Written by Jerry Fraser
October 9, 2014
Most of us know fishermen who have been plucked off the deck of a sinking vessel, or scarier still, out of the water by a Coast Guard helicopter.
We also know folks who weren’t.
Closing the Coast Guard’s air rescue station at Newport, Ore., is a bad idea, and people there are rightfully bent out of shape about it.
Assurances that modern direction finding equipment speeds the Coast Guard in its efforts to locate vessels in distress are none too comforting. If you’re in the water, determining your position is but the first step in the rescue process, and that’s doubly true if you’re injured, hypothermic, or both.
Nor is the agency well served by its assertions that its response times will meet or beat federal requirements. Fishing vessels have been known to sink in minutes, and they can capsize in seconds. When this happens, survival may depend most of all on the proximity of rescuers.
Recent years have found fishermen taking increased responsibility for their safety, often at the behest of the Coast Guard. But the ocean can be an extremely hostile environment, and there are always going to be those nights of ice, to borrow from Spike Walker, when we depend on the Coast Guard to live up to its mission of minimizing loss of life at sea.
The Newport Fishermen Wives have launched a petition drive in an effort to get the Coast Guard to reconsider, and they have the support of both of the state’s U.S. senators as well as four of its five representatives in the U.S. House.
I hope you sign it, wherever your home port is. The helicopter was installed at Newport because it was needed, and with all due respect, that need is not a function of the Coast Guard’s budget. And as someone who recalls a time when there was a helo in Rockland, Maine, the one thing you can be sure of is that if Newport loses the chopper, it will never get it back.Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
September 30, 2014
Opponents of Pebble Mine — and they are legion — can take comfort in the dismissal last week of a lawsuit the Pebble Mine developers brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Beginning with the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, Bristol Bay watershed resources generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year and provide thousands of jobs. These are circumstances that cannot always be argued by opponents of economic development, who are often depicted as tree huggers with nothing better to do.
The EPA has received upward of 625,000 comments on Pebble and has held seven public hearings as well. The open-pit mine, to be located in the Bristol Bay watershed, would be three-quarters of a mile deep and span an area larger than Manhattan.
The risks of such a mine were brought home in August when a tailings dam burst at a mine on a tributary of the Fraser River in Vancouver, turning loose 2.6 billion gallons of wastewater and 1.2 billion gallons of metals-bearing sand on the eve of a sockeye run projected at two million fish.
Nonetheless, with copper and other minerals at stake in Pebble valued at half a trillion dollars, it’s not likely Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. is simply going to go away mad because of an adverse legal decision. (A judge ruled that the EPA was within its rights to consider limits on mining activity at Pebble even before an application for a Clean Water Act permit was submitted. The EPA says it will announce a decision in February.)
Activists who oppose Pebble mine don’t need me to warn them of the risks of complacency. Those of you who sympathize with them from afar should consider engagement.
Economics are a force of nature and $500 billion is a hurricane. Take some comfort, but don’t get comfortable.Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
September 25, 2014
You may have read that NMFS is developing new protocols for assessing fish stocks.
Not a moment too soon (which should not be taken as an endorsement for whatever the agency comes up with)!
An analysis by the Government Accountability Office released last week reported what most of us figured we knew, which is that not all stock assessments are created equal.
This alone is not the stuff of conspiracy. Not all stocks require the same degree of surveillance. But among the findings of researchers was that Alaska stocks are more likely to be assessed than stocks elsewhere.
Is there a correlation between the relative health of stocks there and their more frequent assessments? Hard to say.
But what we can say is that NMFS is obliged to get a handle on stocks that are regarded as stressed, particularly if landings seem to be at odds with the data, as has been the case this year with Gulf of Maine cod.
We’ve also seen real divergence of opinion with respect to federal science on red snapper stocks and the observations of fishermen. And last summer a new wrinkle was added to the business of counting red snapper when federal scientists reported landings nearly two and a half times what the state of Alabama reported.
If the federales were wrong in their estimates, as both the state and fishermen believe is the case, Alabama fishermen paid a substantial price: the season was shut down after nine days.
For its part, Alabama planned to conduct further stock assessments, which could conceivably back up its landings data.
It’s one thing when stock assessments inaccurately model the number of fish in the ocean. It’s thoroughly discouraging that we can’t account for the fish we have caught.
We understand that scientists cannot count every fish and must rely on models to assess stocks. Unfortunately, fishermen and communities that depend on fish cannot use models to pay bills and conduct commerce.
Comprehensive and reliable stock assessments ought to be job one for NMFS.Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
September 18, 2014
Not for the first time, scientists and fishermen are at odds in New England, not for the first time on the subject of Gulf of Maine cod.
So far this year, cod landings at the Portland Fish Exchange are up by a factor of nearly two over 2013. NMFS contends stocks are down significantly from just a year ago.
Yet not only are the fishermen catching more cod, they are doing so with less effort – 93 fewer trips so far this year, according to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.
Scientists say that fish tend to hyper-aggregate when stocks are depleted, and that when fishermen locate them their landings suggest much more widespread abundance than is the case.
In other words, fishermen cannot win. If landings are low, they’re told stocks are depleted, and if they improve, they’re told the outlook is even grimmer.
Granted, we’re not talking about a tremendous amount of fish: 153,000 pounds have come across the floor at the Portland Fish Exchange since May 1 vs. 85,000 during the same period last year.
Not a lot of fish, but enough to suggest that further reducing landings may serve neither fish nor fishermen.
The reality is that only the fish know whether they’re recovering or hyper-aggregating. We need to stop this business of turning to old models to explain new data. When landings run contrary to models, the answer has to be new research, not old explanations.
Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
September 9, 2014
Most of us associate labor with unions, but that's much less the case now than it was a generation or more ago.
In New England, thousands of non-union employees at Market Basket supermarkets, through resolve and unity, forced the sale of the $4.6 billion chain to the CEO who only weeks before had been ousted largely because of his loyalty to those same workers.
Fast-food workers throughout the United States, who are also non-union, are attracting attention and growing support for their campaign for a higher minimum wage law. Typically these folks qualify for one government assistance program or another, meaning that the taxpayers in effect supplement the wages paid to the workers.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
In Louisiana, shrimp prices are so low that fishermen (who are not guaranteed even $ 7.25 an hour) on Monday declared a moratorium to halt harvesting. "This is not a strike," said Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, of the stoppage, which ended Tuesday. In drawing the distinction, he may have been attempting to disassociate shrimpers from organized labor, which in the minds of many has outlived its usefulness as a result of workplace rules that counter productivity.
Guidry understands that when fishermen don't deliver, everyone – dock owners and processors as well as the boats and their crews – suffers, and is counting on getting all the players around the table and working things out.
Fishermen, of course, are not hourly wage earners. But their frustration with a status quo that seeks to disenfranchise them economically is much the same as any wage slave's frustration. As a result, they share the sense that it is time to take a stand.
Whether these folks are the vanguard of the ascendance of American labor in the 21st century, only time will tell.
Written by Jerry Fraser
September 4, 2014
Pardon me if I politely decline to drink the fishery observer Kool-Aid. Fact is, I smashed the mug, into which someone had poured catch share Kool-Aid, in the fireplace long ago.
Observer programs are not inherently evil, but they're not inherently sensible, either. Billeting qualified scientists on fishing vessels is often impractical and never cheap, regardless of who is picking up the tab.
I don't quarrel with the collection of fishery-dependent data; it's just that observers are an expensive way to gather it. I realize that observers are scientists gaining valuable insights in the field. But much of the information is within the grasp of the average fisherman, so let the fishermen gather it at sea and the scientists deal with it ashore. To the extent that they collect biological data that would ordinarily be beyond the scope of a deckhand's duties we should think in terms of innovation and not resign ourselves to what a biologist's job has always been.
I am also skeptical of observers as compliance monitors. Call me naïve, but I am not inclined to view fishermen as lawbreakers or cheaters. Besides, we know where folks are fishing and with a modicum of shoreside enforcement we can be certain of what they're landing. That said, bycatch, particularly in some high-volume pelagic trawl fisheries, is an issue that needs to be addressed. Seasonal closures are one method of accomplishing this, but there are times when observers may represent another. At the scale at which the pelagic trawlers operate it may be easier to justify an observer's limited presence.
The answers to the challenge of fishery management will seldom be certain, but they need to make economic sense with respect to all resources, by which I mean the ocean's, the fisherman's and the taxpayer's.
Written by Melissa Wood
August 19, 2014
Sometimes when I want to check out what the world is saying about commercial fishing, I'll go to Twitter and type "commercial fishing" in the search box. A sampling from today includes links to a video about commercial fishermen in Gaza struggling with Israeli restrictions and an article on how "China is using its immense commercial fishing fleet as a surrogate navy" for clashes in the contested waters in the South Asian Sea (the fleet has 695,555 vessels, making it the biggest in the world and double the size of the next largest, Japan.)
Sorry for the distraction. That's what these social media sites do — distract. Often the distractions that come up about commercial fishing will be negative. There are many users who "care about the oceans" (a favorite phrase) and use platforms like Twitter to sound off on commercial fishing. Yet, they know very little about the industry they're criticizing.
I care about the oceans too, and the health of our planet, but I don't think it's productive to constantly point fingers at commercial fishing while ignoring the growing threats of climate change, acidification and pollution. I remember learning during a pretty basic science class in high school that the pollution you can't see is often more of a threat to the environment than the visible. That's the problem that commercial fishermen have: You are a visible target.
During my time at National Fisherman I've been lucky to meet interesting, hardworking people whose idea of a typical day in the office is of course anything but. While it can be a struggle to not know what you're going to bring home each day, I think commercial fishermen also enjoy the challenge of keeping up with the fish within the parameters of time and fuel.
Those challenges make great stories. Keep telling your stories through good reporting at your local newspapers and blogs. These writers are always looking for material to write about, so if you feed them some juicy stories (with some education about fisheries to boot) you'll probably get a bite.
I believe in the power of stories, and you guys have the best ones. Providing greater understanding will hopefully allow for greater flexibility. For example, when fish move because of warming waters, will management and science acknowledge that change or blame the fishermen? Commercial fishermen need friends wherever they can find them during these changing and sometimes challenging times.
As our Senior Editor Linc Bedrosian pointed out to me when I shared this blog, commercial fishermen are both visible and invisible. You're an easy target to pick on, yet nobody really sees you because when you're off fishing, you're out of sight and out of mind to the general public.
Some are visible. If you go to Twitter and type in "commercial fishing," you'll see there's a good group of bloggers (some are also commercial fishermen) sharing those good stories. You can follow National Fisherman's Editor Jessica Hathaway @NFJes. If you want to follow me, I'm @melissafwood. Thanks!
Written by Melissa Wood
August 12, 2014
Philip Halliday is a former scallop fisherman from Digby, Nova Scotia, who found himself in a bit of trouble. The story about him begins on Dec. 11, 2009. He is aboard the Destiny Empress, a 190-foot former Coast Guard vessel seemingly empty of cargo that he had been hired to sail from the Caribbean to Spain. Six days out, the ship is surrounded, shots are fired and they are boarded. It gets worse:
"Halliday was on his way back to the wheelhouse when somebody came up the stairs behind him and slammed him to the floor. Winded, he drew himself up, but his assailant kicked him in the stomach and flattened him again. He felt the man's knee pressing him into the steel floor, now strewn with broken glass.
"The man tied Halliday's hands behind his back and dragged him across the passageway, yelling at him to keep his head turned. Halliday was certain pirates had boarded the vessel. He thought, There's nothing on this ship! We're dead."
The armed men led Halliday to his cabin. Inside was a safe. When asked where the key was, Halliday said he had no idea.
Whether or not he was telling the truth is the key question of Noah Richler's story, "The Trials of Philip Halliday," in The Walrus. As you might have guessed, those pirates were police and the cargo was one and a half tons of cocaine (it was not in Halliday's cabin but in a pressurized compartment at the very bottom of the ship).
Was Halliday a naive fisherman or in on the drug deal? Read the story, which looks at Halliday's life as a commercial fisherman, his journey to the Destiny Empress and trial, and judge for yourself. You might know someone just like him.
Longreads like Richler's article are one of my favorite things on the Internet. Sites like longform.org that collect long-form articles from a wide variety of sources can suck me in for hours like a good book. Among these great reads are other pieces about commercial fishing and fishermen that I've listed below. Some are recent and some go back a few years.
What I like about them all is that they never skim the surface. It seems like so much of what we call reading online isn't reading at all. People read headlines and comment on a story without even reading it. Why bother? They've already made up their mind about the story's topic and won't be convinced otherwise. Click-hungry websites are willing participants in these quick jump-arounds.
But good writing will hook the curious reader and educate them about the topic. Not to sound too corny, but isn't greater understanding something we should all be striving for? When that topic's commercial fishing I believe longform articles can help the general public understand the industry and the people who work in it. Businessweek's story on the Gloucester fish wars, while not entirely sympathetic to the fishermen, may provide some understanding about that community's animosity toward law enforcement.
Most of all, I'm a sucker for a good survival story, which is why I've included both the recent story of John Aldridge's fall off a lobster boat off Long Island and an excerpt about the Essex, a ship that fought a whale and lost. Survival stories always make me think about how I would have acted if I had been in those harrowing situations. Hopefully, I'll never know.
If you're a fan of articles about commercial fishing, you should also be reading National Fisherman (if you don't already). We cover news about boats and gear as well as at-sea and big-issue stories, but these are true page-turners. You must be a magazine subscriber to read them. You can learn more about us and sign up here.
If you are a subscriber, thank you for reading.
"A Speck in the Sea"
Paul Tough, The New York Times, January 2014
Looking back, John Aldridge knew it was a stupid move. When you're alone on the deck of a lobster boat in the middle of the night, 40 miles off the tip of Long Island, you don't take chances.
"The Gloucester Fish War"
Brendan Borrell, Businessweek, November 2011
The bidding starts early at the seafood auction in Gloucester, Mass. Each day about 30 tons of fish — mostly cod, haddock, and flounder — come in by boat on Cape Ann, a fist jutting into the Atlantic Ocean.
"The Frozen Ladder"
Julia Grønnevet, n+1, November 2010
Going fishing is called, in dialect, "fær på sjøen." It was something boys in Norway did when society couldn't hold them anymore. I took it for granted I should be allowed to do it too.
"The Whale and the Horror" (excerpted from "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex")
Nathaniel Philbrick, Vanity Fair, May 2000
Like a giant bird of prey, the whaleship moved lazily up the western coast of South America, zigging and zagging across a living sea of oil. For that was the Pacific Ocean in 1821, a vast field of warm-blooded oil deposits known as sperm whales.
Written by Melissa Wood
August 7, 2014
In 1984, Texas entrepreneur David Pottinger had a plan to build a fleet of small sailing boats that would work the fisheries in Galveston Bay. When the first of the fleet, the 26' 4" Sterling Windfish, launched, National Fisherman writer John Ira Perry came along for an assessment:
"The boat was constructed roughly, quickly — and inexpensively. Work began May 21, just 41 calendar days before the July 7 launch. Pottinger was delighted with the launch-day sailing trials, although he now considers a larger jib better for serious fishing.
"With this reporter aboard, the newly launched boat immediately proved she isn't a racing yacht, but she isn't supposed to be. She will move if there is any wind at all to fill the huge main, and the scow is reasonably responsive to the tiller."
However, her main problem was fishing.
"The first fishing involved work with an 8' roller-frame trawl net. On yet another day of light and fluky winds on the bay, the rig often proved too heavy for the Sterling Windfish to tow efficiently. Only a few shrimps and crabs were caught, although it admittedly wasn't the best season to be shrimping in this location."
Pottinger wasn't discouraged. He quickly made the decision to switch from one shrimp trawl to two smaller ones on each side of the boat to give the boat better maneuverability.
I don't know if he came anywhere close to realizing his dream of a fleet of two dozen sailboats fishing the Gulf of Mexico. It may just have been a dream, but his efforts were among the first in the shift to more energy efficient fishing that has increased recently as high fuel prices cut deep into fishermen's profits.
The price of fuel has long been a game-changer. When it was cheap, fishermen were quick to switch from sails to motor-powered boats and adopted fishing methods that used those engines to target fish as efficiently as possible.
Now that fuel's expensive, fishermen are naturally investing in technology that burns less of it. For some, that means taking another look at sail power. In my story, "Second wind," which begins on page 20 of our September issue, you'll meet a couple fishermen who are fishing from sail-assisted vessels.
Unlike the Sterling Windfish, these aren't constructed roughly. They're thoughtfully designed boats that use sail power as an alternative source of energy. Dan Patterson, in particular, is a commercial fisherman and avid sailor. In addition to the sail on his boat, he's incorporating little things he's learned on sail craft that add up to savings on the water. It makes sense. Every cent saved is money added back to his and his crew's paychecks.
For centuries, fishermen's main concern was finding the fish and hauling it in as quickly as possible. Now that fishermen are concerned about energy efficiency, it will be interesting to see how they'll burn less fuel while remaining profitable on the water. National Fisherman will continue to share their stories.
I hope you enjoy the article, and if anyone knows what happened to the Sterling Windfish and Pottinger's fleet dreams, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I hear anything, I'll let you know.
Written by Melissa Wood
July 29, 2014
When I started working for National Fisherman, I lived about an hour south, and gas prices were going where they've never gone before. That was early 2011, when the national average hit a new record of $3.51 a gallon. It rose again to $3.61 in 2012. My solution? I moved.
Not everyone can solve that problem so easily. At the same time I was watching my paycheck disappear at the pump, I was also beginning to understand how significant gas prices are for commercial fishermen.
The cost of gas is not just a concern for fishermen. It also factors into fishing's sustainability. To find out how much, two researchers, Robert Parker, a Ph.D. student at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, and Peter Tyedmers, an ecological consultant at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, looked into which fisheries use the most gas and why.
In their article, "Fuel consumption of global fishing fleets: current understanding and knowledge gaps," published in Fish and Fisheries, Parker and Tydemers looked at more than 1,600 records of fuel use by fleets worldwide and then ranked fisheries by the average amount of fuel it takes to land a metric ton (about 2,200 pounds).
Some have it worse than others. You might be surprised to see that shrimp and lobster hold the No. 1 spot as the most fuel-heavy fisheries. But keep in mind the study looks at averages for fisheries worldwide. While Maine lobster requires an average of 206 gallons* of fuel per metric ton, there are fishermen in Norway who need almost 4,500 gallons of gas to catch a metric ton of lobster in the North Sea.
Similarly, fishermen in Australia require 1,850 gallons to catch a metric ton of Asian tiger prawns. As Science Magazine writer Erik Stokstad points out, both of these species are small, scarce and widely scattered, greatly upping the cost it takes to bring in a boatful.
Not surprisingly, fishing methods and gear also factor into fuel costs. Some of the most fuel-intensive fisheries are scallops and flatfish, because they require heavy engine-wearing dredges. Their fuel costs are, respectively, 140 gallons and 750 gallons per metric ton.
The Prius of fisheries isn't surprising either. Parker and Tyedmers found that fisheries closer to shore with abundant catches use the least amount of gas. That is the case for Peruvian anchovies. Fishermen who catch them use the least amount of gas — about 2 gallons of gas per ton — of the fisheries studied.
Check out Stokstand's article if you'd like to find out more about the study. I was glad to see he also provides some perspective about fuel use in fisheries: Though those costs are a big deal for fishermen, in the larger earth-destroying sense they're actually not bad. While the average environmental impact of catching fish is similar to other proteins, beef's carbon footprint is five times higher. Scientists have been pointing to that industry as a significant driver in climate change.
I've seen the cost of fuel dictate where you fish, where you dock your boat and even what kind of car you drive to get to and from the dock. All over, commercial fishermen are adjusting how they fish and investing in new technologies to reduce their fuel costs. Fuel prices will continue to be a challenge, but I'm sure commercial fishermen will continue to find ways to make it less of a drag.
*I've converted the study's liters to gallons for this post.
Page 9 of 20
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 ...
The New England Fishery Management Council recently elected Dr. John F. Quinn of Massachusetts and E. F. “Terry” Stockwell III of Maine to serve respectively as chairman and vice chairman in the year ahead. The two have led the Council since 2014 but reversed roles this year.Read more ...