National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



Top 5 Mixed Catch Stories

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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With the clock winding down on the period for submitting comments to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the proposed Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay salmon fishermen are proposing a novel way to encourage friends and family to add their two cents worth. They've encouraging participation in the Bristol Bay Dinner Party Challenge this weekend.

Here's the deal. You invite friends over for a simple dinner party this weekend and challenge three other friends to do likewise. All you have to do is throw a salmon-themed dinner that's coupled with a movie and a little education about the famous Bristol Bay salmon resource and why the proposed Pebble Mine threatens it, and you ask your guests to submit comments to the EPA by the Friday, Sept. 19 deadline.

The good news is you don't have to be Martha Stewart to host this shindig. The dinner parties can be big or small and as simple or complex as you please. Fire up some wild Bristol Bay sockeye on the grill, or maybe offer up some smoked sockeye, cheese and crackers. Make it a potluck dinner and invite your guests to bring their favorite wild salmon dish. It's all good.

Then after dinner, fire up the popcorn popper so that you and guests have the proper movie-viewing snack while watching "In the Same Boat," Elijah Lawson's documentary about the Bristol Bay fishing lifestyle and the salmon runs that the large scale mine threatens. There are other short videos like the one below that can also be shown, too.

And then to wrap things up, you invite your guests to fill out an EPA comment post card or submit them online. They can fill out the postcards as a group or even pen their own custom letter to submit. Comments must be submitted to the EPA by the Friday, Sept. 19 deadline.

Even better, the group Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay makes hosting the dinner even easier. If you go to their website to sign up for the dinner party challenge, they'll provide you with a packet of resources that includes recipe cards and public comment cards.

You can download the documentary and other videos there as well as other educational resources and you'll find the link for your guests to submit their comments online. It seems like the least your guests could do after enjoying good food and getting a little food for thought, to boot.


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Two top-notch icons of the U.S. fishing industry, New Bedford, Mass., and Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal take center stage in the October issue of National Fisherman. 

New Bedford and Fishermen's Terminal are both cover-worthy subjects. So rather than select one over the other, we did something we've never done before — we developed two covers for the October issue, one featuring New Bedford, the other Fishermen's Terminal.

2014 0904 NewBedford NFoctNew Bedford embraces its fishing heritage, which dates back to the 1700s when the whaling industry held sway for some 150 years. The New Bedford Whaling Museum and work being done to preserve iconic buildings such as the Seamen's Bethel, built in 1832, and the Mariner's Home, built in 1787, are examples of the city's appreciation of its fishing past.

But the city also celebrates the industry's present day success. Led by its thriving scallop industry, New Bedford has been the nation's top fishing port by landings value for 13 straight years.

The annual Working Waterfront Festival, which this year takes place Sept. 27 and 28, helps the community celebrate New Bedford's past and present. The festival not only offers plenty of family friendly activities, but also educates visitors about commercial fishing and documents the stories of the people who make up the New Bedford industry.

New Bedford also works with forward-thinking resources like the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology to promote future success. For example, it's hoped that the same kind of video survey innovations that have helped the scallop fishery thrive can likewise lead to better days for the port's struggling groundfish fleet.

2014 0904 FishermansTerminal NFoctIn Seattle, Fishermen's Terminal has plenty to celebrate, too — including a pretty big milestone. Home to the North Pacific commercial fishing fleet, Fishermen's Terminal is 100 years old this year.

Commercial fishing vessels didn't have a centralized location to call home before Seattle decided to build Fishermen's Terminal. Since it opened June 10, 1914, Fishermen's Terminal — originally known as Salmon Bay Terminal or Fishermen's Headquarters — had space for 100 boats, a two-story warehouse and a marine railway.

Today, Fishermen's Terminal moors nearly 500 boats, and offers a wide variety of services to commercial fishermen such as repair facilities for large and small boats and net mending areas. It's also home to the city's Fishermen's Memorial, a special place where friends and family of fishermen lost at sea can gather to remember their loved ones.

Like New Bedford, Seattle honors its fishing industry each fall. The 26th annual Fishermen's Fall Festival,  slated for Saturday, Oct. 4, celebrates the return of the North Pacific fleet to the terminal and strives to increase knowledge about the importance of Fishermen's Terminal and the fishing industry to Seattle, while raising money for the Seattle Fishermen's Memorial Foundation. This year the festival will also feature a centennial celebration for Fishermen's Terminal. New Bedford and Seattle are two great examples of fishing communities that are proud of their past, embrace their present and looking ahead to try and ensure their future

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2014 902 Of Sea and CloudOf Sea and Clouds
By Jon Keller
Tyrus Books, 2014
Hardcover, 336 pp., $24.99

Maine's lobster fishery is apparently fertile ground for novelists. Not so long ago, I reviewed "Vacationland" by Nat Goodale, which was an enjoyable read. "Of Sea and Cloud" by Jon Keller, also set in the Pine Tree State's most profitable fishery, is a darker ride, but no less of a page-turner.

Things get ugly in a hurry. Nicholas Graves has raised his sons, Bill and Joshua (known as Jonah), to be lobstermen. But when Nicholas is lost at sea, the mystery of his death sparks a chain of events resulting in a war between the Graves boys and Osmond Randolph, a lobsterman and former Calvinist minister, as well as their father's business partner for more than 20 years.

With Nicholas out of the picture, the powerful and unsettling Osmond, aided by his grandson and heir, Julius (a deeply unsettling guy in his own right), moves to push the Graves family out of the lobster pound Nicholas and Osmond ran at any cost. A trap war develops as Osmond sets lobster traps on the Graves family grounds mere days after Nicholas is lost at sea.

Jonah cuts about $5,000-worth of Osmond's traps. In retaliation, Julius sets his gear directly on top of the Graves' traps. And as the Graves try to figure out what happened to their father the war escalates from there.

But the story isn't solely about an ugly trap war. Keller worked aboard a Down-East Maine lobster boat for several years after graduate school, and during that time, he said in a Tyrus Books interview, he "began to see within the land and people something nearing on the epic."

"When I started writing 'Of Sea and Cloud,' I fell immediately into a voice that felt to me to echo this epic starkness — and more importantly than echoing, I hoped that the voice would resonate in and through the novel in the way the coastal landscape resonates in and through the Down-East world," he explained.

Keller said he he's lived in enough small towns to be aware of when a place is undergoing a serious shift.

"I'd call it a cultural unraveling, perhaps, and it results in loneliness and desperation that I hoped to capture in the book," he said. "It's the confusion that results when a sub-culture doesn't evolve as quickly as the culture that surrounds it. The technology has changed, the standards of living have changed, the world has changed... yet the way of life has not, and the result is a cultural tailspin, a potential breakdown."

Furthermore, Keller said the region's isolation doesn't protect it from a changing world as much as it exposes it. In the book, Osmond sees that global markets are going to affect the lobster industry and the aging lobsterman is desperate to protect his family and ensure that they will survive those changes.

Keller says "Of Sea and Cloud" is "a book that asks something of the reader, just as the coast of Maine asks something of those who inhabit it." It's a story that should be food for thought for 21st century fishermen, be they veteran harvesters or young bucks trying to make their mark on this historic industry.

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According to my Merriam Webster dictionary, the word "truncated" is an adjective meaning cut short or curtailed. It was used fairly frequently during this morning's overview of the 2014 update of the Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment.

2014 828 GoM cod update v2 Page 01An overview of the 2014 update of the Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment began day one of a two-day peer review of the assessment. NMFS photoThe presentation by Michael Palmer of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass., kicked-off a two-day meeting being held in Portsmouth, N.H. The meeting's purpose it to determine whether the science center's updated stock assessment, which reflects stock condition through 2013, meets the set of specific tasks it was directed to address.

The science center completed the stock assessment update earlier this year as part of its effort to address council and industry requests for more timely information on stock condition and for advance notice when early indications of stock condition changes are seen. The science center has been working on ways to streamline the assessment update process.

The goal is to develop a process that can alert managers to changes observed in survey, catch or other data collected between full assessments. Gulf of Maine cod was chosen was chosen as a test case for this approach because a benchmark assessment was completed in 2013.

According to update data, Gulf of Maine cod numbers are still declining. Commercial catches have declined since 2011, as have discards. Truncation in the size/age structure is seen in commercial and recreational fleets. Occurrence of large fish is declining in the commercial fishery and is now absent from the recreational fishery.

And despite catch reductions, survey indices for science center, Massachusetts and New Hampshire surveys have declined to the lowest levels in the survey time series. The spawning stock biomass is estimated to be below 2,500 metric tons under two model scenarios.

Truncation in cod size and age structures is evident in all surveys, the update says. Moreover, there's no signal of incoming recruitment. You can see all of the updated assessment data for yourself by clicking here.

Fishermen were able to ask questions and offer their input on the morning presentation. They wonder why cod mortality is going up even though harvesters aren't coming close to catching their annual catch limit. How much of cod mortality, they ask, is because of factors like predation and climate change?

And like the cod population, they say, the groundfish fishery has been truncated, too.

"The directed cod fishermen are out of business," said Vito Giacalone of the Northeast Seafood Coalition. "They're no longer in the game." Where once day boats accounted for 70 percent of the landings, they now account for 5 percent, he said.

The peer review meeting continues tomorrow at the Sheraton Harborside Hotel, 250 Market St., Portsmouth, N.H.  If you're unable to attend the meeting, you can call (872) 240-3201 (the access code is 535-601-814) to listen to the proceedings and you can see graphics accompanying meeting discussions via a fee live webinar being broadcast. 

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Page 5 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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