzalez suffered the laudable bias to conserve that all too often leads folks to jump to conclusions about human interactions with their environment, particularly when it comes to fishing, agriculture and so-called extractive industries.

He was no exception, at least in the beginning.

As a volunteer for the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center he came to view gillnets as curtains of death, largely as a result of sea lion bycatch, even though the sea lions were released alive. But he made his bones on sharks with the launch in 2009 of, which was dedicated to getting local restaurants to stop serving shark fin soup.

(He is perplexed to this day at the willingness of shark conservationists to grant him “expert status” for little more than advocating a position and laying out a website.)

Fortunately, the same honest intellect that led him to question gillnets and shark fishing stood him in good stead when he spoke with local fishermen and chefs, and he followed up his conversations with research. He discovered that responsible conservation, like responsible fishing, is a nuanced business.

 His story is compelling and reasserts the power of ideas. You can find it on his blog, Organic Creativity

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Yesterday morning, I pulled my camel-colored wool coat from the closet for the first time this season. A simple act in the past, this was a terrible decision.  

2014 1028 Coastlines TolmanAlaskanSKiffs coverforwebI moved Down East about two months ago, to work as an editor for Professional BoatBuilder magazine in Brooklin, Maine. From my former home of Portland, Maine, Brooklin is about three hours away, northeast — and then south down one of the fingers of land that hang from Maine’s coast. This peninsula is thick with deer, and hunting season is about to start (it began already with a youth hunting day last Saturday). Wearing a light brown coat would be practically suicidal. 

Life is different. I’m adjusting to a new job, new home, and new people. But I haven’t left everything behind, including blogging for National Fisherman. As an editor for a heavily technical journal about boats, I’m privileged to learn about the latest developments in design, building techniques, materials, systems and propulsion. When it’s relevant to the commercial fishing industry, I’m happy to share.

Renn Tolman’s move was much greater than mine, and his adjustments made lasting impacts on boatbuilding and commercial fishing. He grew up in New Hampshire then headed west, eventually making his way to Homer, Alaska. When he got there, in 1971, his first boat was a double-ended dory he called “wonderfully seaworthy,” but also the slowest boat on Kachemak Bay. He sold that dory and decided to build a Carolina Dory Skiff, which traded the former’s sluggishness for an unstable, wet ride. He began a quest to design and build what he called a “proper skiff.”

Even if you haven’t heard of Tolman, you’ve seen the result of this quest. “These skiffs, which became known simply as Tolman skiffs, were the thing to have if you were a setnet fisherman in Alaska,” wrote NF North Pacific Bureau Chief Charlie Ess in “Reflections in wood” (National Fisherman, April 2011). According to Ess, Tolman built 103 skiffs of his own design (which included the standard, wide body and jumbo models) before retiring from boatbuilding in 2000. Tolman also gave amateur boatbuilders the tools to make their own, publishing “A Skiff For All Seasons: How to Build an Alaskan Skiff” in 1992, which was updated and reprinted as “Tolman Alaska Skiffs: Building Plans for Three Plywood/Epoxy Skiffs” in 2003.

Tolman died in July 2014 at the age of 80. You can read more about his work in “Renn Tolman and his high-endurance skiff” on Professional BoatBuilder’s website. For me, part of his legacy is a reminder that a big change can also be a blessing. It depends on what you make of it.

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PORTLAND, Maine – What looked Tuesday morning to be a milquetoast weather system over the Great Lakes shoved off for the East Coast later in the day and began acquiring energy and moisture.

2014 1023 Coastlines weather map20This satellite image shows the slow moving coastal storm that moved into the Northeast on Wednesday and will continue to bring periods of rain into Friday, according to the National Weather Service. National Weather service imageFor a while the radar looked showery, but the rain was forecast to become steadier and the wind to pick up. By late afternoon rain was under way across much of New England, but there was little wind offshore.

What wind there was was out of the southeast. We used to say, “Rain before the wind, storm won’t begin,” when southeast was in the forecast. And we set great store in the conventional wisdom that a southeaster was good for nine hours, no more. Indeed, these were articles of absolute faith when I fished.

Under the circumstances, then, I may be forgiven for wondering if the forecast for this week, which calls for three or more days of rain and wind, is overly enthusiastic.

It is my observation that people who make their living in warm, dry places that don’t shake, roll or pound when it’s windy love to hyperbolize about the weather. Mariners, pilots, mountain climbers and others for whom weather can have real, sometimes life-threatening impacts, are much less likely be sustained by admonitions to stock up on batteries.

As it happens, the weatherman took himself out from under the strictures that apply to southeasterlies by calling for the wind to back into the east and then the northeast, at 30 knots, with gusts to 45. It is supposed to blow onshore through Thursday and then back into the north and northwest throughout Friday.

Even if it’s wrong, this forecast makes sense. In the northern hemisphere, if you put your back to the wind and extend your left arm you’ll be pointing toward the low. Over time, the storm goes by. There’s a poem, most of which I can’t recall, that tries to explain this concept by mean of a storm-tossed mariner with his back to the mast. “And the wind blew up his ass,” goes the last line, which everyone remembers.

There are few verities about weather, but that’s one of them. So is the rather more general, “All weather is a result of uneven heating of the Earth’s surface.”

If there are any others, I don’t know them. If you do, feel free to send them along.

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2014 1016 Coastlines DSCN1310 JFraserDespite years of increasingly strict regulations on Northeast groundfish harvesters, cod continue to lag well below federal stock rebuilding target levels. Jerry Fraser photoI am a big boy and I am accustomed to commercial fishing taking it on the chin in the mainstream media. Even by that standard, however, The Boston Globe’s Oct. 13 editorial, “As codfish dwindle, communities need to reboot,” was a low blow.

Especially troubling was its cynical, world-weary tone.

For example, it suggests that fishermen view scientists as “nosy researchers,” when in fact the industry is totally committed to the gathering of data.  

Here are a few more free samples:

“Fishermen are again protesting that they will lose everything.”
Why wouldn’t they protest? After 20 years of sacrificing for a better tomorrow, they’re told tomorrow has been canceled.

“Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk has retreated to the decades-old political stance of calling the science ‘questionable.’”
The science in question is federal, and for decades — with monks, with scallops, and with dogfish, for starters — the questions have been more than justified.

“The reflexive insistence on the status quo is untenable.”
The reflex the Globe is dismissing is the survival instinct. And precisely because they have such instincts, fishermen are insisting on anything but the status quo.

“It is clearly time for a new model that shelves the insular response to new quotas…”
By insular I assume the Globe is referring to the small community that is the groundfish industry. It would be less insular if there were more fishermen.

“A full-scale effort to retool requires a complete attitude change.”
Yes it does. I have been saying for going on 20 years that advocates for the environment, editorial writers and politicians need to view harvesters as the linchpin of resource management. 

“Fishermen have relied on vote-counting politicians to enable them to avoid the inevitable by begging Washington for disaster relief and congressional earmarks.”
Inevitable? Well, at least we know where the Globe stands. The reality is that elected officials who count votes can ignore groundfishermen at little political risk. More often than not, the disaster from which fishermen seek relief isn’t the status of stocks, it’s wrongheadedness, as readers of Monday’s Globe can attest.

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Page 8 of 20

Inside the Industry

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 ...
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