Written by Melissa Wood
October 28, 2014
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.
I 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.Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
October 23, 2014
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.
For 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.Add a comment
Written by Jerry Fraser
October 16, 2014
As codfish dwindle, communities need to reboot,” was a low blow.I 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, “
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.
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!
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The Center for Coastal Studies recently announced that Owen Nichols, Director of the Center for Coastal Studies’ Marine Fisheries Research Program, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the John Annala Fishery Leadership Award by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.Read more ...
Cummins announced the opening of a new Alaska service location on Kodiak Island last week that will serve as a service and support location for commercial marine applications.Read more ...