National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



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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I stepped outside late yesterday morning, all bundled up to protect myself against the brutal subzero temperatures that have hammered us Mainers of late. I suddenly realized that it felt considerably warmer than I had anticipated, so off came my hat and gloves. Then I peeked at the display screen perched atop Portland's Time and Temperature Building; it was 27 degrees out, which felt absolutely tropical by comparison.

The punishing cold is also affecting fishermen here in Maine, and even as far south as Maryland. At best, frozen waters are making navigation tricky. And at worst it's keeping boats frozen in place, unable to go fishing.

That's the case in Friendship, Maine, where some lobsterboats have been stuck in ice for a couple of weeks. And as noted in the WGME-TV news video below, every day they remain on ice costs lobstermen money.

The Mainers aren't the only fishermen stymied by the cold. In Annapolis, Md., The state's Department of Natural Resources crews have been working to clear ice from Maryland waters so that watermen can fish, and fuel docks and emergency vessels can operate.

According to the Annapolis-based Capital Gazette, usually, waterways there freeze in December and January, but this year didn't ice up until a couple of weeks ago. Hence, the ice that has usually thawed by mid-February may not melt until "well into the first week of March," Department of Natural Resources Capt. Jeff Lill told the online media outlet. Click here to check out the Gazette story as well as video of Lill navigating the DNR buoy tender John C. Widener through the icy Chesapeake Bay waters.

Whether the winter weather is icing in fishing vessels at their moorings or causing crews to hammer away at ice forming on boats at sea, I think it's safe to say Old Man Winter has worn out his welcome. Take heart, though, because Major League Baseball teams are gathering in Florida and Arizona for spring training, so a change of season can't be far off.

Until then, curse out Punxsutawney Phil, who didn't see his shadow on Groundhog Day, thus sentencing us all to six more dreary weeks of winter.

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What's the best restaurant dining experience you've ever had? I would have to say it was the dinner my bride and I savored a couple of years ago at White Mountain Cider Co. in Glen, N.H.; everything from appetizers to dessert was ridiculously good. I dropped some serious dinero for the privilege, and I will happily do so again.

But no matter how good the best meal you, me or anybody else has ever had, Swampscott, Mass., police officer Mike Serino has us all beat. His favorite dinner has to have been the one he enjoyed six years ago at a now-defunct Peabody, Mass., restaurant. It was there that he found what turned out to be a rare and valuable pearl.

Serino and his family had gone to the restaurant to celebrate his birthday. He was enjoying some seafood stew when he fished out of his mouth something that he originally thought was a small stone — but turned out to be a 6.22-carat lavender-colored natural pearl that could bring upwards of $15,000 when it goes to auction at the end of the month. Serino's tale is told in the WBZ-TV Boston video below. 

Note that when asked what he'll do with the unexpected windfall, Serino said he was thinking of getting a Corvette until his wife and three daughters said the money should go towards getting a new kitchen. Serino says they'll go with the new kitchen.

Smart man. A rare, lavender pearl may be worth upwards of $15,000, but keeping the peace in the household is priceless.


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Cummins engine traveled a long way — 13,000 miles — to power the 90-foot dragger and tender Sea Mac. But just before it reached its destination, Hansen Boat Co., in Everett, Wash., the trip really got interesting.

2015 0212 Mar BoatbuildingMichael Crowley, our Boats & Gear editor, writes in our March issue about the unusual journey that 1,000-hp KTA-38M took ("Power trip," p. 28). The Sea Mac, out of Kodiak, Alaska, was propped up in the dry dock at the boatyard with a large hole cut in her port side. The boat's old KTA-38M had been removed, and there the vessel sat, patiently awaiting the arrival of the replacement engine.

But the old KTA-38M was a Tier 1 mechanically controlled engine. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency wouldn't allow it to be replaced with another Tier 1 diesel. And adding a Tier 3 engine would require major modifications to the vessel, which would be an expensive undertaking.

Cummins was eventually able to gain EPA permission to replace the old engine with another Tier 1 motor. But the only place that builds that particular Tier 1 engine is the Cummins plant in Pune, India.

Thus began the engine's lengthy journey. And just when it seemed that its long trip was nearing its destination, trouble reared its ugly head. The tractor-trailer truck carrying the engine took a wrong off-ramp and was too high to fit under a bridge.

So the driver backed the truck up onto the off-ramp in an attempt to get back onto the main road. But the trailer drifted off the road and onto soft ground, causing the trailer to roll down an embankment.

It landed upside down with its cargo still strapped to the trailer. Now the one engine that could replace the Sea Mac's old KTA-38M was upside down — and lying about 500 feet from Hansen Boat Co.

Could the well-traveled engine be salvaged? Well, you'll have to read Mr. Crowley's story to find out how it becomes the not-so-little engine that could.

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Folks here in Maine are still digging out from this week's blizzard. When you get upwards of 27 inches of snow, it takes awhile to clear roads, parking lots, driveways, porches and stairs. It took me nearly three hours just to shovel out enough space to get all our cars off the street and into the driveway before the plow trucks got to work in earnest.

Northeast fishermen have for many years been doing some digging of their own. But digging out from the troubles that continue to plague the groundfish industry has been far more difficult clearing snow from driveways.

2015 129 Report covercrd1502 Page 001The report on the economic performance of the Northeast groundfish fishery shows continued declines in landings, ex-vessel prices, revenues and fleet size. NMFS photoFor more than two decades, lagging populations of some key groundfish species have driven Northeast groundfish management. You need look no further than the just released annual report on the economic performance of the Northeast groundfish fishery to see the toll that increasingly stringent regulations designed to rebuild those species has taken on fishery.

The report documents the fishery's performance in 2013. What it shows is that negative trends seen in 2012 continued in 2013.

According to the report, declining groundfish landings were coupled with little growth in non-groundfish landings in 2013. Total landings of all species decreased 1.6 percent from 260.5 million pounds in 2012 to 256.4 million pounds. And total groundfish landings dipped to a four-year low of 42.2 million pounds in 2013 versus 58.7 million pounds in 2010.

Moreover, average groundfish and average non-groundfish ex-vessel prices also hit a four-year low, despite the landings decline. In 2010 dollars, the average groundfish price per pound was $1.31 compared to $1.42 in 2010.

The landings and price changes brought total groundfish revenue to a four-year low of $55.2 million in 2013. Groundfish gross revenues totaled $83.2 million in 2010.

In 2010, the number of active vessels that took at least one groundfish trip was 446. That total fell 327 boats in 2013. Total crew positions dropped from 2,268 in 2010 to 2,039 in 2013. From 2012 to 2013, the report states, the fleet decreased by 28 vessels overall.

Chances are a year from now, the news on the fishery's 2014 performance won't be any rosier. Creating jobs and new fishing opportunities are among the immediate goals of NMFS's recently released five-year strategic plan for the region. If that is to happen, the agency is going need to do more than focus primarily on Magnuson-Stevens Act stock rebuilding guidelines.

The five-year plan seems to signify that NMFS may be more willing to work with fishermen than it has in the past. Putting it on paper is one thing, but truly committing to it is another. Only time will tell whether the strategic plan will bear fruit.

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2015 120 2nd chances coverThe Gods of Second Chances
By Dan Berne
Forest Avenue Press, 2014
Softcover, 293 pp., $18.00

"Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna's death." So begins Dan Berne's debut novel, "The Gods of Second Chances." His wife's horrific death occurred one rain-soaked night 12 years ago, and it still haunts Southeast Alaska fisherman Ray Bancroft.

Since then, Ray has been raising his granddaughter Sitka by himself. Family means everything to him. And yet family is the very thing that has turned his world upside down.

As the story opens, Ray is reading for the third time a letter from Sitka's mom, his estranged daughter Jenny, who writes that she's getting out of prison soon, is clean and sober, and is ready to come home to Alaska and re-establish contact with Ray and Sitka.

It's not shaping up to be a happy reunion; Ray blames Jenny, who was a wild and willful teenager, for his wife's death; she was driving to collect Jenny the night Donna died. He's been fighting the good fight, mainly fishing for Dungeness crab and shrimp and occasionally taking tourists fishing to pay the bills and feed Sitka's college fund.

It hasn't been easy. But Ray's collection of small statues of various gods and goddesses and the little rituals that his half-Tlingit best friend Felix performs help him navigate life's difficulties.

However, Jenny's return (as well as that of Sitka's shady father), and a lawsuit brought by a boorish tourist who loses a finger or two when he fails to heed Ray's advice, threaten to destroy everything Ray holds dear.

For all the difficult issues Berne's novel tackles — broken families, financial struggles, missed opportunities to find love, and the way grief and anger can color our memories — there's plenty to like about this story. Characters are well drawn, the dialogue is sharp, and the story moves along at a fast clip.

The fishing portions ring true, too, thanks to time that Portland, Ore.-based Berne has spent in Southeast. He's written an enjoyable page-turner that provides food for thought for fishermen and non-fishermen alike.

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The New England Fishery Management Council held the last of 12 public hearings on Draft Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2, including the draft environmental impact statement, in Portland, Maine, on Jan. 7. Ten years in the making, the amendment, designed to address habitat requirements for all of the council's fishery management plans, isn't light reading at 400 pages.

"It's big and it's complicated," council member David Preble told the audience of about 60 people who attended the  public hearing on the amendment.

2015 113 Habitat hearingAudience members gathered in Portland, Maine, on Jan. 7 to submit comments at the final public hearing on the Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2 draft. Linc Bedrosian photo"Ten years is too long to create a document," said Jim Odlin, owner of Portland-based Atlantic Trawlers Fishing.

Much attention has been paid to one proposed alternative to open a portion of the Cashes Ledge closed area in the central Gulf of Maine. The proposal could help the region's struggling groundfish harvesters, but the Conservation Law Foundation is fighting to keep the closed area as it is.

Odlin said he supports the idea of modifying closed areas. "The conclusion that larger closed areas are more beneficial is more speculation than anything proven in fact," he said.

Council chairman Terry Stockwell, commenting in his role as the Maine Department of Marine Resources' external affairs director, said the department supports the Cashes Ledge proposal, too, noting that it would allow for a variety of fishing that's important to the region. However, he also cited concerns with other proposed alternatives in the draft.

For example, he said the department opposes the preferred alternative for the Eastern Gulf of Maine, which would prohibit Maine scallopers from fishing in the productive Machias grounds while Canadian scallopers would remain free to do so.

And Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association stated that the organization supports the notion of protecting habitat, but opposes the Eastern Gulf of Maine preferred alternative, which could exclude lobster gear.

"Lobster traps don't impact habitat or spawning potential," McCarron said. "The lobster industry is the economic backbone of the Maine coast."

Even though the public hearings are over and the public comment period has ended, there are still opportunities to comment on the plan and proposed alternatives. Comments can be submitted at Habitat Committee meetings and at the council meeting when preferred alternatives are selected. Comments can be submitted either in writing or by attending the sessions in person.

You can click here to read the Amendment 2 public hearing document, and here to read the full Amendment 2 draft.

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Page 3 of 33

Inside the Industry

Legislators from Connecticut and Massachusetts complained about the current “out-of-date allocation formula” in black sea bass, summer flounder and scup fisheries in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this week.


The Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance recently announced that the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has awarded the organization a Hollings Grant to reduce whale entanglements in Alaska salmon fisheries by increasing the use of acoustic whale pingers to minimize entanglements in fishing gear.


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