In Mixed Catch, NF Senior Editor Linc Bedrosian spotlights a wide range of commercial fishing-related news items from coast to coast.
Thursday, 30 October 2014
There are so many variables that affect our nation's fisheries — management regulations, climate changes, global economies and consumer demand just to name a few — that it's nice to know there are some constants to rely on from year to year. One of them is the list of the nation's top fishing ports, specifically the ports that are always at the head of the class.
NMFS released its annual report Fisheries of the United States yesterday, which contains the annual list of the country's top ports. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, again led the nation in volume for the 17th straight year, with landings of 753 million pounds valued at $197 million. According to the report, Alaska pollock made up 88 percent of the Dutch Harbor volume and 46 percent of the value (snow crabs and king crab accounted for another 32 percent of the port's value).
Likewise, New Bedford, Mass., captured the value crown for the 14th consecutive year, recording 130 million pounds worth $379 million. Sea scallops, which continue to drive the port's landings, accounted for 81 percent of the port's landings value.
However, the report contains other constants that are less comforting. It would be refreshing to see a significant rise in the amount of seafood consumed per capita in this country. Likewise, the major imbalance between the amount of seafood imported into the United States and U.S. seafood exported continues.
According to the NMFS report, U.S. commercial landings reached 9.9 billion pounds (up 245 million pounds, or 2.5 percent from 2012) worth $5.5 billion (up $388 million pounds or 7.6 percent). Yet more than 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported.
Foreign trade data shows that imports of edible fish products totaled 5.4 billion pounds worth $18 billion. The import volume decreased slightly by 34 million pounds while value increased by $1.4 billion compared with 2012.
Exports meanwhile totaled 3.3 billion pounds valued at $5.6 billion. Volume increased by 69.3 million pounds over 2012 and value increased by $112.8 million.
NMFS says the import total is somewhat deceiving, as it includes U.S.-caught fish that ends up being sent overseas where it's reprocessed and shipped back to be gobbled up by consumers. It also says that encouraging aquaculture development in this country would be one way to lessen dependency on foreign product.
On one hand, it would appear domestic consumers enjoy chowing down on seafood. According to the report, Americans ate 4.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2013, making the United States the world's third largest seafood consumer behind China and Japan.
Then again, domestic per capita consumption sat at 14.5 pounds of fish and shellfish, essentially the same as in 2012 (14.4 pounds). For years, per capita consumption has rarely strayed from the 14- to 16-pound mark.
By comparison, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was predicting that in 2014, per capita consumption of beef would fall 4.8 percent from 2013 to 54 pounds. Pork consumption this year is predicted to be 45.9 pounds, and chicken is forecast to hit 83.5 pounds.
That's maddening. Fish and shellfish are a tasty and nutritious source of protein that should be able to rival beef and poultry for prime space on America's dinner plates. There are wonderful seafood marketing efforts afoot throughout the country. I'm looking forward to the day when the annual NMFS report sports seafood per capita consumption statistics that are substantially higher.
Thursday, 23 October 2014
Waltzing with Lady Luck
A Novel with Teeth
By Clark Snow
Black Rose Writing, 2012
Softcover, 225 pp., $
So what would you do if you won the lottery? Would you keep fishing? Would you pay off the boat loan and the mortgage? Would you upgrade to your dream boat and house? Or would you walk away from fishing, feeling secure in the knowledge that you and your family are set for life?
If you decided that you still wanted to fish, how do you think your fellow fishermen would react to you? Would everybody treat you the same as they did before you hit the jackpot? Would some resent you? Clark Snow's novel "Waltzing with Lady Luck" raises these questions and more.
According to Snow's biography, he's worked on the water for some 40 years, the last 12 on coastal tugboats. However, he says his most memorable years were spent working on fishing vessels that helped him feed his family and his imagination, ultimately leading him to write this story.
Victor Janes, a young Newfoundland fisherman with a taste for adventure, emigrates to the U.S. and marries into a prominent New Bedford, Mass., fishing family. Then he wins a national lottery that pays off millions of dollars.
You think that the story's happy ending has arrived before it's even begun. But Victor and his wife Fabulia aren't people who only want to lead a life of leisure.
Victor decides he wants to keep fishing, but wants to try his hand at something no one's attempted before. He builds a prototype factory trawler that's equipped to fish in thousands of feet of water for royal red shrimp. Fabulia meanwhile starts a non-profit organization to help children and the elderly, and ultimately battered women; after some early reservations about the business side of her charitable work, the project gets rolling.
The shrimping expedition goes well, but the boat's net also comes up with manganese nodules, which, to the delight of a shrewd Vietnamese crew member, contain petrified shark teeth at their core. The crew member begins storing the nodules against Victor's orders.
And when a multi-national mining corporation learns of the manganese modules, and Victor's fishing operation gets a whole lot more complicated, especially when he's charged with harvesting the nodules without a permit — even though it's questionable whether their harvest falls under NMFS' jurisdiction. Eventually, things get crazy enough that Victor must relocate the boat and his family all the way to Brazil to try, with the help of the family lawyer, how to extricate himself from what's become an international mess.
It's a lighthearted tale that largely makes for pleasant reading. I doubt many of us are likely to hit a huge lottery jackpot anytime soon. But dreaming about what we'd do if we did costs us absolutely nothing.
And if in the process, we figure how we'd want to treat people if we came into megabucks, how we'd want people to treat us if we did and how we'd treat those around us who hit it big, well, maybe we'd be richer for it. Of course it'd be nice to have the opportunity to put the answers into practice.
Tuesday, 14 October 2014
How easily could you swim 2 miles? In an Olympic-sized pool (50 meters long), you must swim 16 laps (down and back) to complete 1 mile; could you swim 32 laps? The task becomes more daunting if you suddenly find yourself overboard in Mississippi Sound as Long Beach, Miss., shrimper Mitchell Sevel did Sunday night.
A rogue wave hit the 45-foot Kar-Lyn-Dawn, causing the 30-year veteran to slip and fall overboard. The boat continued on, and the noise of the vessel's generator prevented the boat owner in the wheelhouse from hearing Sevel yelling for help. The boat continued steaming along.
According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says he fell overboard about 2 miles off Pass Christian. Sevel quickly decided that he had little choice but to start swimming if he wanted to survive.
Still, he worried that he wouldn't have enough energy to swim all the way back to shore. But thoughts of his wife, Lori, kept him going.
Hours later, Sevel found his way to shore in West Past Christian, Miss. He pulled the fire alarm at the nearby Henderson Port Condos for help and was reunited with his family by 1:30 a.m. Monday. You can see the couple recount Sevel's remarkable story in the Sun Herald video below.
That Sevel could fight the current in the dark of night, and the fear that likely accompanied being alone in a vast, cold ocean is remarkable. Those resiliency lessons his father taught him truly paid off.
Of course, Gulf of Mexico shrimpers, who in recent years have dealt with an influx of cheap imported shrimp, devastating hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, are a pretty resilient bunch.
Sevel is a lucky man. Would the rest of us be so lucky? If you and your crew aren't using them already, consider wearing PFDs. Safety experts say they extend your survival time in the water. And today's PFDs are manufactured to be far more comfortable to wear on deck.
Nor would it hurt to invest in a personal locator beacon that you can wear. You switch it on manually to alert rescue personnel of your predicament and position. Ones that allow GPS units to be integrated into the distress signal can help rescuers home in on your position even more accurately (within 100 meters). Safety gear like PFDs and PLBs can keep you alive should you find yourself, like Sevel, going for an unexpected swim.
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Tuesday, 07 October 2014
October is National Seafood Month, and it's a great opportunity to promote the U.S. fishing industry and the seafood fishermen provide. For example, according to NMFS Director Eileen Sobeck's Leadership Message on the agency's website, NMFS will be featuring stories on the site this month that highlight sustainable fisheries and the health benefits of eating seafood regularly.
Alas, while we have a whole month to spread the seafood gospel to consumers, there are other food-related holidays vying for the public's attention in October. A quick Web search of October food holidays yielded the following goodies at foodstoriesblog.com — and these are only selected examples from a rather lengthy list. For example, Oct. 4 was both National Taco Day and National Vodka Day.
This week, we get to observe National Fluffernutter Day (it's apparently the Massachusetts state sandwich) on Oct. 8, followed by National Moldy Cheese Day (I am not making this up) on Oct. 9.
Then next week, we can celebrate National Chocolate-Covered Insects Day on Oct. 14 and National Roast Pheasant Day on Oct. 15.
Rounding out the month are National Greasy Foods Day on Oct. 25, and Buy a Doughnut Day on Oct. 30 (not to be confused with National Doughnut Day, which occurs in June).
Quite a list, isn't it? I, for one, am glad all these food holidays occur during National Seafood Month. By the time people get done gorging on tacos, Fluffernutters, chocolate-covered insects, greasy foods and doughnuts, seafood is going to look awfully appealing to consumers. Certainly it's a wonderful source of protein, and omega-3 rich seafood offers a variety of health benefits.
But what sets seafood apart from other foods that are touted as being good for you? That's easy — it's delicious. You can have the carrot juice. Serve me up some scallops, shrimp or salmon, some haddock or halibut, heck, give me a nice tuna sandwich, just to name a few tasty choices. As tempting as it may be to savor some moldy cheese (and I fear we have some in the fridge at home), I think I'll stick with the seafood.
Thursday, 02 October 2014
This is always an exciting time of year for us here at the NF office, because this is when we get to introduce our readers to a new batch of Highliner Award winners. Congratulations to Gloucester, Mass., fisherman Russell Sherman, Bluff Point, Va., waterman Ida Hall and Madeira Beach, Fla., reef fish harvester Martin Fisher, who make up the 2014 class. Veteran NF writers Kirk Moore, Larry Chowning and Hoyt Childers contributed profiles of this year's Highliners to the cover story that begins on page 22 of the November issue.
The Highliner Award dates back to 1975, when then-West-Coast-based NF associate editor Robert J. Browning came up with the idea of recognizing fishermen for their overarching contributions to the industry and their communities. By my count, we've had the pleasure of recognizing 117 Highliners, plus another half dozen industry contributors who have received special awards.
When New England's groundfish management regulations were becoming increasingly strict in the 1990s, his fellow fishermen urged Sherman to advocate on their behalf, and he quickly immersed himself in the management process. Hall is a 40-year veteran harvester who works with watermen and state officials to improve the health of Chesapeake Bay and its blue crab stocks as well as fishermen's fortunes. Fisher possesses a passion for the industry that shows whether he's selling his catch at the St. Petersburg, Fla., Saturday Morning Market or working to promote the sustainability of the region's fisheries and fishermen.
I had the honor of calling Fisher to inform him that he'd been selected as one of this year's Highliners. He was surprised but excited to learn he'd been chosen, and very appreciative that NF was recognizing his work.
Informing a fisherman that he's been selected to be a Highliner was a new experience for me. What a pleasure to get to deliver the good news! That was truly a happy task.
But you can't help but feel good when you're around the Highliners. I've had the pleasure of attending Highliner dinners through the years, and I'm always struck by how much they love the industry, by their energy and by their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to help the industry and their fellow fishermen.
They're an inspiring group of people to be around. I think Russell Sherman, Ida Hall and Martin Fisher will fit in with them quite nicely.
Tuesday, 30 September 2014
The second annual Seafood 101 program begins this week, celebrating not only Pacific Northwest seafood, but the centennial of Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle. Educating children and their families about seafood's numerous benefits is the theme of the 2014 program, which kicks off with the Fishermen's Fall Festival this Saturday, Oct. 4.
What better time to promote U.S. seafood than in October, which is, after all, National Seafood Month? The Seafood 101 program is a regionally focused education effort that began last year. It's once again offering a variety of activities that highlight seafood's health benefits and its value to the region's environment and economy. Program events will culminate at Pacific Marine Expo, slated for Nov. 19-21 at the Century Link Field Events Center in Seattle.
Seafood 101 aims to educate families about seafood's nutritional benefits. The program also demonstrates how NMFS, the industry and community leaders are working together "to maintain a safe, sustainable and viable fishing industry," says Seafood 101 co-organizer Rebecca Reuter, communications specialist with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. "Seafood 101 hopes to achieve this through education programs, cooking demonstrations, tours of our port and fishing vessels plus other free activities."
A special 12-page Seafood 101 supplement ran in the Seattle Times on Sept. 28, and it will be published in the Anchorage Daily News on Oct. 5. The supplement, which features stories on the value of seafood and the fishing industry, will also be distributed to Puget Sound region classrooms as part of the Times' Newspapers in Education program. Last year's award-winning supplement was distributed to more than 44,000 students and nearly 1,000 educators in Washington state.
That's good stuff. We're all for programs that promote nutritious (and delicious), fresh, local, sustainable seafood and the efforts of U.S. fisheries managers and harvesters to keep fish stocks healthy. We're pleased to again be among the program's sponsors.
Want to learn more about the Seafood 101 program? Visit our Seafood 101 spotlight page.
Thursday, 25 September 2014
You knew it was just a matter of time before President Obama would forge ahead with his plan to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and he did so today. But thanks to the efforts of industry and management leaders to persuade the administration that the expansion as originally proposed would devastate U.S. Pacific Islands fisheries, the size of the expansion has been scaled back.
When the plan was announced on June 17, it would have expanded the marine monument from 77,000 square miles to 700,000. Almost immediately, the region's industry and management leaders spoke out against the proposal, stating that it lacked merit on a number of fronts.
The expansion would provide few ecological benefits and weaken efforts to curb illegal foreign fishing practices, they said. And the plan threatened to give foreign fisheries a big competitive advantage over U.S. harvesters in the region, who would be shut out of important and productive fishing grounds.
The region's fishing leaders believed so strongly in their message that they traveled to the White House to deliver it to administration staff. Given that the Western Pacific leaders hadn't been first consulted about the merits of expanding the marine monument and how best to do it, it didn't seem likely the message would be heard.
Maybe the administration did get the message. The plan that will go into effect has been amended to "better accommodate economically vital fishing industries for Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Islands," the Western Pacific Regional fishery Management Council announced in a news release today.
The revised plan will expand the monument to include the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones surrounding Johnston Atoll, Jarvis Island and Wake Island. However, it will not expand the existing 50-mile prohibitions on fishing around Howland and Baker Islands and Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef.
The revisions, council leaders say, will let U.S. fishermen continue working within tradition fishing grounds under existing regulations in 35 percent of the U.S. EEZ around the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands, and removes them completely in 65 percent of the EEZ.
"We appreciate the White House's compromise on a monument expansion that could have devastated the region's fisheries and communities without notable environmental benefits," says Kitty Simonds, the Western Pacific Council's executive director, in the news release. "We now look to see how this declaration will be achieved in practice, beyond paper and politics, and hope that the U.S. Coast Guard will use additional enforcement funds to patrol U.S. waters as a first priority."
Well, big ups, as the kids say, to the council for fighting on fishermen's behalf. And I tip my hat to the council and the region's fishing leaders for making the lengthy trip to Washington to voice their serious concerns with the original expansion plan. The revised plan may not be ideal to U.S. fishermen who fish there, but it's certainly an improvement on the original plan, and it wouldn't have happened if the region's leaders hadn't been so vocal and insistent that it needed to change.
Tuesday, 23 September 2014
The 60-day public comment period on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to protect Bristol Bay's salmon population from the proposed Pebble Mine closed Friday, Sept. 19, but not before plenty of fishermen signaled their support for agency protection.
Bristol Bay fishermen and processors, Alaska's fishing industry as a whole, plus commercial fishing groups and businesses nationwide sent in comments supporting EPA protections for Bristol Bay. According to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, preliminary counts for the 60-day comment period show that more than 625,000 public comments were submitted in support of EPA protection, with Alaskans alone accounting for 20,000 comments.
Similar support has been seen during the multi-year effort to protect the region from large-scale mining, the association says. Upwards of 1.5 million comments in support of protecting Bristol Bay have been received during that time.
"A massive open-pit mine planned for the heart of the salmon-rearing headwaters of our nation's largest and most valuable salmon runs is not worth the risk," says Sue Aspelund, the association's executive director. "And based on these numbers, the American people clearly agree."
Well, then it must be time to declare victory, no? It's game over, right?
Not just yet. Now that the public comment period is over, the EPA will tally up the comments and then review them before issuing its Final Determination before Feb. 4, 2015. But according to the association, there's still work to do to ensure that the Bristol Bay resource will be protected.
Aspelund says the association is asking the agency and the White House to move as quickly as possible "to implement strong protections for the thousands of people who depend on Bristol Bay salmon for their income and way of life." According to the association, Bristol Bay's sockeye runs support over 2,800 family fishing operations and 14,000 jobs nationwide.
"We want to ensure our fishermen can continue their businesses without this threat hanging over them," Aspelund says.
And, there's still a lot fishermen and others can do to keep the pressure on this process, says Katherine Carscallen, the association's sustainability director.
"Communications to elected officials stressing the importance that EPA is allowed to carry this process through to finality is very important," Carscallen said on Sept. 22. "Because EPA has mentioned that late comments will be marked late, but still counted, we decided to keep our take-actions up through the weekend, but by the end of the day, it will be adapted to direct communication to the White House."
So everyone who wants to ensure that the Bristol Bay resource continues to receive the protection it deserves shouldn't light up a victory cigar just yet. If proponents keep up the good work that's been done so far, that satisfying stogie will be lit soon enough.
Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Maine harvesters have been catching plenty of lobsters for a number of years now. But recently some rare ones have found their way into lobstermen's traps.
In late August, student lobsterman Meghan LaPlante and her father, Jay, caught a blue lobster near Portland. The lobster, which Meghan dubbed Skylar, was donated to the Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor. According to The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine at Orono, the odds of catching a blue lobster are one in 2 million.
Further up the coast, lobsterman Joe Bates caught what appeared to be the rarest of all lobsters, an albino, about a week later off Rocland. The odds of catching one are one in 100 million. Incredibly, lobsterman Bert Philbrick appeared to catch another one a few days afterwards off Owls Head.
Alas, a lobster expert eventually determined that the lobsters were actually a very light blue — still rare finds, but not the elusive white lobster.
Then in September, wildlife artist Sarah Lane, co-owner of Bethel Bait, Tackle and More in Bethel, discovered a calico lobster in a crate of bugs brought from the Pemaquid Lobster Co-op in Pemaquid. The odds of finding calico-colored lobsters, whose shells are a mottled orange and black, are one in in 30 million.
The rare find, which Lane named "Freckles," was likewise donated to the state aquarium, which now has three blue lobsters and orange one in addition to the calico.
There are still other colored lobsters that can be added to their collection, though it won't be easy. The odds of coming across a naturally colored red lobster are one in 10 million, and like the calico lobster, the chances of catching a yellow lobster are one in 30 million. And the odds of finding a split-colored lobster are one in 50 million.
Robert C. Bayer, the lobster institute's executive director, says the blue and calico lobsters are the most common of the bunch. "There's a fair amount of the blue ones," he says. If a male lobster breeds with a blue female, all her offspring will be blue, too.
Bayer says he's often tried to figure out people's fascination with the colored lobsters. "They're beautiful, but maybe that's it," he says. "They certainly draw a lot of attention every year."
Tuesday, 09 September 2014
With the clock winding down on the period for submitting comments to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the proposed Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay salmon fishermen are proposing a novel way to encourage friends and family to add their two cents worth. They've encouraging participation in the Bristol Bay Dinner Party Challenge this weekend.
Here's the deal. You invite friends over for a simple dinner party this weekend and challenge three other friends to do likewise. All you have to do is throw a salmon-themed dinner that's coupled with a movie and a little education about the famous Bristol Bay salmon resource and why the proposed Pebble Mine threatens it, and you ask your guests to submit comments to the EPA by the Friday, Sept. 19 deadline.
The good news is you don't have to be Martha Stewart to host this shindig. The dinner parties can be big or small and as simple or complex as you please. Fire up some wild Bristol Bay sockeye on the grill, or maybe offer up some smoked sockeye, cheese and crackers. Make it a potluck dinner and invite your guests to bring their favorite wild salmon dish. It's all good.
Then after dinner, fire up the popcorn popper so that you and guests have the proper movie-viewing snack while watching "In the Same Boat," Elijah Lawson's documentary about the Bristol Bay fishing lifestyle and the salmon runs that the large scale mine threatens. There are other short videos like the one below that can also be shown, too.
And then to wrap things up, you invite your guests to fill out an EPA comment post card or submit them online. They can fill out the postcards as a group or even pen their own custom letter to submit. Comments must be submitted to the EPA by the Friday, Sept. 19 deadline.
Even better, the group Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay makes hosting the dinner even easier. If you go to their website to sign up for the dinner party challenge, they'll provide you with a packet of resources that includes recipe cards and public comment cards.
You can download the documentary and other videos there as well as other educational resources and you'll find the link for your guests to submit their comments online. It seems like the least your guests could do after enjoying good food and getting a little food for thought, to boot.
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National Fisherman Live: 10/21/14
In this episode:
North Pacific Council adjusts observer program
Fishermen: bluefin fishing best in 10 years
Catch limit raised for Bristol Bay red king crab
Canadian fishermen fight over lobster size rules
River conference addresses Dead Zone cleanup
National Fisherman Live: 10/7/14
In this episode, National Fisherman Publisher Jerry Fraser talks about the 1929 dragger Vandal.
NOAA and its fellow Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have announced the signing of a formal Record of Decision to implement a gulf restoration plan. The 44 projects, totaling an estimated $627 million, will restore barrier islands, shorelines, dunes, underwater grasses and oyster beds.
The Golden Gate Salmon Association will host its 4th Annual Marin County Dinner at Marin Catholic High School, 675 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Kentfield on Friday, Oct 10, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.