National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

lincIn Mixed Catch, NF Senior Editor Linc Bedrosian spotlights a wide range of commercial fishing-related news items from coast to coast.

 

Vacationland coverVacationland
Man Plans, God Laughs
By Nat Goodale
Bowditch Press, 2013
Softcover, 242 pp., $14.99
www.amazon.com

When I think of Donny Coombs, a fifth generation Maine lobsterman who's the hero of "Vacationland," the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, pop into my head — "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!"

It will take him awhile to get to that point, though. Coombs is pretty much an independent live-and-let-live kind of guy. He's largely content to go lobstering, accompanied by his ornery, territorial, yet faithful and loyal dog, Tut.

However, Coombs' placid life is about to become more stressful on several fronts.

First there are his new neighbors, Delano and Eliza Nelson. The Nelsons are, as Mainers say, From Away. And the missus in particular is hell-bent on, as Goodale puts it on his website, "saving Maine from the Mainers."

Job one in this quest is getting Coombs to remove some items they deem unsightly from his yard. Thus begins what will blossom into an increasingly ugly battle between the two neighbors.

Then there's Shelly Payson, an attractive junior at Harvard, where she's an outstanding member of the crew team. Shelly's impetuous, and like her well-to-do father, Chase, used to getting her way. She's attracted to Coombs, which displeases daddy greatly. His mission is to kill the growing relationship between Coombs and his daughter.

And last, but certainly not least, there's lobsterman Stanley Maven, who covets Coombs' territory. He ignores signs to back off and becomes increasingly bold about setting traps where Coombs fishes.

All of these battles get ratcheted up to a fever pitch. And when Coombs reaches his Popeye-esque breaking point, things get very ugly indeed.

Goodale's crafted a fast-paced page-turner, filled with strongly drawn characters. At first, I was disappointed in the ending. I suspect I'm too used to watching movies where Hollywood wraps everything up neatly to send us smiling out of the theater.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really rang true. When it's all said and done, "Vacationland" proves to be a highly entertaining story that's well-worth reading.

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Shrimpers in Darien, Ga., hope this year's season will be as successful as the port's 46th annual blessing of the fleet was this past weekend.

Last year was a tough one for Georgia shrimpers, according to data from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division. The data shows that between 1972 and 2013, Georgia shrimpers have landed an annual average of 4.1 million pounds of shrimp worth $14 million. In 2013, they caught 989,839 pounds worth nearly $4.3 million.

But it's a new year, and with the annual fleet blessing comes renewed hope for nets filled with shrimp. The Sunday blessing and parade of shrimp trawlers is the festival's centerpiece, as you can see in the video below.

 

Top Events U.S.A. touts the Darien Blessing of the Fleet Festival as one of the 10 best events in Georgia. It's a big deal, attracting upwards of 35,000 people annually. It features plenty of food and crafts vendors, musical entertainment, a classic car show, a juried art show, kid-friendly activities, a road race, a street parade, boat rides and a fireworks display.

Fleet blessings are celebrated within commercial fishing communities all over the country. It's always heartening to see the extent to which Darien and other fishing communities embrace the fleet blessings and their fishermen.

And it's great to see the kind of attendance the Darien festival attracts. It suggests that people outside of Darien also appreciate the town's shrimpers and the work they do. 

 

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The fishermen who attended Tuesday's public workshop in Baton Rouge, La., to talk about reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act had already had a long day. Many if not all of the approximately 40 folks who came to the session had already attended the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting, also held at the Embassy Suites hotel.

And yet they chose to stay for the Magnuson-Stevens session, the third in the series of workshops co-sponsored by the New Bedford-based Center for Sustainable Fisheries and NF. Previous sessions took place in Seattle and Boston. They came to learn more about the proposals being developed and most importantly, add their thoughts on what was important to fishermen in their region.


Bob GillBrian Rothschild, the center's president and CEO, then led the informal discussion with the Southern fishermen. He offered a checklist of issues and problems to consider when developing ideas for revising the nation's federal fishing law.

Among those issues was the idea of rewriting the act's National Standards. Rothschild discussed the idea of changing National Standard 1 from focusing primarily on preventing overfishing and secondarily obtaining optimum yield to focusing on maximizing yield or an economic function of yield, subject to constraints on fishing mortality as determined by the management council. The idea is to strengthen the economic component of fisheries management, give the councils more flexibility and facilite better science.

Some fishermen at the session were concerned about the proposal. They noted that in many ways, red snapper has been a success story — and part of that success has come by putting the fish first, creating dependability in the IFQ fishery. In their eyes, anything that diminishes that success would be bad.

The idea of giving the councils more say in setting catch limits gave other fishermen pause. They say the gulf council already sorely lacks commercial sector representation. Giving more power to the most political side of the management process didn't strike them as a good idea.

But there was agreement on other issues, like the need for more and better stock assessments, and allowing longer stock rebuilding time periods. Fishermen recognized that there are problems they experience that fishermen across the country experience, too. And that makes talking about them very worthwhile, especially if it will result in positive change for the nation's fishermen.

I got to kick off the session with brief remarks as NF's representative, then handed the reins to Kate Kramer the center's chief operating officer. Gulf council member Harlon Pearce of Harlon's LA Fish and Bob Gill, owner of Shrimp Landing Seafood, both members of the Gulf Seafood Institute's board of directors addressed the audience as well. Audience members told me afterward they appreciated the workshop being held there, and I heard yesterday that others commented that they found the discussion fruitful, too.

Comments, suggestions and ideas from all three public sessions are being compiled for a final workshop to be held at a date to be determined in Washington, D.C. If you're interested in learning more about the workshop results and where commonalities exist, contact Kate Kramer, the center's chief operating officer.

 

Photo: Bob Gill of the Gulf Seafood Institute addresses fishermen attending the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization workshop. Linc Bedrosian photo

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West and East coast fishermen have participated in public workshops on reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act held in Seattle in February and in Boston in March. Now their Southern counterparts can do likewise when the series continues next week in Baton Rouge, La.

southThe Center for Sustainable Fisheries and National Fisherman are sponsoring the workshops. The Tuesday, April 8 session is at the Embassy Suites in Baton Rouge, the site of the April Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting. The Magnuson workshop will begin after the council meeting.

The workshops facilitate discussions on revising the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Topics they're exploring include whether the act can be rewritten to strengthen the economic component of fisheries management, to give the management councils more flexibility, and to improve the science used to make management decisions.

Speakers will include Brian Rothschild, the New Bedford-based Center for Sustainable Fisheries' president and CEO, and Bob Gill of the Gulf Seafood Institute's board of directors. Following their remarks, discussion will begin on how best to go about amending Magnuson-Stevens.

The key word there is "discussion" — workshop organizers want your input. They want to learn what's important to you in revising the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

So do I. I'll be representing NF at the Baton Rouge Magnuson-Stevens workshop and I look forward to hearing what issues resonate most with you. For more information about the workshops, please visit http://www.nationalfisherman.com/magnuson.

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A long, hard winter like the one just past will wear on you. Therefore, you appreciate a story that puts a smile on your face and helps you recharge your batteries. Such is the case with Sierra Golden's feature story on the 17th annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore., which you'll find in our May issue.

Her story, which begins on page 24, takes a look at the event, how it began and how it's grown through the years. The inaugural FisherPoets Gathering, held at the Wet Dog Café, featured 39 performers and attracted 200 spectators. This year the event featured nearly 80 performers from 14 states and nearly 1,000 fans attended the festivities at six different venues. But the story's overall focus is right where it should be — on the performers, old and new.

For example, there's perennial favorite Dave Densmore. Now retired, Densmore started fishing when he was 12 and has spent most of his life fishing all over the West Coast. Through his poems, Densmore aims to educate the general public about who fishermen really are and what they experience at sea. Here's a sample of one of Densmore's performances at the 2014 FisherPoets Gathering.

 

This year for the first time, the event featured its first all-female Story Circle. Golden introduces us to a few of the female FisherPoets, including Meezie Hermansen, a Cook Inlet East Side setnetter, and Erin Fristad, long a FisherPoets performer who fished for 15 years for herring in the Togiak, Alaska fishery, crab in the Columbia River and Alaska salmon.

Add Golden to the list FisherPoet Gathering performers, too. Golden, who seines in Southeast Alaska, received her MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University. The winner of the program's 2012 Academy of American Poets Prize, her work appears widely in literary journals.

You can find performances by Golden, Densmore, Fristad and many other FisherPoets at the IntheTote website. That's where I found this interesting video on FisherPoet performer Tele Aadsen, a fisherman/writer, whose blog "Hooked" is among those we feature on the NationalFisherman.com Blogroll.

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Imagine being an Alaska fisherman on March 24, 1989, when the supertanker Exxon Valdez runs aground at Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, sending an estimated 11 million gallons of oil into the waters in which you make your living. And all you want to do is wake up from the nightmare you see unfolding.

But you can't. It won't end anytime soon. It will span almost two decades.

The years of court wrangling alone over cleanup costs and punitive damage amounts is disturbing. But wait! Finally, there's a glimmer of hope! An Anchorage trial jury declares in 1994 that Exxon Mobil must pay the plaintiffs a total of $5 billion in punitive damages!

Yes! At last, some measure of healing can begin. Maybe your nightmare is finally over.

Not just yet.

Exxon Mobil challenges the punitive damages award. More years pass. And as they do, you watch people go broke, marriages and families dissolve. You see fishing communities torn apart.

NF Sep08 CoverThen the 9th Circuit Court reduces the punitive damages total to $2.5 billion in 2006. The oil giant has the money and manpower to keep the court battle going for years. Some 32,000 plaintiffs originally signed on to the case. About 4,000 of them have passed away by the time the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the punitive damages total in 2008.

And when it does, it whittles that total down to $507 million. Exxon ends up also paying another $470 million in additional interest to fishermen and others affected by the spill. Checks to the plaintiffs range from a few hundred dollars to more than $100,000.

For better or worse, at least your nightmare is over, right? Then two years later you have to watch another spill unfold in 2010 when the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster sends 200 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. And you fear that this disaster will unfold in the same way the Exxon Valdez spill did, with the same type of damage and same results.

And the sour cherry atop this nightmarish sundae? A collision between a barge and a cargo ship releases 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel into Galveston Bay, causing the busy Houston Ship Channel to be closed to traffic on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill.

They say those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill isn't one anyone wants to celebrate. But it shouldn't be forgotten. And the New York Times Retro Report on the Valdez spill below is well-worth watching, even if it conjures up unpleasant memories of that long-running nightmare.

 

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Remember the movie "300"? It's a fantasy action film about the 300 soldiers of Sparta who engage in a David and Goliath battle against a much larger and more powerful Persian army in 480 BC. On April 18, a documentary will be released that chronicles a present day David versus Goliath fight. But this time, the oystermen of Pointe a la Hache, La., play the role of David.

"Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache," details the struggles of the watermen in this Louisiana town. It's a primarily African-American fishing village of 300 residents who have worked the waters there for generations. Fishing, as one woman in the documentary says, is everything to the area.

But when the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in 2010, eventually releasing some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the fishermen's fortunes took a devastating turn. The 90-minute film, produced, written and directed by Nailah Jefferson, documents their struggles in the years following the spill.

It's not a pretty picture. But it's a tale that needs to be told.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, we can barely get our arms around Russian President Vladimir Putin's saber rattling before the story gets kicked to the curb in favor of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The BP oil spill, its devastating effect upon Louisiana fisheries and the harvesters who depend on them? That's so 2010, isn't it?

It's all the more reason "Vanishing Pearls" — and other documentaries that study the plight of American fishermen — need to be made, and more importantly be seen.

People must know what's happening to Pointe a la Hache and to other small fishing villages in the Gulf of Mexico and around the country. So take a moment to watch the documentary trailer below. Then share it with anyone you think needs to know that U.S. fishing communities matter and are well-worth preserving.

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from-hooks-to-harpoons-the-story-of-santa-barbara-channel-fisheriesFrom Hooks to Harpoons
...the Story of Santa Barbara Channel Fisheries
By Mick Kronman
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 2013
Softcover, 261 pp., $24.95
ggorga@sbmm.org

When we embarked on producing North Pacific Focus, a Pilothouse Guide-inspired supplement for Alaska and West Coast readers that mailed with our April issue, we decided it'd be a good idea to profile fishing ports in the region. Conveniently, I'd just finished reading "From Hooks to Harpoons: the Story of Santa Barbara Channel Fisheries," which led me to profile Santa Barbara in the Winter 2014 issue of NPF.

The book's author, Mick Kronman, was a great source for the story. Kronman, 65, has been the city's harbor operations manager for 14 years. He's also a former commercial fisherman and he served as NF's Pacific bureau chief for a number of years.

He also proves to be the right guy to tell the story of the city's fishing history. The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum asked Kronman to chronicle the port's fishing heritage, which dates back to the 1850s.

"The maritime museum wanted me to write 10,000 words," Kronman says. So he dived into his research.

As part of his research, he poured over the museum's voluminous collection of photos of local fishermen and boats that defined eras past. And Marla Daily, president of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, gave Kronman access to her file archives, which contained letters, narratives, newspaper accounts and other data about the city's fishing past.

Eventually, Kronman's original 10,000 words would blossom into 75,000. Alas, his manuscript grew dusty sitting on the shelves for several years as the museum went through some changes.

But eventually museum officials realized it needed to be a book. His work made it into publication last fall, some 13 years after the project began.

Happily, the book is well worth the wait. It's an entertaining history of Santa Barbara's fishing history, told via the five gear types used in the various fisheries.

"I thought the only way I could get my mind and ability around the project was to break the story into gear groups," Kronman says.

The gear types that Santa Barbara fishermen still use today date back some 3,000 years to when Chumash Native Americans used early forms of nets, harpoons, hooks, traps and dive gear. Those gear types have helped local fishermen catch a wide variety of fish and shellfish, including spiny lobster, rock crab, ridgeback and spot prawns, squid, rockfish, swordfish, halibut, blackcod, sea cucumbers, abalone and sea urchins.

Kronman looks at not only the development of each gear type, but at the fisheries that spawned from them, and the people who helped them grow. The book is filled with anecdotes about the port's commercial fisheries and loaded with photos from the past and present.

"From Hooks to Harpoons" is an engaging and informative look at Santa Barbara's commercial fishing history. But I think the book may say as much about Kronman's affection for the city's fishing industry. And that affection shines through "From Hooks to Harpoons," separating it from garden-variety history books. You don't have to be a Santa Barbara fisherman to appreciate that.

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You don't need Captain Obvious to tell you that fishing is hard work. It's a punishing profession that taxes you physically and mentally. It's no less harsh on the Alaska factory longliner Siberian Sea, but as Roger Fitzgerald notes in his column "In Search of the Simple Life" on page 9 in our April Yearbook issue, the vessel contains some perks you don't find on most fishing boats.

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I've been known to enjoy the occasional steak bomb sub (aka hoagie or grinder). And I think we've all had a questionable meal or two that has, um, left the building, so to speak, in volatile fashion. But who knew that food could truly be considered explosive to the point where it needs to be disarmed?

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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 4/22/14

  • OSU study targets commercial fishing injuries
  • Delaware's native mud crab making recovery
  • Alaska salmon catch projected to drop 47 percent
  • West Coast groundfish fishery bill passes
  • Maine's scallop season strongest in years

Brian Rothschild of the Center for Sustainable Fisheries on revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Inside the Industry

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently soliciting applicants for open advisory panel seats as well as applications from scientists interested in serving on its Scientific and Statistical Committee.

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The North Carolina Fisheries Association (NCFA), a nonprofit trade association representing commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and processors, recently announced a new leadership team. Incorporated in 1952, its administrative office is in Bayboro, N.C.

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