National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
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.
Monday, 04 February 2013
In the documentary “Red Gold,” one of the project’s geologists talks excitedly about discovering the site of the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. It is the second largest deposit of its type ever found, he says, grinning with obvious pride. A “very significant geological discovery.”
Pebble’s significance goes far beyond some dork geologist’s lust for large mineral deposits. If built, it will be the largest open pit mine in North America, producing an enormous amount of toxic waste that will last forever.
Think about that. The mine would generate more than 10 billion tons of toxic waste, and this waste would be stored behind massive manmade dams in a region that has a lot of earthquakes. The waste would forever be a looming threat to the watershed that feeds the rivers that flow into Alaska’s Bristol Bay — home to the largest sockeye runs in the world.
I saw “Red Gold” at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine, on Wednesday, Jan. 30. The screening was part of a road trip by Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, who are taking their fight against the mine to the rest of the country.
“It’s almost impossible to imagine the size of it,” said Katherine Carscallen, the group’s outreach coordinator and a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay.
According to Carscallen, Pebble would be so large that every mine in Alaska that exists now would only fill up 20 percent of the hole. To get an idea of the scale, check out this photograph taken from space of Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine. It’s the current titleholder of largest open pit mine in North America — but only a third of the size Pebble will be.
“The scale of it is incomparable,” said Carscallen.
The film “Red Gold” focuses on the lives intertwined with Bristol Bay’s abundant sockeye runs, including commercial fishermen, sport fishermen and native Alaskan subsistence fishermen. Their harvest contributes $300 million to the state’s economy and that value spreads out to the rest of the country, as diners all over enjoy the quality of Alaska’s salmon. There is also immeasurable value in protecting a natural resource that is a vital part of the region’s ecosystem and should last forever.
Those on the East Coast already know it doesn’t always last forever. Here in Maine we had our last commercial fishery for wild salmon in 1948, when only 40 fish were caught.
Now Maine’s commercial groundfish industry is also facing extinction. Lucy Van Hook, who is with the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and attended the screening, says her organization is trying to make sure small, dayboat fishermen can continue to fish. In recent years, Maine’s groundfish fleet dropped from 188 boats to fewer than 50. Last week’s cod quota cuts could mean the end of this small fleet.
Who’s to blame? Usually, people blame the enemy they can see: They see air pollution from large smokestacks but not the toxic chemicals washing off artificially green lawns and making their way to the ocean.
They see fishermen unloading fish, but they don’t see pollution or other forces like ocean acidification and changing water temperatures that can cause shifts in fish behavior.
It doesn’t take much to forever alter an environment either. According to the National Wildlife Federation just the slightest amount of copper in the water can interfere with salmon’s sense of smell and direction, and prevent them from reaching spawning grounds.
At this point Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay are pushing for Environmental Protection Agency oversight to halt the project, and are meeting with lawmakers around the country to ask for their support. Carscallen said meetings so far were going well.
“It’s become clearer and clearer we’re not going to stop this project without the help of the rest of the country,” said Carscallen. “There’s very much a connection between Alaska fishermen and the East Coast, and I’m very happy they recognize that.”
To find out how you can help, visit http://fishermenforbristolbay.org.
In the above photo (from left to right), Katherine Carscallen of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, Lucy Van Hook of Maine Coast Fishermen's Association and Sam Hayward, chef/owner of Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine, discuss the film "Red Gold" at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
Monday, 28 January 2013
About a year and a half ago I attended an event in Portland where Maine skipper and author Linda Greenlaw gave a presentation promoting her latest cookbook. Afterward, when she was taking questions from the audience, she got the (probably inevitable), “What’s it like to be a woman fisherman?” question.
Thursday, 24 January 2013
With temperatures in negative numbers, I’m tempted to Google images of an island in Mexico I’d like to visit this spring. Apparently if you go to Isla Mujeres at the right time of year you can swim with giant whale sharks in the clear, blue Caribbean water. I’ve never been but I’d like to go.
Right now I need to get back to work. But thinking about what spring holds for some in the commercial fishing industry is depressing:
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Todd Chafe began fishing cod traps with his father when he was 12 years old, and then it was over.
Chafe and other fishermen from Newfoundland and Labrador saw the only way of life they had ever known vanish when the moratorium was imposed on Atlantic Canada's cod fishermen in 1992. It was a fisherman's worst nightmare (besides a sinking) come true: No fish, no work, no hope.
"Everything changed. ... Then you just see everybody walking around doing nothing, wondering what they're going to be doing," he remembers.Add a comment
Thursday, 10 January 2013
Most people — if they know anything about bluefin tuna — know you shouldn't eat it. That's bad news for U.S. fishermen, but one commercial tuna fisherman has some ideas about how to change this.
Bluefin's untouchable status was reinforced this week after the news broke about the $1.76 million tuna that was sold at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji Market. Though called an "auction" the sale was more of a publicity stunt for the winning bidder, who owns a chain of Japanese sushi restaurants.
The publicity stunt worked on more than one level. The numerous news articles about the sale included statements from environmental groups about the fish’s scarcity. The Pew Environment Group released a report from scientists who say that populations of Pacific bluefin tuna have fallen 96.4 percent from unfished levels. According to the release from Pew, “decades of overfishing” are responsible for the losses.
News outlets connected the dots. A report on National Public Radio’s website claimed “this extravagant sale — and the publicity around it — may be just one more way to push demand for this fish, at a time when the species is vulnerable due to overfishing.”Add a comment
Page 9 of 11
National Fisherman Live: 8/14/14
In this episode:
National Fisherman Live: 8/5/14
In this episode, National Fisherman's Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley talks with Frances Parrott about the Notus Dredgemaster.