National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



There are so many variables that affect our nation's fisheries — management regulations, climate changes, global economies and consumer demand just to name a few — that it's nice to know there are some constants to rely on from year to year. One of them is the list of the nation's top fishing ports, specifically the ports that are always at the head of the class.

2014 1030 Mixed Catch FUS Infographic1 FINALNMFS has released its report Fisheries of the United States 2013 which contains a variety of landings statistics pertaining to the nation's fisheries. NMFS photoNMFS released its annual report Fisheries of the United States yesterday, which contains the annual list of the country's top ports. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, again led the nation in volume for the 17th straight year, with landings of 753 million pounds valued at $197 million. According to the report, Alaska pollock made up 88 percent of the Dutch Harbor volume and 46 percent of the value (snow crabs and king crab accounted for another 32 percent of the port's value).

Likewise, New Bedford, Mass., captured the value crown for the 14th consecutive year, recording 130 million pounds worth $379 million. Sea scallops, which continue to drive the port's landings, accounted for 81 percent of the port's landings value.

However, the report contains other constants that are less comforting. It would be refreshing to see a significant rise in the amount of seafood consumed per capita in this country. Likewise, the major imbalance between the amount of seafood imported into the United States and U.S. seafood exported continues.

According to the NMFS report, U.S. commercial landings reached 9.9 billion pounds (up 245 million pounds, or 2.5 percent from 2012) worth $5.5 billion (up $388 million pounds or 7.6 percent). Yet more than 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported.

Foreign trade data shows that imports of edible fish products totaled 5.4 billion pounds worth $18 billion. The import volume decreased slightly by 34 million pounds while value increased by $1.4 billion compared with 2012.

Exports meanwhile totaled 3.3 billion pounds valued at $5.6 billion. Volume increased by 69.3 million pounds over 2012 and value increased by $112.8 million.

NMFS says the import total is somewhat deceiving, as it includes U.S.-caught fish that ends up being sent overseas where it's reprocessed and shipped back to be gobbled up by consumers. It also says that encouraging aquaculture development in this country would be one way to lessen dependency on foreign product.

On one hand, it would appear domestic consumers enjoy chowing down on seafood. According to the report, Americans ate 4.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2013, making the United States the world's third largest seafood consumer behind China and Japan.

Then again, domestic per capita consumption sat at 14.5 pounds of fish and shellfish, essentially the same as in 2012 (14.4 pounds). For years, per capita consumption has rarely strayed from the 14- to 16-pound mark.

By comparison, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was predicting that in 2014, per capita consumption of beef would fall 4.8 percent from 2013 to 54 pounds. Pork consumption this year is predicted to be 45.9 pounds, and chicken is forecast to hit 83.5 pounds.

That's maddening. Fish and shellfish are a tasty and nutritious source of protein that should be able to rival beef and poultry for prime space on America's dinner plates. There are wonderful seafood marketing efforts afoot throughout the country. I'm looking forward to the day when the annual NMFS report sports seafood per capita consumption statistics that are substantially higher.

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2014 1023 Mixed Catch Waltzing819xKB2QYgLWaltzing with Lady Luck
A Novel with Teeth
By Clark Snow
Black Rose Writing, 2012
Softcover, 225 pp., $

So what would you do if you won the lottery? Would you keep fishing? Would you pay off the boat loan and the mortgage? Would you upgrade to your dream boat and house? Or would you walk away from fishing, feeling secure in the knowledge that you and your family are set for life?

If you decided that you still wanted to fish, how do you think your fellow fishermen would react to you? Would everybody treat you the same as they did before you hit the jackpot? Would some resent you? Clark Snow's novel "Waltzing with Lady Luck" raises these questions and more.

According to Snow's biography, he's worked on the water for some 40 years, the last 12 on coastal tugboats. However, he says his most memorable years were spent working on fishing vessels that helped him feed his family and his imagination, ultimately leading him to write this story.

Victor Janes, a young Newfoundland fisherman with a taste for adventure, emigrates to the U.S. and marries into a prominent New Bedford, Mass., fishing family. Then he wins a national lottery that pays off millions of dollars.

You think that the story's happy ending has arrived before it's even begun. But Victor and his wife Fabulia aren't people who only want to lead a life of leisure.

Victor decides he wants to keep fishing, but wants to try his hand at something no one's attempted before. He builds a prototype factory trawler that's equipped to fish in thousands of feet of water for royal red shrimp. Fabulia meanwhile starts a non-profit organization to help children and the elderly, and ultimately battered women; after some early reservations about the business side of her charitable work, the project gets rolling.

The shrimping expedition goes well, but the boat's net also comes up with manganese nodules, which, to the delight of a shrewd Vietnamese crew member, contain petrified shark teeth at their core. The crew member begins storing the nodules against Victor's orders.

And when a multi-national mining corporation learns of the manganese modules, and Victor's fishing operation gets a whole lot more complicated, especially when he's charged with harvesting the nodules without a permit — even though it's questionable whether their harvest falls under NMFS' jurisdiction. Eventually, things get crazy enough that Victor must relocate the boat and his family all the way to Brazil to try, with the help of the family lawyer, how to extricate himself from what's become an international mess.

It's a lighthearted tale that largely makes for pleasant reading. I doubt many of us are likely to hit a huge lottery jackpot anytime soon. But dreaming about what we'd do if we did costs us absolutely nothing.

And if in the process, we figure how we'd want to treat people if we came into megabucks, how we'd want people to treat us if we did and how we'd treat those around us who hit it big, well, maybe we'd be richer for it. Of course it'd be nice to have the opportunity to put the answers into practice.

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How easily could you swim 2 miles? In an Olympic-sized pool (50 meters long), you must swim 16 laps (down and back) to complete 1 mile; could you swim 32 laps? The task becomes more daunting if you suddenly find yourself overboard in Mississippi Sound as Long Beach, Miss., shrimper Mitchell Sevel did Sunday night.

A rogue wave hit the 45-foot Kar-Lyn-Dawn, causing the 30-year veteran to slip and fall overboard. The boat continued on, and the noise of the vessel's generator prevented the boat owner in the wheelhouse from hearing Sevel yelling for help. The boat continued steaming along.

According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says he fell overboard about 2 miles off Pass Christian. Sevel quickly decided that he had little choice but to start swimming if he wanted to survive.

Still, he worried that he wouldn't have enough energy to swim all the way back to shore. But thoughts of his wife, Lori, kept him going.

Hours later, Sevel found his way to shore in West Past Christian, Miss. He pulled the fire alarm at the nearby Henderson Port Condos for help and was reunited with his family by 1:30 a.m. Monday. You can see the couple recount Sevel's remarkable story in the Sun Herald video below.

That Sevel could fight the current in the dark of night, and the fear that likely accompanied being alone in a vast, cold ocean is remarkable. Those resiliency lessons his father taught him truly paid off.

Of course, Gulf of Mexico shrimpers, who in recent years have dealt with an influx of cheap imported shrimp, devastating hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, are a pretty resilient bunch.

Sevel is a lucky man. Would the rest of us be so lucky? If you and your crew aren't using them already, consider wearing PFDs. Safety experts say they extend your survival time in the water. And today's PFDs are manufactured to be far more comfortable to wear on deck.

Nor would it hurt to invest in a personal locator beacon that you can wear. You switch it on manually to alert rescue personnel of your predicament and position. Ones that allow GPS units to be integrated into the distress signal can help rescuers home in on your position even more accurately (within 100 meters). Safety gear like PFDs and PLBs can keep you alive should you find yourself, like Sevel, going for an unexpected swim.


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October is National Seafood Month, and it's a great opportunity to promote the U.S. fishing industry and the seafood fishermen provide. For example, according to NMFS Director Eileen Sobeck's Leadership Message on the agency's website, NMFS will be featuring stories on the site this month that highlight sustainable fisheries and the health benefits of eating seafood regularly.

Alas, while we have a whole month to spread the seafood gospel to consumers, there are other food-related holidays vying for the public's attention in October. A quick Web search of October food holidays yielded the following goodies at — and these are only selected examples from a rather lengthy list. For example, Oct. 4 was both National Taco Day and National Vodka Day.

2014 1007 National Seafood MonthNMFS is promoting sustainable fisheries and the health benefits of eating seafood on its website. NMFS photoThis week, we get to observe National Fluffernutter Day (it's apparently the Massachusetts state sandwich) on Oct. 8, followed by National Moldy Cheese Day (I am not making this up) on Oct. 9.

Then next week, we can celebrate National Chocolate-Covered Insects Day on Oct. 14  and National Roast Pheasant Day on Oct. 15.

Rounding out the month are National Greasy Foods Day on Oct. 25, and Buy a Doughnut Day on Oct. 30 (not to be confused with National Doughnut Day, which occurs in June).

Quite a list, isn't it? I, for one, am glad all these food holidays occur during National Seafood Month. By the time people get done gorging on tacos, Fluffernutters, chocolate-covered insects, greasy foods and doughnuts, seafood is going to look awfully appealing to consumers. Certainly it's a wonderful source of protein, and omega-3 rich seafood offers a variety of health benefits.

But what sets seafood apart from other foods that are touted as being good for you? That's easy — it's delicious. You can have the carrot juice. Serve me up some scallops, shrimp or salmon, some haddock or halibut, heck, give me a nice tuna sandwich, just to name a few tasty choices. As tempting as it may be to savor some moldy cheese (and I fear we have some in the fridge at home), I think I'll stick with the seafood.

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This is always an exciting time of year for us here at the NF office, because this is when we get to introduce our readers to a new batch of Highliner Award winners. Congratulations to Gloucester, Mass., fisherman Russell Sherman, Bluff Point, Va., waterman Ida Hall and Madeira Beach, Fla., reef fish harvester Martin Fisher, who make up the 2014 class. Veteran NF writers Kirk Moore, Larry Chowning and Hoyt Childers contributed profiles of this year's Highliners to the cover story that begins on page 22 of the November issue

20141002 Highliners blog2014The Highliner Award dates back to 1975, when then-West-Coast-based NF associate editor Robert J. Browning came up with the idea of recognizing fishermen for their overarching contributions to the industry and their communities. By my count, we've had the pleasure of recognizing 117 Highliners, plus another half dozen industry contributors who have received special awards.

When New England's groundfish management regulations were becoming increasingly strict in the 1990s, his fellow fishermen urged Sherman to advocate on their behalf, and he quickly immersed himself in the management process. Hall is a 40-year veteran harvester who works with watermen and state officials to improve the health of Chesapeake Bay and its blue crab stocks as well as fishermen's fortunes. Fisher possesses a passion for the industry that shows whether he's selling his catch at the St. Petersburg, Fla., Saturday Morning Market or working to promote the sustainability of the region's fisheries and fishermen.

I had the honor of calling Fisher to inform him that he'd been selected as one of this year's Highliners. He was surprised but excited to learn he'd been chosen, and very appreciative that NF was recognizing his work.

Informing a fisherman that he's been selected to be a Highliner was a new experience for me. What a pleasure to get to deliver the good news! That was truly a happy task.

But you can't help but feel good when you're around the Highliners. I've had the pleasure of attending Highliner dinners through the years, and I'm always struck by how much they love the industry, by their energy and by their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to help the industry and their fellow fishermen.

They're an inspiring group of people to be around. I think Russell Sherman, Ida Hall and Martin Fisher will fit in with them quite nicely.

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The second annual Seafood 101 program begins this week, celebrating not only Pacific Northwest seafood, but the centennial of Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle. Educating children and their families about seafood's numerous benefits is the theme of the 2014 program, which kicks off with the Fishermen's Fall Festival this Saturday, Oct. 4.

2014 930 seafood101-logoWhat better time to promote U.S. seafood than in October, which is, after all, National Seafood Month? The Seafood 101 program is a regionally focused education effort that began last year. It's once again offering a variety of activities that highlight seafood's health benefits and its value to the region's environment and economy. Program events will culminate at Pacific Marine Expo, slated for Nov. 19-21 at the Century Link Field Events Center in Seattle. 

Seafood 101 aims to educate families about seafood's nutritional benefits. The program also demonstrates how NMFS, the industry and community leaders are working together "to maintain a safe, sustainable and viable fishing industry," says Seafood 101 co-organizer Rebecca Reuter, communications specialist with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. "Seafood 101 hopes to achieve this through education programs, cooking demonstrations, tours of our port and fishing vessels plus other free activities."

A special 12-page Seafood 101 supplement ran in the Seattle Times on Sept. 28, and it will be published in the Anchorage Daily News on Oct. 5. The supplement, which features stories on the value of seafood and the fishing industry, will also be distributed to Puget Sound region classrooms as part of the Times' Newspapers in Education program. Last year's award-winning supplement was distributed to more than 44,000 students and nearly 1,000 educators in Washington state.

That's good stuff. We're all for programs that promote nutritious (and delicious), fresh, local, sustainable seafood and the efforts of U.S. fisheries managers and harvesters to keep fish stocks healthy. We're pleased to again be among the program's sponsors.

Want to learn more about the Seafood 101 program? Visit our Seafood 101 spotlight page

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You knew it was just a matter of time before President Obama would forge ahead with his plan to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and he did so today. But thanks to the efforts of industry and management leaders to persuade the administration that the expansion as originally proposed would devastate U.S. Pacific Islands fisheries, the size of the expansion has been scaled back.

When the plan was announced on June 17, it would have expanded the marine monument from 77,000 square miles to 700,000. Almost immediately, the region's industry and management leaders spoke out against the proposal, stating that it lacked merit on a number of fronts.

2014 925 Map2It is hoped that a revised expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will reduce the economic toll the original plan would have taken on sustainable U.S. Pacific Islands Fisheries Western Pacific Regional Management Council illustrationThe expansion would provide few ecological benefits and weaken efforts to curb illegal foreign fishing practices, they said. And the plan threatened to give foreign fisheries a big competitive advantage over U.S. harvesters in the region, who would be shut out of important and productive fishing grounds.

The region's fishing leaders believed so strongly in their message that they traveled to the White House to deliver it to administration staff.  Given that the Western Pacific leaders hadn't been first consulted about the merits of expanding the marine monument and how best to do it, it didn't seem likely the message would be heard.

Maybe the administration did get the message. The plan that will go into effect has been amended to "better accommodate economically vital fishing industries for Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Islands," the Western Pacific Regional fishery Management Council announced in a news release today.

The revised plan will expand the monument to include the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones surrounding Johnston Atoll, Jarvis Island and Wake Island. However, it will not expand the existing 50-mile prohibitions on fishing around Howland and Baker Islands and Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef.

The revisions, council leaders say, will let U.S. fishermen continue working within tradition fishing grounds under existing regulations in 35 percent of the U.S. EEZ around the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands, and removes them completely in 65 percent of the EEZ.

"We appreciate the White House's compromise on a monument expansion that could have devastated the region's fisheries and communities without notable environmental benefits," says Kitty Simonds, the Western Pacific Council's executive director, in the news release. "We now look to see how this declaration will be achieved in practice, beyond paper and politics, and hope that the U.S. Coast Guard will use additional enforcement funds to patrol U.S. waters as a first priority."

Well, big ups, as the kids say, to the council for fighting on fishermen's behalf. And I tip my hat to the council and the region's fishing leaders for making the lengthy trip to Washington to voice their serious concerns with the original expansion plan. The revised plan may not be ideal to U.S. fishermen who fish there, but it's certainly an improvement on the original plan, and it wouldn't have happened if the region's leaders hadn't been so vocal and insistent that it needed to change.

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The 60-day public comment period on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to protect Bristol Bay's salmon population from the proposed Pebble Mine closed Friday, Sept. 19, but not before plenty of fishermen signaled their support for agency protection.

Bristol Bay fishermen and processors, Alaska's fishing industry as a whole, plus commercial fishing groups and businesses nationwide sent in comments supporting EPA protections for Bristol Bay. According to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, preliminary counts for the 60-day comment period show that more than 625,000 public comments were submitted in support of EPA protection, with Alaskans alone accounting for 20,000 comments.

2014 Mixed Catch 923 2ndBristol Bay sockeye salmon fishermen hope their support of Environmental Protection Agency plans to protect the regiion's salmon resource will help thwart the proposed Pebble Mine. Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay photoSimilar support has been seen during the multi-year effort to protect the region from large-scale mining, the association says. Upwards of 1.5 million comments in support of protecting Bristol Bay have been received during that time.

"A massive open-pit mine planned for the heart of the salmon-rearing headwaters of our nation's largest and most valuable salmon runs is not worth the risk," says Sue Aspelund, the association's executive director. "And based on these numbers, the American people clearly agree."

Well, then it must be time to declare victory, no? It's game over, right?

Not just yet. Now that the public comment period is over, the EPA will tally up the comments and then review them before issuing its Final Determination before Feb. 4, 2015. But according to the association, there's still work to do to ensure that the Bristol Bay resource will be protected.

Aspelund says the association is asking the agency and the White House to move as quickly as possible "to implement strong protections for the thousands of people who depend on Bristol Bay salmon for their income and way of life." According to the association, Bristol Bay's sockeye runs support over 2,800 family fishing operations and 14,000 jobs nationwide.

"We want to ensure our fishermen can continue their businesses without this threat hanging over them," Aspelund says.

And, there's still a lot fishermen and others can do to keep the pressure on this process, says Katherine Carscallen, the association's sustainability director.

"Communications to elected officials stressing the importance that EPA is allowed to carry this process through to finality is very important," Carscallen said on Sept. 22. "Because EPA has mentioned that late comments will be marked late, but still counted, we decided to keep our take-actions up through the weekend, but by the end of the day, it will be adapted to direct communication to the White House."

So everyone who wants to ensure that the Bristol Bay resource continues to receive the protection it deserves shouldn't light up a victory cigar just yet. If proponents keep up the good work that's been done so far, that satisfying stogie will be lit soon enough.

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Maine harvesters have been catching plenty of lobsters for a number of years now. But recently some rare ones have found their way into lobstermen's traps.

2014 916 Blue lobster BusterBlue1The odds of catching a blue lobster like Buster Blue, who skipper Pete Bagley of the Eulah McGrath caught in Jordan's Basin in December 2009, are one in 2 million. Photo courtesy of The Lobster Institute In late August, student lobsterman Meghan LaPlante and her father, Jay, caught a blue lobster near Portland. The lobster, which Meghan dubbed Skylar, was donated to the Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor. According to The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine at Orono, the odds of catching a blue lobster are one in 2 million.

Further up the coast, lobsterman Joe Bates caught what appeared to be the rarest of all lobsters, an albino, about a week later off Rocland. The odds of catching one are one in 100 million. Incredibly, lobsterman Bert Philbrick appeared to catch another one a few days afterwards off Owls Head.

Alas, a lobster expert eventually determined that the lobsters were actually a very light blue — still rare finds, but not the elusive white lobster.

Then in September, wildlife artist Sarah Lane, co-owner of Bethel Bait, Tackle and More in Bethel, discovered a calico lobster in a crate of bugs brought from the Pemaquid Lobster Co-op in Pemaquid. The odds of finding calico-colored lobsters, whose shells are a mottled orange and black, are one in in 30 million.

The rare find, which Lane named "Freckles," was likewise donated to the state aquarium, which now has three blue lobsters and orange one in addition to the calico.

There are still other colored lobsters that can be added to their collection, though it won't be easy. The odds of coming across a naturally colored red lobster are one in 10 million, and like the calico lobster, the chances of catching a yellow lobster are one in 30 million. And the odds of finding a split-colored lobster are one in 50 million.

Robert C. Bayer, the lobster institute's executive director, says the blue and calico lobsters are the most common of the bunch. "There's a fair amount of the blue ones," he says. If a male lobster breeds with a blue female, all her offspring will be blue, too.

Bayer says he's often tried to figure out people's fascination with the colored lobsters. "They're beautiful, but maybe that's it," he says. "They certainly draw a lot of attention every year."

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Consider this a shout-out to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council members and others who traveled to the White House to make the case, if in vain, that the proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 700,000 square miles is misguided policy.

2014 911 Monumnet Map167This map illustrates the vast expanse of ocean that would be off limits to fishermen with the proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Wetern Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council illustrationIn what was described as a "frank discussion," the nine-member delegation told the White House Council on Environmental Quality that the monument would penalize the U.S. Pacific islands and American fishermen while accomplishing little environmentally.

This is accurate. For one thing, the area is pristine, which forecloses on the notion of environmental improvement. For another, the fish the monument would "protect" are highly migratory. U.S. fishermen could pursue them outside the monument at hideous expense, or, more likely, they'll be harvested by the Chinese.

By the way, for those of you who do not regularly consume political news, "frank discussion" implies that the delegates expressed the truth bluntly and that the representatives of the administration, which included John Podesta, counselor to the president, didn't want to hear it.

No surprise there. Had the administration been inclined to consider the issue on its merits it would have in the first place consulted with the fishery council and stakeholders.

As Ray Hilborn of University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, observed last month, "The key question with respect to the expanded protections proposed by President Obama is, 'What will they do to aid solutions to the problems facing oceans?"

"I am afraid the answer to this is they will do nothing. Closing additional areas to fishing will have no impact on ocean acidification or ocean pollution, and the impact of these closures on overfishing will almost certainly be negligible."

Hilborn is correct, for what good it amounts to. The administration has pursued the "do it if it feels good" policy which colors so much of our environmental regulation today. And however well meaning, if uninformed, this policy is, the opposite result is certain to obtain in the western Pacific once China starts vacuuming things up.

Clair Poumele, a member of the Western Pacific council and director of the American Samoa Port Authority, said the monument would have a disastrous impact on the territory's tuna canning operations, which employ one-third of the population.

As Sean Martin, of the Hawai'i Longline Association observed, "This attempt at crafting an environmental legacy for our nation will ultimately prove to accomplish the opposite by disenfranchising our own fishermen and outsourcing domestic seafood demand to nations whose standards for environmental protections pale in comparison to our own."

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Page 5 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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