National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



Top 5 Mixed Catch Stories

Our Moment of Youth column, which you'll find on page 10 in the June issue, makes me smile. This month's author is Monique Coombs, who holds various roles in the fishing industry, is married to a Maine lobsterman and lives on Orrs Island, Maine. Today she can't imagine not being a part of an industry she clearly loves. But when she was growing up, it didn't even occur to her that she'd become so fully immersed in the fishing life.

"I think I got lucky. That's how I ended up living near the water and married to a fisherman," she writes. "Seriously. Just plain luck." I can relate.

2015 0507 MomentOfYouth bigBack in November of 1994, I answered a help-wanted ad I saw in the Maine Sunday Telegram; a magazine called National Fisherman was looking for a copy editor. As luck would have it, Jim Fullilove, the magazine's editor and publisher brought me in for an interview.

I got my hands on some copies of the magazine, and instantly liked what I was reading. Mind you, I knew precious little about the fishing industry. But I was captivated by the stories, and felt like I could and wanted to learn about the industry.

Thankfully, the magazine hired me. And so began my journey with NF, starting in our Rockland, Maine, office, which sat at the end of Tillson Avenue, right on the water. If National Fisherman was a trade magazine, it wasn't like one I'd ever seen. It had a great mix of news and feature stories about life at sea and a lively boats and gear section, all of which appealed to fishermen and general interest readers alike. You could find it on magazine racks in bookstores and in the supermarket! You couldn't say the same for your garden-variety trade magazine.

That great mix of stories is still found in NF today. And that's because publisher Jerry Fraser, editor-in-chief Jes Hathaway, Boats & Gear editor Mike Crowley and art director Laura Dobson are passionate about the industry and are really committed to bringing commercial fishing to life in the pages of each issue. So are longtime contributors like Kirk Moore, Hoyt Childers, Charlie Ess, Larry Chowning and Susan Chambers.

And because they are so committed to delivering a great magazine to you every month, I feel like this is a good time for me to step away from the magazine. I have new adventures, both personal and professional, that I want to tackle, and now is the time to do it.

But I will tell anyone who asks in no uncertain terms that this is the best job I've ever had. I have been extremely fortunate to write and edit (and blog) for National Fisherman, and equally fortunate to get to learn about this historic industry and meet you, the amazing men and women who take to the water each day to bring back a delicious and nutritious protein source for the rest of us to enjoy. Fishing is a tough way to make a living, and you choose to do it anyway because you love the fishing life.

Monique Coombs says she is lucky to have discovered that life.

So am I.

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Maine fishermen are wrapping up year two of a pilot project to test electronic monitoring systems, the Portland-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute reports. The pilot project aims to develop an accurate, more cost-effective and safer alternative to using human observers at sea.

"We need to get better information on catch and discards into the management process if we are going to rebuild our groundfish populations and sustain our fishing businesses," says Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, one of the pilot project partners. "It's clear to me these electronic monitoring systems can help make that happen."

2015 430 Mixed Catch Electronic monitoringIMG 6645Boats participating in a pilot project to develop an electronic monitoring program for the New England groundfish fleet are outfitted with digital cameras and other equipment used to collect data on discards at sea. Gulf of Maine Research Institute photo. The Maine group is part of a collaborative research team led by GMRI, The Nature Conservancy, and Ecotrust Canada. Project participants are testing a new suite of electronic equipment that could replace human observers.

It's expensive using human observers — roughly $500 to $800 a day, GMRI says. NMFS currently covers the cost of processing the data collected at sea and associated administrative expenses. But proposed regulations would limit NMFS funding for the at-sea costs, which would likely be transferred to fishermen come this fall, GMRI says, unless a recent budget amendment the Senate passed provides at-sea monitoring funds.

In the project's second year, seven participating fishermen collected data on over 150 days. GMRI and Ecotrust Canada technicians have equipped participating boats with an electronic monitoring control box that uses open source software for data collection, as well as digital cameras, GPS, hydraulic pressure sensors and powerful removable hard drives that store the data collected for later analysis.

According to GMRI, preliminary results indicate a strong correlation between the numbers and species of fish being discarded that are recorded in captains' logbooks and what the video footage captures. In the new 2015 fishing year, additional analysis will be conducted to identify ways of improving accuracy and precision.

The goal is to design a project this year that will support implementation of an electronic monitoring program in 2016 — a year earlier than the May 2017 date NMFS originally announced in 2014, says Jessica Gribbon Joyce, GMRI's program manager.

So far, the project is showing promise. "Using the electronic monitoring system really didn't add too much extra work to our fishing day, and I think it is something that fishermen will get behind if it can give us a safer alternative to taking human observers on our boats," says Troy Bichrest, a project participant who fishes out of Cundy's Harbor.

It's good to hear progress is being made on the monitoring project; I remember fishermen's shock and anger at the January 2013 New England Fishery Management Council meeting when drastic cod and yellowtail flounder cuts were announced along with the news that fishermen would now be responsible for bearing half the monitoring costs, too, because the agency's budget no longer had funds to assume the full total.

Fortunately, NMFS did ultimately continue paying the monitoring costs, but fishermen knew they would eventually have to bear them. If all continues to go well with the pilot program this year, then perhaps by 2016 an electronic monitoring program that is accurate and less expensive will ease that burden.

You can click here to read the final report from the second year of the project, which provides more detailed results and improvements being made for the 2015 fishing year.

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NMFS is trumpeting good news in its 2014 Status of U.S. Fisheries report it released last week. The number of U.S. fish stocks listed as overfished or subject to overfishing has reached an all-time low since the agency began tracking fish stock status in 1997, the report says. NMFS tracks 469 managed stocks and stock complexes.

Six stocks have been removed from the overfishing list, which contains stocks whose annual catch rate is deemed too high. South Atlantic snowy grouper, North Atlantic albacore, Gulf of Maine haddock, South Atlantic gag grouper, the Gulf of Mexico jacks complex and western Atlantic bluefin tuna have been freed from the overfishing list. That means of the 308 stocks whose overfishing status is known, just 26, or 8 percent, are on the overfishing list.

Dig a little deeper into the report and you'll find that while six stocks were removed, four were added to the list — Gulf of Mexico greater amberjack and gray triggerfish, Puerto Rico scups and porgies complex and the Puerto Rico wrasses complex, whose status was previously unknown.

Two stocks that made it off the overfishing list, Gulf of Mexico gag grouper and North Atlantic albacore, were also removed from the overfished list of stocks whose population size is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes. Of the 228 stocks whose overfished status is known, 37 are on the overfished list. Happily, no stocks were added to the list.

In fact, Gulf of Mexico gag grouper scored the hat trick, as its population has rebuilt to target levels. Gulf of Maine/Cape hatteras butterfish and Mid-Atlantic Coast golden tilefish were likewise declared rebuilt, the report says. The addition of the three fish stocks brings the total number of rebuilt U.S. marine fish stocks to 37 since 2000.

You can check out a synopsis of the report in the NMFS video below and read the full report here

It's good to hear that U.S. fish stocks overall are healthy and are being fished sustainably. That can only raise the profile of U.S. seafood in global markets.

Yet here in New England, it's the inability of key groundfish species like Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine cod and Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank yellowtail flounder to escape either the overfished or overfishing lists that are crippling the dwindling Northeast groundfish fleet.

Yet fishing effort clearly isn't causing that status. You need only look at The Loud Hailer announcement on our home page to gauge the dissatisfaction the region's fishermen have with a management system that they feel is failing them.

The good news is that there are bright and innovative minds and fishermen who are willing to roll up their sleeves to find ways to improve data collection and find answers to the groundfish industry problems. If the agency is truly willing to work with the industry to find those answers, then maybe in the future NMFS will really have some good news to trumpet in its annual stock assessment report.


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NF has always understood that U.S. commercial fishermen are remarkable people, but we made formal recognition of the work they do on and off the water when the magazine began the Highliner Award program in 1975. Now the general public has an opportunity to learn why the nation’s fishermen are special, too.

Busch beer has selected Wanchese, N.C., fisherman Dewey Hemilright as one of six people making up the Busch Heroes program’s class of 2015. The program honors hardworking men and women who “earn it” every day.

According to Busch, it developed the program in 2014 to recognize people “who truly go above and beyond, not only in their day job, but also by making a difference in their community when the workday is complete.”

Hemilright, who we named a Highliner in 2012, certainly qualifies for the Busch program. He fishes aboard the 42-foot Tar Baby, longlining for tunas and swordfish in the fall, gillnetting for spiny dogfish and targeting croaker and bluefish until April, then longlining for dolphin and tilefish in the summer.

But Hemilright also puts in plenty of time off the water as an industry advocate and educator. He’s a member of the Mid-Alantic Fishery Management Council, the Dare County Commission for Working Watermen, North Carolina Watermen United, the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association and the North Carolina Fisheries Association.

And for about 10 years, he’s participated in Provider Pals, a program that matches schools with professionals who work with natural resources. Hemilright visits classrooms throughout the country to talk with students about what it’s like to be a commercial fisherman.

Hemilright and his fellow Busch Heroes will be featured in print ads, on retail displays and region-specific billboards. Hemilright is also a subject of the short video below that Busch promotes on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Even a short video piece like this one can only help to raise the profile of America’s commercial fishermen. Hemilright and plenty of commercial harvesters all over the country work hard and do their best to educate people about the job they love. There are plenty of heroes in the U.S. fishing industry to go around.

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Trying to predict what will happen in the future is tricky business (just ask any weatherman). That doesn't stop any of us — including your favorite commercial fishing magazine — from doing it, though, does it? An interesting example of prognostications for the lobster industry, made in 1965, appears in the Fishing Back When column, found on page 4, in our May issue

Fifty years ago, NF Managing Editor David Getchell wrote an article about what the lobster industry would look like in the future. For example, Getchell predicted that lobster boat hulls would be made of plastic — fiberglass reinforced plastic, that is.

2015 407 NF May15 FishingBackWhen"The days of wood lobster boats are numbered," Getchell wrote. "It's only a matter of time before someone makes a mold of a Maine lobster launch hull and begins turning out fiberglass lobster boats in quantity."

Getchell also saw promise in a British manufacturer's plastic igloo-shaped traps, which were said to be durable, lightweight (about 25 pounds per piece), and take up far less room on deck than the wooden traps used back then did; however it wasn't known if the new plastic traps would out-fish the traditional ones.
Alas, the plastic traps didn't gain favor here. However, Getchell did note that vinyl-coated wire traps that weighed half as much yet fished as well as the wooden variety, were making inroads. Other predictions Getchell made came to pass, too. Hand hauling of traps gave way to hydraulically powered haulers, and diesel power replaced gas engines.

Not bad, Mr. Getchell, not bad. Getchell understood innovations were coming to the lobster industry. "Like it or not, and many of us don't, changes in huge measure are in store for the lobster industry," he wrote. "If it is to survive as a profitable commercial fishery, lobstermen must face up to the future — and the sooner the better."

The spirit of innovation that sparked changes in the lobster industry remains with us today in a variety of fisheries. And in the May issue's Dock Talk column on page 10, you'll learn how a robust yet user-friendly electronic data collection system is designed and being used to help Northeast scallopers avoid yellowtail flounder bycatch.

Then you can turn to page 32 to find out about ideas Alaska salmon harvesters have for chilling and processing their catch aboard the boat. Wrangell, Alaska, fisherman Tanner Smith's new 49-foot combination boat, Netted Dreams, is outfitted to be able either freeze his salmon or chill them in a refrigerated seawater hold, or do both. And Bill Webber Jr. of Cordova, Alaska, is designing bleeding and heading systems for processing salmon onboard gillnetters.

It may still be awhile yet before someone develops the personal jet packs and flying cars that were supposed to be a hallmark of the 21st century. But clearly the spirit of innovation is alive and well within the fishing community today.

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2015 331 Book Cover2.5 gpf
Poems and Thoughts on Fishing and Life
By Rob Seitz
Rob Seitz, 2013
Softcover, 40 pp., $10.00

You get a lot of bang for the buck out of Rob Seitz's poetry collection, "2.5 gpf." Seitz, a veteran performer at the annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore., offers up a short but engaging collection of poems about life and fishing that will make you laugh and think a little, too.

Seitz has been a commercial fisherman for 30 years. The Soldotna, Alaska, native began drift gillnetting with his grandfather, Larry Lancashire, on Cook Inlet in 1982. Ten years later he was in Astoria, Ore., starting a career as a trawler/dragger skipper. Since 2011, he's been trawling out of Morro Bay, Calif., where he lives with his wife, Tiffani, and their two children.

He began his writing career after winning the onsite poetry competition at the FisherPoets Gathering in 1998. He's collected 14 of his poems written over the past 10 years, and added his thoughts about each one and what inspired them. The notes about each poem provide insight into them and offer glimpses of his life on the water and at home.

Now, it doesn't take very long to read through the book. It took me maybe an hour to read it cover to cover. Yet I feel like Seitz's book will stay with me far longer. If you're unfamiliar with his poems, check out his page on the Inthetote website, which features work and information for a variety of FisherPoet Gathering peformers.

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There's a radio commercial I hear a lot on my ride into work each day. It's for a website for job seekers that has a rather lengthy name, but its slogan sticks with you: Long name, amazing results.

We'll find out if that slogan can be applied to Alaska Congressman Don Young's recently introduced bill, H.R. 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.

Young is the sponsor of the long-named bill to reauthorize and strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) and Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) are its co-sponsors.

2015 324 Fig. 3 - Camera View of Pot Hauling-2A camera aboard a British Columbia fishing boat captures every second of setting and hauling. In his bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) wants to green light electronic monitoring as a cost-effective option for monitoring U.S. fishermen's landings. Archipelago Marine Research photoBishop recently tapped Young, the House Natural Resources Committee's senior member and an original author of the nation's original federal fishing law in 1976, to take the lead in this year's Magnuson reauthorization efforts in the House.

Young says his bill contains a number of provisions intended to strike a greater balance between fish stock health and the economic needs of fishermen and their fishing-dependent coastal communities. The bill would give fisheries managers in "data poor" regions of the country greater flexibility for rebuilding depleted stocks and setting annual catch limits.

It would also make the management process more transparent for fishermen, scientists and managers alike, and provide greater protection for confidential information, including proprietary data fishermen provide to regulatory agencies.

NOAA would have to provide better accountability on how fees are collected and used. It calls for clarifying Magnuson-Stevens' role when it interacts with other statutes, such as the Marine Sanctuaries Act and the Antiquities Act. And it would provide appropriations for the next five fiscal years.

According to Young, the bill would also update the way fisheries are managed, enforced and harvested nationwide by giving the go-ahead to using electronic monitoring.

"The use of electronic monitoring could help provide real-time information to fishery managers and at the same time reduce costs for fishermen," Young said in a news release. "But in order for this to be an effective tool, NOAA needs to move forward with standards to allow the Councils to further use the technology in their regions."

Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization has always been a lengthy process, taking years to complete. It will be great if when it's finally approved, it's in a form that all members of the U.S. fishing industry can get behind. If that does indeed happen, the result will indeed be amazing — and very much welcome.

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It's been almost five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred. More than 100 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico before the Macondo well was finally capped, making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

So what kind of shape is the gulf in today? BP and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees have differing opinions.

2015 317 Mixed Catch BP spill NOAAIn July 2010, responders used in situ burns to remove oil in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. NOAA photoBP issued a news statement Monday regarding a report the oil company has released about the gulf environment's recovery and restoration in the five years since the disaster happened. The company says that scientific data and studies show that the gulf's environment is returning to pre-spill conditions.

The NRDA Trustees don't agree. They quickly issued a statement, noting that the NRDA is still assessing the injury resulting from the spill.

"It is inappropriate as well as premature for BP to reach conclusions about impacts from the spill before the completion of the assessment," the Trustees said. While the BP report cites scientific studies conducted by experts from around the gulf and by the NRDA Trustees, "BP misinterprets and misapplies data while ignoring published literature that doesn't support its claims and attempts to obscure our role as caretakers of the critical resources damaged by the spill," the Trustees assert.

Given the magnitude of the spill — it's 10 times larger than the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound — experience from previous oil spills shows that it's likely that environmental effects from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are likely to last for generations, the NRDA Trustees said.

Still, at this point, even five years down the road, neither BP or the NRDA Trustees can say for certain precisely how the spill has affected the environment and when it will return to its pre-Deepwater Horizon condition.

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Fishermen who stop by the National Fisherman booth at the Maine Fishermen's Forum in Rockport, Maine, are always drawn to look at the photos from our archives that we display there. Sometimes fishermen recognize the boats or the people depicted in those snapshots, and share their recollections with us. That's good stuff.

Those photos offer a glimpse of what fishing was like in the old days and honor the industry's rich past. We do likewise in our April issue, which features one article about several classic boats ("Vintage vessels," beginning on page 32) and another spotlighting three notable boatbuilders ("Don't knock wood," page 36).

2015 305 Wood 15apr NF ClassicYardsBoats and Gear Editor Michael Crowley dipped into the National Fisherman and Atlantic Fisherman archives to spotlight five venerable vessels. Featured are the 66-foot Katherine, built in 1975 at the Newbert & Wallace shop in Thomaston, Maine; the sail-powered 123-foot L.A. Dunton, which fished the Grand Banks in the early 1920s; the 76-foot shrimper Chris-Corey, built in 1968, which boasted creature comforts for the crew; the steam-powered trawler Kingfisher, which was built in 1919; and the 64-foot Grayling, built in 1915, which carried Maine sardines for nearly 70 years.

In the other story, longtime NF contributor Larry Chowning shares his love and knowledge of Chesapeake Bay boatbuilding in his profile of the Wright family boatyards in Deltaville, Va. Crowley contiributes a piece on Alvin Beal's Boatshop, located on Maine's Beals Island, and Charlie Ess, our North Pacific bureau chief, writes about Louis Johnson's Ketchikan, Alaska yard.

I think the qualities that made these boatbuilders great are found throughout the fishing industry. It's clear to me that these men loved building boats as much as their customers loved fishing; boatbuilding was their lifelong endeavor.

They soaked up the boatbuilding knowledge they gained from the master craftsmen who preceded them. These talented builders were able to use that knowledge to create beautiful and durable vessels.

But they also had the vision to respond to the fishing demands of their time, and possessed the ability to improve upon past ideas and bring new ones to life. Those qualities are as valuable today as they were in the fishing past.

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Stakeholders gathered in Boston on March 2 for the Sustaining Massachusetts Fisheries summit, a session held to improve understanding of the importance of bolstering Bay State fisheries. Summit topics largely concerned problems facing the groundfish industry, and offered some ideas of what can be done to improve the fishery's fortunes.

Participants included representatives from the fishing and seafood industries, environmental groups and federal and state agencies plus federal, state and local elected officials. All noted that commercial fishermen can and must play a stronger role in devising solutions to the groundfish industry's problems. Frank Mirarchi, a Scituate, Mass., fisherman, was among the summit panelists who shared his thoughts on the fishery's woes.

2015 303 Frank Mirarchi IMG 2787Panelist Frank Mirarchi (right), a veteran Scituate, Mass., fisherman, delivers his presentation at the Sustaining Massachusetts Fisheries stakeholder summnit, as David Pierce, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, looks on. Linc Bedrosian photo"It is an industry and a management system struggling to make a fishery work without sufficient resources," said Mirarchi, a 1988 NF Highliner who's long been involved in Massachusetts fisheries management issues. Scientists are frustrated that stock condition projections aren't materializing, he said, and fishermen are angry that annual catch allocations fluctuate so wildly that they can't write business plans.

"Historic fishing communities with roots dating to colonial times are at risk of vanishing," he said.

Mirarchi added that industry and management have parted ways, with each side mistrusting the other. And the Magnuson-Stevens Act obligates managers "to treat nature as if were static and prescriptive," he said.

"We see phenomena such as changing natural mortality rates, shifting growth rates, new sources of predation, displacement of traditional stocks and the appearance of new migrants in unexpected places," Mirarchi added.

Mirarchi and other summit speakers, including U.S. Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.), University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology scientists Kevin Stokesbury and Steve Cadrin, and William Karp, the NMFS northeast region's research and science director, said fishermen can provide important data that can help document climate change and improve the stock assessments that are crucial to fisheries management.

"If we were to design and fund an industry-based abundance survey using standardized gear and practices, this would provide an index to supplement and ground truth the existing NMFS and state surveys while adding spatial and temporal detail not now available," Mirarchi said.

Particpants in the summit hosted by the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Institute (a partnership of the School for Marine Science and Technology and the state's Division of Marine Fisheries) and the DMF all stressed that a collaborative approach that includes fisherman participation will be needed to fix the Massachusetts groundfish fishery's woes. Mirarchi agreed.

"When the fishing industry is perceived as an active partner rather than solely as the source of fishing mortality which must be constantly controlled, we can work as partners rather than adversaries," Mirarchi said. "When there is mutual confidence in the data, decisions can gain a stature above the 'least harmful of a series of bad choices' criterion often applied today."

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Page 2 of 32

Inside the Industry

The following was released by the Maine Department of Marine Resources on Jan. 22:

The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced an emergency regulation that will support the continued rebuilding effort in Maine’s scallop fishery. The rule, effective January 23, 2016, will close the Muscle Ridge Area near South Thomaston and the Western Penobscot Bay Area.


Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which governs commercial and recreational fishing in the state, got a new boss in January. Charlie Melancon, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislator, was appointed to the job by the state’s new governor, John Bel Edwards.

Although much of his non-political work in the past has centered on the state’s sugar cane industry, Melancon said he is confident that other experience, including working closely with fishermen when in Congress, has prepared him well for this new challenge.

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