National Fisherman

Coastlines 

melissaNational Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.

 

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.

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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.

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.

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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:

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Todd Chafe began fishing cod traps with his father when he was 12 years old, and then it was over.

Todd ChafeChafe 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.

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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.”

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When young fishermen came together for their second official pub crawl, having a good time wasn't the only thing on their minds.

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If it's not recreational versus commercial, or gear type against gear type, then it's brother against brother. That was the case when deputies in Volusia County, N.J., charged Lawrence Lamee Jr. with battery and criminal mischief for allegedly ramming his boat into his brother's boat while fighting over the same fishing spot.

At first glance, I thought the story was silly (and a little crazy), but then I started to think about how fishermen often have to go up against each other — not just over fishing spots, but also over regulations that tend to favor one group over another. Does that conflict end up hurting the industry?

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There's something special about watching a net slowly come out of the water and roll up over the winch. Even for me, whose paycheck is not based on what finally appears in the bag, there's a thrill of anticipation.

Last Saturday I spent the day on Jeffreys Ledge in the Gulf of Maine with David Goethel on his 44-foot dragger Ellen Diane. I made the trip for a story I'm writing about New England groundfishermen for an upcoming issue. 

Being on the boat helped give me a sense of how thin the margins can be out there. Goethel, whose homeport is Hampton, N.H., has to decide where to go based on where he thinks the fish will be, but he also has to consider how much fuel he's using. Paychecks can get pretty small if you go too far and don't make up for it with your catch. That's why each haul up matters so much. Here's a video clip of our second of three tows that day:

As you can hear Goethel say at the end of the clip, it's an entirely different mix from our first tow, which had much more lobster (he's allowed to keep 100 legal lobsters per trip). Unfortunately much of the cod wasn't big enough to keep. I watched crewman Mike Emerson quickly measure and toss the smaller ones so that they'd survive.

Goethel, a longtime fisherman and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council says he's one of the last of the dinosaurs. He and other small boat fishermen out of New England are in danger of extinction as quotas for key groundfish species diminish. Other fisheries aren't making up for it either. This winter he is still deciding whether or not to go after shrimp. The quota for it is also so low (cut by 75 percent from last year) that he's unsure if processors will open for it. 

I enjoyed going out with David not just because of his experience. He is fascinated with fish behavior. A good fisherman needs to think like a fish, and David, who is also a marine biologist, has some interesting theories, learned from 40 years on the water. Unfortunately it is this kind of expertise that will be most missed if this fishery keeps going in the direction it is headed.

Expect the story to appear in one of our spring issues (we are working on Febuary now). I'll keep you posted.

Here's Goethel (left) and Emerson sorting the catch.

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They say all fishermen are liars. Maybe. But dishonest people tend to cover their tracks with excuses, and you can't make excuses to the sea. There's a brutal honesty that comes with fishing.

Good writing also demands honesty. Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, readers can tell when a story doesn't ring true. Characters and situations may change, but our experiences are universal, like falling in love or being a teenager.

Some of us would like to forget being a teenager. When I listened to two Fisher Poet presentations at last week's Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, it brought me right back to the completely self-centered teenager I had been and how hard it can be for parents and their teens to understand each other. Teenagers are teenagers whether on land or at sea.

Tele Aadsen, who has recently been in the pages of National Fisherman with her story about finding the survivor of an Alaska fishing boat sinking, talked about being a 13-year-old at the helm of her mother's boat the Willie Lee. As she began, Aadsen made a confession about the girl she had been:

"Time out," she said. "I need to tell you guys exactly what was happening on that boat and who I was at that time. I think some of you are parents? And have some experience with teenagers? And I'm sure that your teenagers are lovely people, and I was not. Take the worst that you can imagine and that's about where we were on this boat."

As you can also imagine, the story goes downhill from there.

Here's a video clip of Aadsen's Expo performance. It's more than 15 minutes so is a good listen for a time when your hands are busy but your mind needs entertainment:

In his presentation, Pat Dixon tells a story from the other side, of being the parent of a 13-year-old.

He remembers getting ready for the season with a teenager who is reluctant to help out. Though teens can be a handful, sometimes things are not as they seem.

"Your face falls, but I haven't noticed. 'I'm not feeling so good,' you answer, and I see your scowl," said Dixon. "I'm in my skipper mentality — what your mother calls, my jerk mode — so I'm quick to assume the worst. I think you don't want to work. After all, I think, you're 13 and though you like making money, you'd rather play video games than help out."

It's just my first wrong assumption of the day," he admits.

Both performances are well worth listening to. You can watch a clip of Dixon as well:

 

Last week was my first chance to see Fisher Poets, but 2013 will mark their 16th official gathering in Astoria, Ore. This year's event takes place Feb. 24 through 26.

You can also catch up with Aadsen and Dixon any time of the year online. Aadsen writes about her adventures on the Nerka on her blog, Hooked, at nerkasalmon.wordpress.com, and Dixon recounts stories from his time fishing in Alaska on Gillnet Dreams at dixonphoto.blogspot.com.

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Page 9 of 11

National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 7/29/14

In this episode:

  • Dismal Kenai king return prompts closures
  • State, feds unveil salmon restoration plans
  • Slow start for Maine’s lobster season
  • Va. oyster harvest up 25 percent in 2013
  • Fishermen tangle lines in snapper battle

National Fisherman Live: 7/17/14

In this episode, National Fisherman's Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley talks with Mike Hillers about the Simrad PX Multisensor.

 

Inside the Industry

PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative has appointed Matt Jacobson as its new executive director.
 
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The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will convene its Red Snapper Advisory Panel Wednesday, July 30, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the council office — 2203 N. Lois Avenue, Suite 1100, in Tampa, Fla. 

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