National Fisherman

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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Lori French’s crusade began when she saw a children’s book in her son’s first grade classroom about a whale that gets caught in a “bad” fisherman’s net.

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Though Alaska is the biggest player in the U.S. seafood industry by far, the small role it plays on a global stage is surprising. The state hauled up 5.5 billion pounds in 2011, but that was only a small fraction of the world’s 100 million metric tons of seafood.

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Next week I'll be going to the Pacific Marine Expo, the commercial industry's largest trade event. It's my first time at PME,which takes place from Nov. 27 to 29 at the CenturyLink Field in Seattle. There's a lot to do at PME so I've been trying to set priorities. In no particular order, here are five things I'm looking forward to at the show:

 

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Page 10 of 11

National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 9/9/14

In this episode:

Seafood Watch upgrades status of 21 fish species
Calif. bill attacking seafood mislabeling approved
Ballot item would protect Bristol Bay salmon
NOAA closes cod, yellowtail fishing areas
Pacific panel halves young bluefin harvest

National Fisherman Live: 8/26/14

In this episode, National Fisherman Publisher Jerry Fraser talks about his early days dragging for redfish on the Vandal.

Inside the Industry

More than a dozen higher education institutions and federal and local fishery management agencies and organizations in American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii have signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at building the capacity of the U.S. Pacific Island territories to manage their fisheries and fishery-related resources.

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PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative has appointed Matt Jacobson as its new executive director.
 
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