National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



What to make of the plan that NMFS and state fisheries management directors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York have unveiled to distribute some $32.8 million in federal disaster aid for New England's groundfish fishery? A couple of the region's industry advocates have offered their initial impressions.

"Some parts I like, some parts I don't," says New Hampshire fisherman Dave Goethel, a former New England Fishery Management Council member, and a 2004 NF Highliner Award winner. "But as such, I support it as a way to move forward."

That $32.8 million is part of the $75 million Congress allocated in the fiscal year 2014 budget for six federal fishery disaster declarations. The Secretary of Commerce made the New England fishery disaster declaration in anticipation of severe cuts to key groundfish species made for the 2013 fishing year.

According to a NMFS news release announcing the plan, one third of the disaster relief funds would go toward direct assistance to 336 permit holders in the region's multispecies fishery who landed at least 5,000 pounds of groundfish in any one year between 2010 and 2013. Each permit holder would receive $32,463.

Another third would be allotted for state-specific grants to address issues like providing assistance for deckhands and infrastructure or funding cooperative research programs. The remainder would be earmarked for developing either a government funded vessel buyout program or an industry-funded buyback program.

GoethelGoethel, pictured at left, says he has a problem with the proposed buyout program. "People support it until you have to figure out how to do it," he says. "Then the knives come out and everyone starts slashing at each other."

While Goethel isn't high on the buyout/buyback proposal, he says he hopes the direct assistance money will help the region's struggling groundfish harvesters.

"Something's better than nothing. Is it enough? No," Goethel says. "But it's $32,000 I didn't have yesterday." For example, he says, that money will cover a year's worth of his health insurance, which in turn will free up money to fix up his boat and fish some more.

"For some it'll help, for some, it's not nearly enough," he says.

Massachusetts would receive the largest portion of the disaster relief money, $14.5 million. However, industry advocate Jim Kendall, owner of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, says he doesn't think the plan being proposed will provide the assistance that's truly needed.

"It seemingly hasn't reached out and found those who are really deserving of some sort of assistance," he says. "It targets permit holders and boat owners, but there's relatively little concern for the deckhand. The average fisherman seems to be missing."

Disaster relief funds should help those groundfishermen most in need, whether they're boat owners or deckhands, Kendall says.

"Every one of us has been affected by this. Fishermen have been suffering for years. But you need to be looking for the guy that most needs the help and that's where you start," Kendall says. "Look at how long we've been waiting for this assistance — people have gone under in the meantime.

"Fishermen are very proud," Kendall adds, "they won't come asking for assistance until they've got no other choice."

Photo: New Hampshire fisherman Dave Goethel says federal disaster relief direct assistance funds will help some New England groundffishermen, but won't be enough for others. Dexter Van Zile photo

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Two documentaries about salmon will be shown as part of the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival in June. The double feature will open with "In the Same Boat," which focuses on Bristol Bay's renowned salmon fishery.

The documentary has been selected to make its world premiere at the prestigious Seattle festival, according to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which helped fund the film. The Anchorage, Alaska-based association represents some 1,850 Bristol Bay commercial salmon drift gillnetters.

sameboatDirector Elijah Lawson, a lifelong Bristol Bay fisherman who runs the Potential, teamed up with Randall Pack to shoot "In the Same Boat." The film has been entered into 12 film festivals internationally, and Lawson hopes eventually to have the documentary entered in 20 film festivals.

Lawson, who owns Prophet Studios in Seattle, says the documentary aims to promote the Bristol Bay fishery. It tells the tale of three multigenerational fishing families and what it takes to own and run a fishing business.

As fishermen in Bristol Bay and all over the United States can attest, being good at catching fish is only part of the battle. They're accountants, mechanics, cooks and managers, too, as well as advocates for their industry and the way of life that they love.

"I'm really proud to tell the world about our fishery and the amazing people involved in it," Lawson says in the association's summer 2014 newsletter. "I want to celebrate our sustainable livelihoods, our renewable resources, and the reasons we're all here."

Here's a taste of what audiences will see in the documentary.

You can view other video clips from "In the Same Boat" at the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association's website.

Lawson's film opens for filmmaker Mark Titus' documentary, "The Breach." It asks whether we've "learned enough from our past mistakes to save the last great wild salmon runs on the planet."

Titus, a Seattle writer and film director, says in the film's trailer that he "chased salmon around my whole childhood." After college he spent his 20s working as a salmon fishing guide in Alaska.

In his 30s, he says, he returned to the fishing grounds of his youth. But the salmon weren't as plentiful — and he wanted to find out why.

Part of "The Breach" explores the decades-long battle to remove Washington's Elwha River dam in hopes of restoring once vibrant king salmon runs that boasted fish in excess of 100 pounds. But the dam built in 1913 blocked the salmon from reaching their spawning grounds in the Olympic Mountains.

However, Titus, who raised $44,039 through a Kickstarter campaign to make the documentary, says on his Kickstarter page that the film's title refers to more than just dam removal.

"I realized the film was not only about the breaching of those dams," Titus wrote, "but of a much larger breach of contract between human beings and nature — specifically wild salmon — and if we want to have a shot at repairing things to sustain future generations — we'd better pay attention — right now."

Right now you can check out this trailer for "The Breach."

Both films are being shown in Seattle on Wednesday, June 4 and Saturday, June 7. Those of you in the region can find ticket information and show times for the Seattle screenings here


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Will attempts to save one Louisiana coastal resource imperil another? One oyster industry advocate is concerned that a plan to restore the Pelican State's rapidly evaporating coastline poses a serious threat to the oyster resource.

Coastal erosion is a serious problem in Louisiana. The state's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, developed in 2012, reveals that since 1930, Louisiana has lost some 1,880 square miles of land since the 1930s.

2012 Coastal Master Plan cover Page 001According to the report, a variety of natural and man made factors have caused the land loss. If measures aren't taken to stem continued erosion, the report says, another 1,750 square miles could be lost over the next 50 years.

That land loss could seriously increase the risk of flooding, leaving coastal communities even more vulnerable, the report states.

"The catastrophe facing south Louisiana means that we must act quickly, or we will lose everything," the report states. "Our communities will continue to wash away, our fisheries will collapse, and vital industries will not have the infrastructure or workforces they need to operate."

The report lists a variety of projects being undertaken to increase flood protection and restore coastal wetlands. One such project, for example, involves making several diversions along the Mississippi River. Those diversions would use river sediment to sustain and rebuild land.

But the diversions may also cause problems for the state's oyster industry, according to John Tesvich, a fourth generation oysterman who is the chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

Tesvich told WGNO-TV that a diversion at Myrtle Grove would move water at 75,000 cubic feet a second. That volume of water, Tesvich said, will "wipe out the entire Barataria estuary."

And in the process, it will also wipe out 100,000 acres of oyster beds in just a few days, Tesvich said. He and other oystermen are mounting a campaign to protect the estuaries. Coastal restoration can be achieved without destroying them, Tesvich said.

It's always tricky business when we start tinkering with the environment. If Tesvich is right, and Louisiana's coastline can be sustained and restored without causing damage to the state's prized oyster resource — and the harvesters and coastal communities that depend on them, that would truly be a win-win situation for south Louisiana.

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Two stories in the June issue of National Fisherman got me thinking about the marketing of U.S. finfish and shellfish. One suggests that challenges the fishing industry faced 30 years ago remain today. The other spotlights an innovative Alaska program that could turn youngsters into seafood fans.

In our Fishing Back When section, one item from our June '84 issue tells how American fishermen were facing stiff competition from imports, including $980 million in shrimp, which accounted for 83 percent of the import total, along with whitefish, tuna and lobster.

"If [a country] is hawking a product that tastes mild and looks familiar, it will probably do well," the article noted. "If it can turn out the product cheaply, it will smile all the way to the export trading bank."

The import onslaught hasn't slowed down, has it? According to NOAA's FishWatch program, today the United States imports 91 percent of its seafood.

This month's Northern Lights column introduces us to one program in Alaska that aims to put local seafood in local schools — and in the process create new generations of fans of U.S. seafood. Tracy Gagnon, the community sustainability organizer for the Sitka Conservation Society, helped pioneer the Fish to Schools program in Sitka, Alaska. Its mission is simple, she says: Provide local fish for school lunches.

Local fishermen donate fish to the program and have been integral to its success. Over the last three years, 23 harvesters have contributed more than 2,000 pounds of seafood to the program.

F2S FishermanBetter still, every year on Valentine's Day fishermen are invited to an appreciation lunch at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. The fishermen get to share a lunch featuring their catch with the students, who thank them for their delicious donations.

To me, what is great about this program is that in addition to providing schoolchildren with healthy lunches, it's creating a relationship between the students and the fishermen. Those students will know more about how their seafood is caught, about the people who catch it, and how they catch it.

That has the potential to create lifelong lovers of U.S. seafood every year. The more that we see marketing programs that educate the American public about the country's fishing industry and the people who catch their seafood, the greater the chance that those consumers will increasingly choose U.S.-harvested fish and shellfish over the imported variety.

Photo: Fisherman Spencer Severson toasts elementary student Ryleigh Devere at her school's annual appreciation lunch for the Fish to Schools program. Adam Taylor/Sitka Conservation Society photo

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NOAA just released two reports Tuesday afternoon, one regarding the assessment of U.S. fish stocks for 2013, the other highlighting the economic impacts of American commercial and recreational fishing in 2012. The agency says that taken together the two reports "show positive trends in the steady rebuilding of the country's federally managed fisheries off our coasts, and the important role fisheries contribute to the United States economy."

OK, fair enough, those are important stories to tell. But there are others the reports contain, too.

Here are the highlights NOAA presents. The nation's finfish and shellfish stocks are, overall, in pretty good shape, the agency says.

Status of the StocksIn 2013, seven stocks made it off of the "experiencing overfishing" list. Of the six stocks added to that list, the status of four had been unknown. Overall, of the 478 federally managed stocks and stock complexes whose status is known, 272 (91 percent) have been deemed not subject to overfishing in 2013. (NOAA defines "overfishing" as a stock that has a harvest rate that is higher than the rate that produces maximum sustainable yield.)

NOAA removed four stocks from the "overfished" list, but added three. The status of two of the three added had been unknown. Of the 230 stocks whose status is known, 190 (83 percent) are not overfished. ("Overfished" stocks have a biomass level depleted to a point where it's capacity to produce MSY is jeopardized.)

And two stocks have been declared rebuilt, bringing the total number of stocks rebuilt since 2000 to 34.

But it doesn't tell the whole story, says Brian Rothschild, the president and CEO of the New Bedford-based Center for Sustainable Fisheries.

"They are focused on whether stocks are overfished or not, but they're not looking at underfishing," Rothschild says, noting that in New England, groundfish quota, low as it may be, is left on the table. "That's a measure of performance they don't look at."

Moving on to the economic data, according to NOAA, U.S. commercial fishermen harvested 9.6 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish valued at $5.1 billion in 2012. That's down from 9.9 billion pounds worth $5.3 billion in 2011. Over the last 10 years, U.S. landings have largely remained in the 9 billion-pound zone, but total revenue has risen from a low of $3.3 billion in 2003 and has increased every year except for 2009 ($3.9 billion) and 2012.

On the surface things look good here in New England, too, with total revenues rising from $1.1 billion in 2011 to a 10-year high of $1.2 billion in 2012. That's up significantly from the $690 million notched in 2003.

But if you look a little deeper, you find that shellfish landings are driving New England's economic bus. Shellfish revenue totaled $947 million in 2012 whereas finfish revenues stood at $244 million.

Scallops (39.1 million pounds worth $389.3 million) and lobster (148.3 million pounds valued at $424 million) led the way in 2012. But cod and haddock landings fell from 30.1 million pounds worth $48.8 million in 2011 to 14.8 million pounds generating $29.9 million.

"We've lost a lot of boats and jobs in New England," Rothschild says. "Somehow the scallops, which are more or less positive, get rolled together with the groundfish. So when you have a port with $300 million in scallops, what happens to the groundfish is swamped."

The reports offer NOAA's view on the success of U.S. fisheries management. You can draw your own conclusions by clicking here to take a look at the Fisheries Economics of the United States 2012 and here to view the Status of U.S. Fisheries 2013 report.

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Vacationland coverVacationland
Man Plans, God Laughs
By Nat Goodale
Bowditch Press, 2013
Softcover, 242 pp., $14.99

When I think of Donny Coombs, a fifth generation Maine lobsterman who's the hero of "Vacationland," the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, pop into my head — "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!"

It will take him awhile to get to that point, though. Coombs is pretty much an independent live-and-let-live kind of guy. He's largely content to go lobstering, accompanied by his ornery, territorial, yet faithful and loyal dog, Tut.

However, Coombs' placid life is about to become more stressful on several fronts.

First there are his new neighbors, Delano and Eliza Nelson. The Nelsons are, as Mainers say, From Away. And the missus in particular is hell-bent on, as Goodale puts it on his website, "saving Maine from the Mainers."

Job one in this quest is getting Coombs to remove some items they deem unsightly from his yard. Thus begins what will blossom into an increasingly ugly battle between the two neighbors.

Then there's Shelly Payson, an attractive junior at Harvard, where she's an outstanding member of the crew team. Shelly's impetuous, and like her well-to-do father, Chase, used to getting her way. She's attracted to Coombs, which displeases daddy greatly. His mission is to kill the growing relationship between Coombs and his daughter.

And last, but certainly not least, there's lobsterman Stanley Maven, who covets Coombs' territory. He ignores signs to back off and becomes increasingly bold about setting traps where Coombs fishes.

All of these battles get ratcheted up to a fever pitch. And when Coombs reaches his Popeye-esque breaking point, things get very ugly indeed.

Goodale's crafted a fast-paced page-turner, filled with strongly drawn characters. At first, I was disappointed in the ending. I suspect I'm too used to watching movies where Hollywood wraps everything up neatly to send us smiling out of the theater.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really rang true. When it's all said and done, "Vacationland" proves to be a highly entertaining story that's well-worth reading.

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Shrimpers in Darien, Ga., hope this year's season will be as successful as the port's 46th annual blessing of the fleet was this past weekend.

Last year was a tough one for Georgia shrimpers, according to data from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division. The data shows that between 1972 and 2013, Georgia shrimpers have landed an annual average of 4.1 million pounds of shrimp worth $14 million. In 2013, they caught 989,839 pounds worth nearly $4.3 million.

But it's a new year, and with the annual fleet blessing comes renewed hope for nets filled with shrimp. The Sunday blessing and parade of shrimp trawlers is the festival's centerpiece, as you can see in the video below.


Top Events U.S.A. touts the Darien Blessing of the Fleet Festival as one of the 10 best events in Georgia. It's a big deal, attracting upwards of 35,000 people annually. It features plenty of food and crafts vendors, musical entertainment, a classic car show, a juried art show, kid-friendly activities, a road race, a street parade, boat rides and a fireworks display.

Fleet blessings are celebrated within commercial fishing communities all over the country. It's always heartening to see the extent to which Darien and other fishing communities embrace the fleet blessings and their fishermen.

And it's great to see the kind of attendance the Darien festival attracts. It suggests that people outside of Darien also appreciate the town's shrimpers and the work they do. 


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The fishermen who attended Tuesday's public workshop in Baton Rouge, La., to talk about reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act had already had a long day. Many if not all of the approximately 40 folks who came to the session had already attended the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting, also held at the Embassy Suites hotel.

And yet they chose to stay for the Magnuson-Stevens session, the third in the series of workshops co-sponsored by the New Bedford-based Center for Sustainable Fisheries and NF. Previous sessions took place in Seattle and Boston. They came to learn more about the proposals being developed and most importantly, add their thoughts on what was important to fishermen in their region.

Bob GillBrian Rothschild, the center's president and CEO, then led the informal discussion with the Southern fishermen. He offered a checklist of issues and problems to consider when developing ideas for revising the nation's federal fishing law.

Among those issues was the idea of rewriting the act's National Standards. Rothschild discussed the idea of changing National Standard 1 from focusing primarily on preventing overfishing and secondarily obtaining optimum yield to focusing on maximizing yield or an economic function of yield, subject to constraints on fishing mortality as determined by the management council. The idea is to strengthen the economic component of fisheries management, give the councils more flexibility and facilite better science.

Some fishermen at the session were concerned about the proposal. They noted that in many ways, red snapper has been a success story — and part of that success has come by putting the fish first, creating dependability in the IFQ fishery. In their eyes, anything that diminishes that success would be bad.

The idea of giving the councils more say in setting catch limits gave other fishermen pause. They say the gulf council already sorely lacks commercial sector representation. Giving more power to the most political side of the management process didn't strike them as a good idea.

But there was agreement on other issues, like the need for more and better stock assessments, and allowing longer stock rebuilding time periods. Fishermen recognized that there are problems they experience that fishermen across the country experience, too. And that makes talking about them very worthwhile, especially if it will result in positive change for the nation's fishermen.

I got to kick off the session with brief remarks as NF's representative, then handed the reins to Kate Kramer the center's chief operating officer. Gulf council member Harlon Pearce of Harlon's LA Fish and Bob Gill, owner of Shrimp Landing Seafood, both members of the Gulf Seafood Institute's board of directors addressed the audience as well. Audience members told me afterward they appreciated the workshop being held there, and I heard yesterday that others commented that they found the discussion fruitful, too.

Comments, suggestions and ideas from all three public sessions are being compiled for a final workshop to be held at a date to be determined in Washington, D.C. If you're interested in learning more about the workshop results and where commonalities exist, contact Kate Kramer, the center's chief operating officer.


Photo: Bob Gill of the Gulf Seafood Institute addresses fishermen attending the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization workshop. Linc Bedrosian photo

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West and East coast fishermen have participated in public workshops on reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act held in Seattle in February and in Boston in March. Now their Southern counterparts can do likewise when the series continues next week in Baton Rouge, La.

southThe Center for Sustainable Fisheries and National Fisherman are sponsoring the workshops. The Tuesday, April 8 session is at the Embassy Suites in Baton Rouge, the site of the April Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting. The Magnuson workshop will begin after the council meeting.

The workshops facilitate discussions on revising the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Topics they're exploring include whether the act can be rewritten to strengthen the economic component of fisheries management, to give the management councils more flexibility, and to improve the science used to make management decisions.

Speakers will include Brian Rothschild, the New Bedford-based Center for Sustainable Fisheries' president and CEO, and Bob Gill of the Gulf Seafood Institute's board of directors. Following their remarks, discussion will begin on how best to go about amending Magnuson-Stevens.

The key word there is "discussion" — workshop organizers want your input. They want to learn what's important to you in revising the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

So do I. I'll be representing NF at the Baton Rouge Magnuson-Stevens workshop and I look forward to hearing what issues resonate most with you. For more information about the workshops, please visit

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A long, hard winter like the one just past will wear on you. Therefore, you appreciate a story that puts a smile on your face and helps you recharge your batteries. Such is the case with Sierra Golden's feature story on the 17th annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore., which you'll find in our May issue.

Her story, which begins on page 24, takes a look at the event, how it began and how it's grown through the years. The inaugural FisherPoets Gathering, held at the Wet Dog Café, featured 39 performers and attracted 200 spectators. This year the event featured nearly 80 performers from 14 states and nearly 1,000 fans attended the festivities at six different venues. But the story's overall focus is right where it should be — on the performers, old and new.

For example, there's perennial favorite Dave Densmore. Now retired, Densmore started fishing when he was 12 and has spent most of his life fishing all over the West Coast. Through his poems, Densmore aims to educate the general public about who fishermen really are and what they experience at sea. Here's a sample of one of Densmore's performances at the 2014 FisherPoets Gathering.


This year for the first time, the event featured its first all-female Story Circle. Golden introduces us to a few of the female FisherPoets, including Meezie Hermansen, a Cook Inlet East Side setnetter, and Erin Fristad, long a FisherPoets performer who fished for 15 years for herring in the Togiak, Alaska fishery, crab in the Columbia River and Alaska salmon.

Add Golden to the list FisherPoet Gathering performers, too. Golden, who seines in Southeast Alaska, received her MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University. The winner of the program's 2012 Academy of American Poets Prize, her work appears widely in literary journals.

You can find performances by Golden, Densmore, Fristad and many other FisherPoets at the IntheTote website. That's where I found this interesting video on FisherPoet performer Tele Aadsen, a fisherman/writer, whose blog "Hooked" is among those we feature on the Blogroll.

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Page 7 of 32

Inside the Industry

The anti-mining group Salmon Beyond Borders expressed disappointment and dismay last week at Alaska Governor Bill Walker’s announcement that he has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

This came just days after his administration asked members of his newly-formed Transboundary Rivers Citizens Advisory Work Group to provide comment on a Draft Statement of Cooperation associated with Transboundary mining.


NMFS recently released a draft action plan for fish discard and release mortality science, creating a list of actions that they hope can better inform fisheries.

We know that fishermen have to deal with bycatch by discarding or releasing unwanted catch overboard, but there is a data gap regarding how those fish survive.

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