Written by Linc Bedrosian
Thursday, 17 July 2014
Fishermen just have a knack for telling stories. The Maine Coast Fishermen's Association believes that knack can help Maine harvesters re-establish their connection with coastal communities.
The Topsham-based non-profit group is working to protect and restore Maine's fishing heritage and its fisheries. One way it's doing so is through a new exhibit on display at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust office in Harpswell. Their stories are part of a project called the Maine Coast Fishermen's Oral History Initiative.
"There are a lot of coastal communities that have lost their connection with fishermen," says Ben Martens, the association's executive director. "We tried to figure out ways to reconnect them."
That connection has waned along with Maine's groundfish industry. "We've seen a major decline, from 300 boats in the early 1990s to last year 50 boats landing in the state of Maine," Martens says. "Maine's seen the largest percentage decline of people participating in this industry. This is a lobster-centric coast, but it wasn't always that way."
The idea of collecting Maine fishermen's stories grew out of that effort to re-establish the bond with coastal communities.
"I love sitting down with the guys I work with and hearing their stories about growing up and working on the water, " Martens says. Collecting fishermen's stories emerged as a way to educate the public about Maine's groundfish fishery, and why it's important to protect it and the fishing communities that depend on it.
Work on the oral history project began last summer after the association received a grant from the Maine Humanities Council to collect the stories. "We focused on fishermen we work with in the association, guys who'd be comfortable talking," Martens says.
The association hired oral historian Josh Wrigley to conduct interviews with a variety of fishermen, primarily from Port Clyde, Harpswell and Boothbay, plus a couple from Portland. Photographers Collin Howell, Andy Bustin, Scott Sell and David Bates went out to snap the shots that accompany the interviews, in which fishermen talk about what they do and how the industry has changed through the years.
"We wanted to make these stories more accessible for people and be able to link them to very cool images of these guys lives out on the water and down by the water," Martens says.
This past summer, the association tasked Bowdoin College intern Audrey Phillips with finding one- or two-minute segments from the interviews to use in each video. The multimedia exhibit, funded in part by the Maine Humanities Council, the Island Institute and The Nature Conservancy, features 13 short videos, including the one below of Port Clyde fisherman Gary Libby.
The exhibit debuted this week at a reception at the land trust office in Harpswell. About 50 people attended the opening, and Martens says he's pleased with reaction to the exhibit.
"People love to hear stories told by fishermen. We were thrilled by the way people responded to it," he says. "It was a cool little event. We cooked up scallops from Maine Dayboat Scallops on the grill to kind of give people a taste of some of the seafood they were hearing about fishermen going out and catching."
Martens says the exhibit can be taken to galleries and coffee shops, too. Exhibit photographs include a quick response, or QR, code that visitors can scan with their smartphones to listen to accompanying interview segments.
"We're sharing our stories with other Mainers," Martens says. "But if other places around the country show interest, it's easy enough to transport the exhibit around to different places."
The exhibit will be open at the land trust office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Tuesday, July 22. But even if you don't live in Maine, you can check out all the videos for yourself by clicking here.
The association hopes to continue collecting fishermen's stories, conducting interviews in other Maine ports, Martens says. With a little luck, the association will be able to continue sharing fishermen's stories with their fellow Maine residents.
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Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 01 July 2014
If you're lucky, you find your passion for what you want to do in life at an early age. I think a lot of fishermen are lucky that way. Tyler Bourg, the subject of our August cover story that starts on page 24, is lucky that way, too.
Tyler, 11, fishes for shrimp out of Dulac, La., aboard a 28-foot boat that's named after him — the Lil T. It's his boat in all but the title; boat payments come out of his share of the shrimping proceeds he's earning.
He can't operate the vessel solo yet; his dad, Kyle, a part-time shrimper, accompanies him on shrimping trips and Tyler's mom, Mitzi, often does, too. Nor can Tyler have a gear license in his name until he's 18.
But Tyler lets you know in no uncertain terms that he is very clear on his identity.
"I am a shrimper," he told NF correspondent John DeSantis, senior staff writer at the Tri-Parish Times in Houma, La. "The boat never leaves without me on it, and I am the one driving it the most."
Tyler's story is one that will resonate with fishermen's sons in Louisiana and all around the country. Almost as soon as he could walk, he was on a shrimp boat. His earliest shrimping memories were made aboard his grandfather's 50-foot wooden trawler. Those trips hooked him on fishing. Now he's mapped out his whole fishing life.
Time was you could find plenty of Tylers working on their family boats and learning the fishing ropes. But a combination of devastating hurricanes, the massive Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and a flood of imported shrimp that over the years have depressed dock prices may have made Louisiana fishermen more reluctant to encourage their children to follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps so. But I also think there will always be youngsters like Tyler, who will be bitten hard by the fishing bug. Even at 11, Tyler knows factors like fuel costs and fluctuating global markets can make the shrimping life a tough one.
But he's a young man with a plan and a passion for shrimping. My money is on Tyler and all the other future fishermen out there like him. He's lucky. He's already found his passion for what he wants to do in his life.
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Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 24 June 2014
The idea of encouraging U.S. consumers to buy locally caught seafood is beginning to get a little publicity in the mainstream press. For example, the New York Times Sunday Review ran an interesting essay by author Paul Greenberg that explores how American consumers have lost their connection with the seafood that U.S. fishermen are harvesting.
"Globalization, that unseen force that supposedly eliminates inefficiencies through the magic of trade," Greenberg writes, "has radically disconnected us from our seafood supply."
Greenberg's new book, "American Catch" explores why so much of the seafood eaten in this country comes from abroad. He examines New York oysters, Gulf of Mexico shrimp and Alaska salmon in an attempt to find out why today 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign and why so much U.S. caught fish ends up in overseas markets.
On Friday, Greenberg appeared in Belfast, Maine, along with Maine seafood advocate Monique Coombs, and Barton Seaver, author and director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, on Friday, presenting an address called "Why We Need to Eat More Local Seafood."
They're right, people do need to eat more local seafood. I suspect that the average person who picks up a shrimp ring from their supermarket's seafood department probably doesn't know that they're likely buying foreign farmed shrimp. They just know they're getting something they enjoy scarfing down for a low price.
Still, more attention must be paid to developing U.S. consumer demand for domestic seafood. Thankfully, campaigns are increasingly being developed and undertaken to establish a greater connection with consumers (see our July cover story for some great examples of marketing programs taking hold around the country).
Educational programs are teaching consumers about how their seafood is harvested and the stringent standards U.S. harvesters adhere to make sure their catch is caught sustainably. They're learning that buying wild American seafood is a delicious, nutritious and responsibly harvested choice.
Still if more U.S. caught seafood is to remain at home instead of being sent to markets abroad, we must figure out a way to seriously increase seafood consumption in this country.
When I began working for NF in late 1994, per capita seafood consumption that year stood at 15.2 pounds per person. According to the latest NMFS statistics, domestic seafood per capita consumption was 14.4 pounds in 2012, down 0.8 pounds from the 2011 total of 15 pounds.
Per capita beef consumption on the other hand, is predicted to fall to 54 pounds this year.
If we want to U.S. fishermen and fishing communities to thrive, then we have to keep developing ways to make seafood more attractive to American diners, be they the cooking impaired or foodies. The good news is that locally harvested U.S. seafood is a wonderful product that should greatly benefit from strong marketing campaigns.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
The New England Fishery Management Council and the city of New Bedford both had Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization on their minds this week.
The council is meeting here in Portland, Maine, this week, and Tuesday afternoon, they heard Tom Nies, the council's executive director, deliver a briefing on the Senate draft version of legislation to reauthorize the nation's fishing law. The Senate version differs from the House version, H.R. 4742; Nies noted that the Senate draft version doesn't address many of the issues that the council has identified as important, such as providing greater flexibility to the act's stock rebuilding time limits.
Council member David Pierce, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, added that the draft version didn't address any of the National Research Council's comments on improving fisheries management, which he said would go a long ways toward fixing problems with the law.
"Congress can benefit from the comments by renowned scientists, which should be embraced," he said.
"I see this document increasing complexities," added at-large council member Mike Sissenwine. "It would be a real challenge for the agency to work up guidelines."
While Nies noted that an updated version of the Senate draft should be coming forth soon, council members agreed it was important to submit comments on the present version addressing general concerns the council has, such as a lack of clarity and inconsistencies in draft provisions, and encourage the senate to include the research council's recommendations.
"It's important to note what's been omitted and restate our hopes for the original bill," said council member Laura Ramsden of MF Foley Co. in New Bedford, Mass.
Meanwhile, that very afternoon New Bedford, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious fishing ports, released a plan that its harbor commission has developed to revitalize its groundfish industry and the port.
It makes for fascinating reading. The harbor commission has really thoroughly documented the decline the port's groundfish fleet has experienced in recent years, and the effect that decline has had on related businesses and the community.
It's also developed a six-point plan for turning the groundfish fleet's fortunes around. At the top of the list is improving groundfish stock assessments via the expanded use of video survey technology developed through the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology.
The video surveys are patterned after the same techniques used to revolutionize scallop surveys more than a decade ago. Thanks to those surveys, the thriving scallop fishery accounts for 85 percent of the port's landings today.
The plan also sets forth recommendations for reforming the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It advocates clarifying the act's National Standards and reducing their total number from 10 to five.
It also calls for maximizing yield within constraints set by regulations; basing conservation goals on the scientific data that would be derived from collaborative research between the government, fishermen and marine scientists; minimizing bycatch; considering fisheries' respectively unique distinctions when setting management goals; minimizing costs; and considering efficiency when allocating resources, including noneconomic considerations.
Moreover, the plan recommends changing how fisheries are managed, clearly defining NOAA's role in fisheries management and establishing ways to measure the performance of fisheries management plans. It, too, recommends relaxing the 10-year stock rebuilding requirement, plus increasing cooperative research efforts and creating new scientific working groups as a means of improving the review process.
It's interesting to see how the region's managers, fishermen and ports are weighing in as the Magnuson reauthorization process rolls on. At this point, given that election season is looming, it appears unlikely that Congress will churn out an amended Magnuson-Stevens Act by year's end.
Clearly views on Magnuson differ among fishermen, depending on what region they hail from, and they differ on Capitol Hill between the House and the Senate. But it's also clear that in New England, where groundfishermen and the communities that depend on them are struggling to hold on, an amended Magnuson-Stevens Act can't come too soon.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
We're filling up the gas tank, checking the tire pressure and getting the toll money ready for a trek to Massachusetts this week to attend Commercial Marine Expo.
NF editorial staffers are taking a road trip to New Bedford for the show, which this year is being held at the State Pier on Wednesday and Thursday, June 11 and 12. The show rotates annually between New Bedford and Hampton, Va.
The expo serves the commercial fishing and commercial marine sectors on the Atlantic seaboard. Fishermen attending the show can check out hundreds of exhibitors, new products and technologies, plus vessel and equipment demonstrations.
Promoted as the only in-water commercial marine trade show in North America, expo officials say that holding it at the State Pier allows exhibitors to demonstrate products and processes inside or outside. Ships and boats will be displayed and operated from the piers and docks.
Best of all for us, the show also offers us an opportunity to connect with you in one of the nation's oldest and most successful fishing ports. Come stop by booth no. 629, where you can grab a complimentary copy of your favorite magazine and check out our show special subscription prices. But most importantly, swing by the booth to say hi to us. We look forward to seeing you there!
Photo: New Bedford, Mass., is the setting for Commercial Marine Expo this year. Jerry Fraser photoAdd a comment Add a comment
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Thursday, 05 June 2014
We're sharing the love of Alaska fishing stories past and present in both our July issue and in our annual Pilothouse Guide supplement that accompanies it in Alaska and on the West Coast.
Commercial fishermen may be the ultimate example of people who do what they love for a living. In the Northern Lights column in the July issue, Erin Harrington, the executive director of the Anchorage-based Salmon Project, explores why Alaska's salmon fishermen love what they do so much.
After reading her column, I'm not even sure "love" is a strong enough word to describe the connection Alaskans have with salmon. "Every Alaskan has a story about samon," writes Harrington, who has fished in the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea for 25 years.
"We have grown up at fish camps on the Kuskokwim River, fed it as the first food to our babies, ground out seasons on the back deck of seiners to pay for college, realized (much to the chagrin of our parents) that fishing was our calling, engineering degree be damned," she writes.
Harrington knows plenty of Alaskans feel that way. Public opinion research conducted last year on the Salmon Project's behalf shows that 76 percent of Alaskans view their connection to wild salmon as very important.
In fact, regardless of their political beliefs or where they live, Alaskans are "attached to the resource for nutritional, cultural, recreational, environmental, symbolic and economic reasons," Harrington says.
Because of that deep connection with salmon, the organization wants to share those salmon stories (and poems, photos and videos) with other Alaskans. If you'd like to contribute to the Salmon Project's story sharing campaign, visit www.salmonproject.org. Just follow the links to the story sharing campaign.
We're sharing stories of Alaska fishing in our annual Pilothouse Guide. We bring back for a curtain call feature stories that ran in the pages of Alaska Fisherman's Journal. These wonderful stories from back in the day capture the flavor of the times and of the people who have worked in Alaska's famed fisheries.
As usual, we also provide listings of the region's fishermen's organizations and of port services for 85 ports along the West Coast, Alaska and British Columbia. Plus we've added a few pages of news stories, industry happenings and an events calendar.
But you don't have to be an Alaska or West Coast fisherman to enjoy the stories. To see our Pilothouse Guide for yourself, click here to obtain a PDF version.
Of course Alaskan fishermen aren't the only ones with stories to tell. We know fishermen all over the country have deep and abiding connections to fishing, regardless of the species they target.
What is clear to me is that fishermen truly love what they do, maybe more so than folks in any other profession I've ever come across. National Fisherman has always been committed to sharing U.S. fishermen's stories. I guess we're doing what we love, too.
Top photo: Erin Harrington, the executive director of the Salmon Project, like many Alaskans, has a deep connection with salmon. Salmon Project photoAdd a comment Add a comment
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Thursday, 29 May 2014
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.
Goethel, 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 photoAdd a comment Add a comment
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Thursday, 22 May 2014
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.
Director 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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Written by Linc Bedrosian
Thursday, 15 May 2014
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.
According 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.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
Tuesday, 06 May 2014
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.
Better 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 photoAdd a comment Add a comment
Page 7 of 33
Fishermen throughout the Gulf of Mexico are praising Louisiana officials for a series of strong decisions last week that have broken the deadlock of red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico.Read more...
According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Seaweed Festival has been canceled this year due to a rift between the event’s organizers and seaweed harvesters.Read more...