Written by Linc Bedrosian
January 29, 2015
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.
For 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.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
January 20, 2015
The 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.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
January 13, 2015
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.
"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.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
January 8, 2015
Our Fishing Back When column allows us to comb through the NF archives and revisit the interesting stories that have graced our pages in years past. The one that most grabbed my attention in the February column first appeared in the magazine 10 years ago. It concerns Angelo Ghio's search for a long-lost 30-foot Monterey Clipper that his father (also named Angelo) had built in 1928.
The younger Ghio's search lasted 10 years. The good news is his effort finally paid off.
But finding the boat wasn't easy. For one thing, Ghio's father sold the boat in 1960. Moreover, the vessel didn't have a name because the elder Ghio didn't believe in naming a boat.
However, the younger Angelo Ghio was determined to track it down. "The boat is part of our heritage," he explained to NF Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley. "It's because of this boat that my sister and I exist. It was a way for my father to earn a living, to get married, have two children and buy a house. Why wouldn't I want to see the boat again?"
Ghio's father had started fishing in 1918 at age 13, working alongside his father, Angelo Natale Ghio, who came to San Francisco in 1900 from Riva Trigoso, a fishing village near Genoa, Italy. Ten years later, young Ghio had saved up enough money to have the Beviacqua Brothers at the Genoa Boat Works on Fisherman's Wharf build the Monterey clipper for him for $1,700.
Years later, Ghio sold the boat in September 1960 for the same price that he'd had it built for. It would be decades before his son would get to see the boat again.
But at a family gathering in 1994, seven years after his father passed away, the idea of tracking the boat down began in earnest. However, when Ghio called the fisherman to whom his father had sold the boat in 1960, the fisherman didn't know where the boat was.
The search was set aside for several years when Ghio's mother became ill and he and his sister cared for her. She died in 2001.
The following year, Ghio took up the search once more. He tried to trace the boat through the California Department of Fish and Game's commercial records.
Fortunately, Ghio had the number that was on the boat when his father sold it in 1960 — 28B459. The state was able to use that number to locate the boat.
Fish and Game subsequently called Ghio to let him know they had records for the boat. They supplied him with the names the boat had picked up through the years and other information about the fisheries and types of fishing gear used.
However, the state couldn't reveal where the boat was located because that information was deemed to be a "non-public record." Fortunately, Fish and Game did give him the boat's Coast Guard identification number.
Ghio then called the Coast Guard and learned that the boat was located just 20 miles away from him in Napa. After paying the Coast Guard a small fee, he received the name of the current owner, Dennis Spain of Napa.
He also found out that since 1961, the boat had had eight owners, six of whom used the boat to troll for salmon. Spain retired the vessel from commercial fishing, and upon hearing Ghio's story, he gave the no-name boat Ghio's father had built in 1928 a new name, calling it the Angelo Ghio.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
December 30, 2014
I hope all residents of NF Nation had as merry a Christmas as my family did. It was good, albeit it a little unusual this year. We never did get our Christmas tree up, but I took inspiration from fishermen in my attempt to provide a substitute.
Mind you, we had a tree. Usually we get one the first week of December, cart it home, and within a week, it's up and decorated in the family room, nestled into a corner. This year between bad weather and an unusually hectic schedule, two or three weeks slipped by before we found ourselves at Wal-Mart one Sunday night near closing time, scouring the gardening section for a suitable real tree. Thankfully we found one, lashed it to the roof of the car and scooted home.
We carried it around back to the deck off the family room. We deemed it a suitable storage place until we could cart it inside and dress that puppy up. Numerous totes of garland, ornaments and lights, already hauled down from the attic, stood at the ready.
But Mother Nature then made us pay for not throwing a tarp over the tree. She made it rain steadily and consistently during the week before Christmas. I ended up carting a very soggy tree to the basement, hoping it would dry out in time for us to put it up.
No such luck, and still the rain fell. In the basement our tree remained. How could we have Christmas without a tree?
I pondered this question as I wrapped presents late on Christmas Eve. I started thinking about how fishermen use crab pots and lobster traps to fashion Christmas trees to beautiful effect. One Natural Channel video on YouTube declares a Maine lobster trap tree (I suspect it's the one in Rockland, but the video doesn't list the town it's in) one of the 10 most famous Christmas trees in the world, standing alongside those in Rockefeller Center in New York City, and in the White House.
And this year, a couple of lobstermen in Gloucester, Mass., helped give a shout-out to the Jewish community, creating the world's first lobster pot menorah.
Surely I could fashion a non-traditional Christmas tree of sorts, too. I used the small couch situated along the wall as the foundation and stacked all our presents on it. Thinking of the way the traps are arranged to create the alternative trees, I attempted to do likewise with the presents and a few pillows. I topped it with a Santa cap hung from the curtain rod above the couch to crown my creation.
Alas, my makeshift Christmas couch was nowhere near as beautiful as the fishermen's trap trees. But it did get a good chuckle from the rest of the family, and we still enjoyed the holiday. Hope you did, too, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.
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Written by Linc Bedrosian
December 18, 2014
On Dec. 17, Northeast scallopers received a nice little early Christmas present in the form of a court victory. The next question is whether Santa Claus can nudge U.S. Commerce Department officials to release a second round of federal disaster aid to the region's struggling groundfishermen.
The scallopers' gift comes courtesy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which ruled in the industry's favor in Oceana's challenge to NMFS's biological opinion for the fishery. The court gave Oceana the figurative lump of coal in the Christmas stocking, finding for NMFS and scallopers on every major challenge.
Oceana made three major claims in the lawsuit: that NMFS used the wrong Endangered Species Act "jeopardy" standard regarding loggerhead sea turtle takes; that the agency failed to properly consider the impacts of climate change; and that the agency's use of a dredge hour surrogate to determine whether the fishery exceeds industry estimates of 161 turtle takes in a given year was unlawful.
According to the Fisheries Survival Fund, which participated as a Defendant-Intervenor, U.S. District Judge Paul Freidman found against Oceana on all major claims. That means that the biological opinion, which allows the fishery to operate, will remain in place.
The ruling should make the scallop industry's Christmas a little merrier. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, lawmakers are pressing Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker to release $8.3 million in federal disaster aid money for groundfishermen left out of the the first round of relief funds. The initial dispersal of $6.5 million was issued to permit holders.
The Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries has crafted a plan to disburse the Bay State's $8.3 million share of the second round of funding, sending its final grant application to NMFS on Oct. 24.
Massachusetts Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Bill Keating are pushing Pritzker to release the funds before the end of this year. They jointly sent a letter to Pritzker in early December outlining the need for the funds to be released.
"The ongoing groundfish disaster has had a huge economic impact on fishing families and communities in Massachusetts. In many cases the financial hardship is now acute," the letter states. "This second portion of money will help crewmen, shoreside businesses and permit holders who did not qualify for the first portion."
Whether the legislators efforts can pry the funds loose remains to be seen. So Santa, how about you find a way to persuade Ms. Pritzker to turn the funds loose? Doing so might make the holiday season at least a little brighter for the families of the region's groundfish harvesters.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
December 9, 2014
Wisdom from the Sea
Stories for Leaders to Navigate through Life's Turbulent Waters
By James Evanow
James Evanow, 2014
Softcover, 67 pp., $14.95
I never cease to be amazed at all the tasks that must be mastered to be successful skipper. Knowing how to catch a lot of fish is certainly a big part of the job but it's not all of it. Among other things, you also have to be a knowledgeable and proficient repairman who can fix equipment that breaks down at sea. You have to be able to navigate treacherous waters, understand meteorology, global market dynamics, economics, political and regulatory climates and more. And as captain, you have to be an effective leader.
How did you learn to be a leader? Did you take note of how the skippers you worked for handled things? Did you watch the way they dealt with crew members? How did they help you develop your leadership style when you finally became a captain?
Well, James Evanow, who boasts 24 years as a sea captain, explores the concept of leadership in his book "Wisdom from the Sea." In it, he uses his experiences at sea and relates them to leadership and life skills. Evanow's commercial fishing background informs his work today as a speaker who teaches corporate leaders how to communicate persuasively, build trust and become a strong leader that people want to follow.
In his introduction, Evanow says that he's written this book "using sea stories as anecdotes, in order to bring awareness about how we think and act, who we are and how we treat each other."
Evanow writes that people should lead "from a place of compassion, integrity, empathy and self control." That would seem to fly in the face of the stereotypical skipper who routinely screams at his crew.
In our June 1998 issue, we did a cover story on loud and proud skippers. "Everybody knows that, when space is tight, hours are long, money swims and somebody is moving too slowly, the skipper's going to be on the giving end of a blood-red dressing down," the story notes.
The screaming is just "part of the business," it continues. "And just as much a part of the business is laughing later — sometimes not until years later — about the time so-and-so lost his cool and left his crew crying like babies after an hour-long tirade."
In his early days as a skipper, Evanow may have been a screamer as well. "When I was younger, it was very difficult for me to be able to come from a position of positive leadership," he writes. "I would get very upset and angry with people when something would go wrong. I wouldn't be held accountable and, when I look back on this time in my life, I realize that many of my actions were based on what I believed I was supposed to do."
Evanow says he eventually realized that he acted that way because of what he'd seen other people do and how they reacted to situations. However, he decided to try and learn to think for himself how he wanted to act. Today he advocates developing what he calls emotional intelligence — in other words, your ability to recognize and deal with your emotions in a difficult situation and respond in a logical and controlled manner.
Interestingly, Evanow writes about how it wasn't always easy to hire solid deckhands to become part of a well-trained and efficient crew. Even so, he advocates interviewing prospective crew members properly to ensure that you hire the right people and select them for the right reasons.
I don't know if Evanow's book will help you become a better skipper. But it could make you think about what your leadership style is, and it offers up some ideas that you could add to your leadership arsenal.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
December 2, 2014
Our Thanksgiving dinner table was fuller than usual this year. Actually, I should say tables — we had to grab a couple of folding card tables out of the attic and hunt down every last plate and item of silverware to accommodate our 20 guests, a mix of family and friends.
Before we tucked into the variety of desserts awaiting us, one by one everybody offered up what they were thankful for. Several friends remarked that they were thankful they had someplace to go for Thanksgiving because they no longer have family with whom they could spend the holiday. You miss family members who have passed away a little more at the holidays, I think.
But by the same token, you remember the wonderful times you spent with them, too. In our January issue, Reba Temple, a 25-year-old lifelong Bristol Bay salmon fisherman and math teacher at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska, writes about the wealth of memories her family made fishing together each summer.
In our Moment of Youth column, which begins on page 9, Reba writes about how she cherishes the memories of fishing with her brother, Ben Sherrett, her sister, Jill Temple, her mom, Lynn, and her dad, the late Tom Temple.
Charlie Ess, our North Pacific bureau chief, wrote a profile of Tom Temple that appeared in our November 2000 issue. In 1986, at age 29, Temple was diagnosed with a serious heart problem and learned he would need a heart transplant. Fish fries and rallies were held, and the city of Homer raised about $38,000 to help pay for the transplant. Fishing friends also made donations, and a statewide fund-raising effort yielded $70,000.
Temple became one of the first two Alaskans to receive a heart transplant, and one of the first in the nation to receive the then-new antirejection medicine that would boost the life expectancy of transplant recipients from months to years.
It worked. Remarkably, Temple was able to return to fishing the next summer — and he continued to fish for 26 more seasons. But in 2013, cancer claimed Temple at age 56.
In her column, Reba Temple writes about how the fishing lifestyle makes a family close. When her dad was diagnosed with cancer, the family quickly came together to be with him, cramming together to stay in his hospital room, just as they did those summers on the family's 32-foot gillnetter, the Cloud 9.
Reba recognizes that her story isn't unique, that there are "countless families in Bristol Bay who return summer after summer to fish together." Fishing families all over the country can tell similar stories. One of the strong points of this industry is the way so many families have embraced the fishing life — and continue to do so, even though the regulatory climate and market forces make doing so increasingly difficult.
But when the chips are down, fishermen band together to help their fellow harvesters. Fishermen are a kind of family, too. Maybe families aren't solely defined by blood. As I was reminded at Thanksgiving dinner, if we're lucky, we also have a family of friends to whom we can turn, especially when we need them most.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
November 25, 2014
History was made on two fronts at this year's Fisherman of the Year contest held at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle.
Eike Ten Kley, operations manager of Iliamna Fishing Co. in Portland, Ore., claimed the coveted Fisherman of the Year title, becoming the event's first female winner. Her husband, Reid Ten Kley, won last year's contest. That makes the Ten Kleys the first husband and wife combination to hold the title.
Contestants in the annual event display their skills in three areas — net mending, knot tying and rope splicing — with winners in each contest earning a crisp $100 bill plus a slot in the survival suit competition for a shot at the title.
Fisherman Joao Domar of B Fisheries in Seattle won the net-mending contest, repairing the patch of torn net before him in 34.57 seconds. Then it was on to the knot-tying competition.
Competitors must correctly tie three knots while blindfolded — a bowline, a crab hitch (aka a sheet bend) and a figure eight. The quickest to do so wins.
The Ten Kleys were pitted against each other, with Eike emerging victorious when Reid momentarily lost hold of the rope when tying the last knot.
Fisherman Chris Guggenbickler, of Wrangell Ports and Harbors, in Wrangell, Alaska, makde a three-tuck splice in 40.05 seconds in the rope-slicing contest to grab the last spot in the finals.
The three winners then squared off to see which one of them could don a survival suit the fastest. Ten Kley clambered into her suit in 29 seconds and securing her face flap just in time to take the title, earning another $100 as well as a personalized Fisherman of the Year jacket donated by National Fisherman.
It's always impressive to watch fishermen display their skills, but it's especially rewarding to see how quickly contestants are able to don the immersion suits. Yes, it's great that it can help them secure a Fisherman of the Year victory. But if it helps a fisherman survive a real emergency at sea, that's far and away the most important victory to claim.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
November 19, 2014
John Aldridge, an offshore lobsterman from Montauk, N.Y., who last summer survived 12 harrowing hours in the Atlantic Ocean after falling overboard, shared his remarkable story in the keynote address at Pacific Marine Expo.
Aldridge has called the Atlantic Ocean his office for 20 years, as he became a successful fisherman. In the wee hours of a July morning in 2013, while the 45-foot Anna Mary’s other two crew members slept, Aldridge was trying to move two heavy ice chests on deck. He snagged a box hook onto the bottom cooler’s plastic handle, but as he tried to pull the coolers, the handle broke. Aldridge went flying backward and off the open stern ramp.
Suddenly he found himself alone in the water 40 miles from shore; no one aboard the boat knew he was missing. Thus began his battle to survive, during which he willed himself to stay afloat for some 12 hours while the Coast Guard and Montauk-area fishermen embarked on a massive search effort to find him.
During his presentation, Aldridge will discuss three important factors that he believes helped him remain alive: the survival instinct, the will to live, and the ability to think outside the box.Add a comment
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Governor Bill Walker has officially requested that the federal government declare a disaster for four Alaska regions hurt by one of the poorest pink salmon returns in decades.Read more ...
The New England Fishery Management Council recently elected Dr. John F. Quinn of Massachusetts and E. F. “Terry” Stockwell III of Maine to serve respectively as chairman and vice chairman in the year ahead. The two have led the Council since 2014 but reversed roles this year.Read more ...