National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



Imagine being an Alaska fisherman on March 24, 1989, when the supertanker Exxon Valdez runs aground at Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, sending an estimated 11 million gallons of oil into the waters in which you make your living. And all you want to do is wake up from the nightmare you see unfolding.

But you can't. It won't end anytime soon. It will span almost two decades.

The years of court wrangling alone over cleanup costs and punitive damage amounts is disturbing. But wait! Finally, there's a glimmer of hope! An Anchorage trial jury declares in 1994 that Exxon Mobil must pay the plaintiffs a total of $5 billion in punitive damages!

Yes! At last, some measure of healing can begin. Maybe your nightmare is finally over.

Not just yet.

Exxon Mobil challenges the punitive damages award. More years pass. And as they do, you watch people go broke, marriages and families dissolve. You see fishing communities torn apart.

NF Sep08 CoverThen the 9th Circuit Court reduces the punitive damages total to $2.5 billion in 2006. The oil giant has the money and manpower to keep the court battle going for years. Some 32,000 plaintiffs originally signed on to the case. About 4,000 of them have passed away by the time the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the punitive damages total in 2008.

And when it does, it whittles that total down to $507 million. Exxon ends up also paying another $470 million in additional interest to fishermen and others affected by the spill. Checks to the plaintiffs range from a few hundred dollars to more than $100,000.

For better or worse, at least your nightmare is over, right? Then two years later you have to watch another spill unfold in 2010 when the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster sends 200 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. And you fear that this disaster will unfold in the same way the Exxon Valdez spill did, with the same type of damage and same results.

And the sour cherry atop this nightmarish sundae? A collision between a barge and a cargo ship releases 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel into Galveston Bay, causing the busy Houston Ship Channel to be closed to traffic on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill.

They say those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill isn't one anyone wants to celebrate. But it shouldn't be forgotten. And the New York Times Retro Report on the Valdez spill below is well-worth watching, even if it conjures up unpleasant memories of that long-running nightmare.


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Remember the movie "300"? It's a fantasy action film about the 300 soldiers of Sparta who engage in a David and Goliath battle against a much larger and more powerful Persian army in 480 BC. On April 18, a documentary will be released that chronicles a present day David versus Goliath fight. But this time, the oystermen of Pointe a la Hache, La., play the role of David.

"Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache," details the struggles of the watermen in this Louisiana town. It's a primarily African-American fishing village of 300 residents who have worked the waters there for generations. Fishing, as one woman in the documentary says, is everything to the area.

But when the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in 2010, eventually releasing some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the fishermen's fortunes took a devastating turn. The 90-minute film, produced, written and directed by Nailah Jefferson, documents their struggles in the years following the spill.

It's not a pretty picture. But it's a tale that needs to be told.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, we can barely get our arms around Russian President Vladimir Putin's saber rattling before the story gets kicked to the curb in favor of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The BP oil spill, its devastating effect upon Louisiana fisheries and the harvesters who depend on them? That's so 2010, isn't it?

It's all the more reason "Vanishing Pearls" — and other documentaries that study the plight of American fishermen — need to be made, and more importantly be seen.

People must know what's happening to Pointe a la Hache and to other small fishing villages in the Gulf of Mexico and around the country. So take a moment to watch the documentary trailer below. Then share it with anyone you think needs to know that U.S. fishing communities matter and are well-worth preserving.

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from-hooks-to-harpoons-the-story-of-santa-barbara-channel-fisheriesFrom Hooks to Harpoons
...the Story of Santa Barbara Channel Fisheries
By Mick Kronman
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 2013
Softcover, 261 pp., $24.95

When we embarked on producing North Pacific Focus, a Pilothouse Guide-inspired supplement for Alaska and West Coast readers that mailed with our April issue, we decided it'd be a good idea to profile fishing ports in the region. Conveniently, I'd just finished reading "From Hooks to Harpoons: the Story of Santa Barbara Channel Fisheries," which led me to profile Santa Barbara in the Winter 2014 issue of NPF.

The book's author, Mick Kronman, was a great source for the story. Kronman, 65, has been the city's harbor operations manager for 14 years. He's also a former commercial fisherman and he served as NF's Pacific bureau chief for a number of years.

He also proves to be the right guy to tell the story of the city's fishing history. The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum asked Kronman to chronicle the port's fishing heritage, which dates back to the 1850s.

"The maritime museum wanted me to write 10,000 words," Kronman says. So he dived into his research.

As part of his research, he poured over the museum's voluminous collection of photos of local fishermen and boats that defined eras past. And Marla Daily, president of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, gave Kronman access to her file archives, which contained letters, narratives, newspaper accounts and other data about the city's fishing past.

Eventually, Kronman's original 10,000 words would blossom into 75,000. Alas, his manuscript grew dusty sitting on the shelves for several years as the museum went through some changes.

But eventually museum officials realized it needed to be a book. His work made it into publication last fall, some 13 years after the project began.

Happily, the book is well worth the wait. It's an entertaining history of Santa Barbara's fishing history, told via the five gear types used in the various fisheries.

"I thought the only way I could get my mind and ability around the project was to break the story into gear groups," Kronman says.

The gear types that Santa Barbara fishermen still use today date back some 3,000 years to when Chumash Native Americans used early forms of nets, harpoons, hooks, traps and dive gear. Those gear types have helped local fishermen catch a wide variety of fish and shellfish, including spiny lobster, rock crab, ridgeback and spot prawns, squid, rockfish, swordfish, halibut, blackcod, sea cucumbers, abalone and sea urchins.

Kronman looks at not only the development of each gear type, but at the fisheries that spawned from them, and the people who helped them grow. The book is filled with anecdotes about the port's commercial fisheries and loaded with photos from the past and present.

"From Hooks to Harpoons" is an engaging and informative look at Santa Barbara's commercial fishing history. But I think the book may say as much about Kronman's affection for the city's fishing industry. And that affection shines through "From Hooks to Harpoons," separating it from garden-variety history books. You don't have to be a Santa Barbara fisherman to appreciate that.

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You don't need Captain Obvious to tell you that fishing is hard work. It's a punishing profession that taxes you physically and mentally. It's no less harsh on the Alaska factory longliner Siberian Sea, but as Roger Fitzgerald notes in his column "In Search of the Simple Life" on page 9 in our April Yearbook issue, the vessel contains some perks you don't find on most fishing boats.

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I've been known to enjoy the occasional steak bomb sub (aka hoagie or grinder). And I think we've all had a questionable meal or two that has, um, left the building, so to speak, in volatile fashion. But who knew that food could truly be considered explosive to the point where it needs to be disarmed?

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Last week, my lovely bride and a few of her work colleagues piled into her large white Buick and drove directly into the teeth of a monster snowstorm, determined to reach a business conference in Charlotte, N.C. Some 23 hours of white-knuckle driving through all manner of frozen precipitation didn't keep my fisherman's daughter spouse — a force of nature in her own right — from arriving on time.

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The first in a series of nationwide public workshops to discuss revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act is taking place today, Tuesday, Feb. 11 at Seattle's Renaissance Hotel. And if anyone asks you why the act that governs U.S. fishery management requires tweaking, tell them they need look no further than a report examining the economic performance of Northeast groundfish vessels in 2012.

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One of the perks of being on the NF staff is that you get to be among the first to read great monthly submissions like Roger Fitzgerald's "In Search of the Simple Life" column. Fitz's column is always a treat to read.

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Don't look now, but it's not too early to start thinking about Valentine's Day presents. And if you have a lobster lover in your life, I have a gift idea to pass your way. Think about getting them the 2014 Lobstermen's Calendar, entitled "Heroes of the Sea."

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For a long time, old lobster traps have found a second life as household furniture. People take old wooden lobster traps and turn them into coffee tables. This weekend, I came upon another twist on the idea.

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Page 8 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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