National Fisherman

The Sorting Table 

sorting table iconThe Sorting Table features stories from National Fisherman contributors and guest bloggers.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 22 to rescind a limited-entry policy that would have resulted in the commission's revoking more than half of the state-issued oyster dredge licenses and hand scrape licenses.

In August, the commission approved the controversial limited-entry policy, which was heavily criticized by commercial oystermen, many claiming the criteria used would unfairly put them out of business.

2015 0930 chowning oystermenChesapeake Bay watermen hand-dredging for oysters. Larry Chowning photo.At the start of the Sept. 22 meeting, Commissioner John Bull stated there had been confusion on the part of the commission over the 20-day criteria used by the VMRC staff to establish the limited entry policy. The commission hoped to weed out latent licenses by eliminating those that hadn't been used for more than 20 days in the last two seasons. The policy adopted in August was more restrictive and affected more oystermen than the commission anticipated, he said. Colder than average temperatures reportedly kept many watermen ashore.

Bull indicated the basic intent of limited entry is sound in that more than 1,800 oyster harvesting licenses are held for use on public oyster grounds and the resource "cannot sustain that amount of effort."

Other commission members agreed that conservation measures were needed, but as the commissioner noted the current limited entry plan may not be the best conservation approach.

The commission recommended that the Shellfish Management Advisory Committee provide a long-term "effort reduction plan," and it was hoped that would be provided to the commission in the summer of 2016.

In the meantime, emergency action will be considered at the October commission meeting. Some of the considerations may be to reduce the oystermen's week to four days instead of the current five days, or reducing daily limits.

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Top10BLOGS graphicAugust’s top blogs were indeed a mixed catch — and one of our blog subjects has proven quite adept at dealing with those from a culinary standpoint. In addition to the kitchen, we covered new innovations in sponsoning fiberglass boats, tuna harpooning, lobster boat racing, and fishing around wrecks. Catch up on the blogs you may have missed last month.


1. Boats & Gear: Fiberglass sponsoning option

2. The Sorting Table: Iron men

3. The Rudderpost: Barton-Think

4. The Rudderpost: Counting down

5. Coastlines: Don’t wreck the wrecks

6. Mixed Catch: Chasing bluefin

7. Boats & Gear: Cast of characters

8. The Sorting Table: Getting chefs on your side

9. Editor’s Log: Well done

10. The Sorting Table: Cleaning the coast

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On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

It was the costliest natural disaster on record, causing an estimated $108 billion in damages, and was one of the top deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, causing at least 1,245 fatalities.

2015 0826 sortingtable katrinaIn 2005, National Fisherman covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and spoke with fishermen who were fighting for their industry.“I have sunk in boats before with 80, 90 mile-per-hour winds, I never had to fight like I had to fight this,” said veteran New Orleans fisherman Pete Gerica in the November 2005 issue of National Fisherman. Gerica was in his home when the hurricane destroyed it. He towed his family through the flood and climbed into trees nearby where they remained for seven hours before being rescued.

Days after the hurricane hit, the Department of Commerce declared the entire Gulf of Mexico to be a fishery failure. Each gulf state lost millions of harvest dollars and only a fraction commercial fishery facilities were fully operational in the following years.

Fishermen were immediately concerned for the future and started to hatch a game plan.

“It’s going to take some time to piece it all together; we’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Ewell Smith, the director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, in that same issue.

The industry was ready to fight for their place in the market, while consumers were turning away.

“We are still begging American people to eat American wild-caught shrimp. Our industry is on its knees and we need the American people to help us,” said Robert J. Samanie, a Louisiana shrimp processor and member of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

With the deck stacked against them, fishermen and processors were still optimistic.

“The strength of the commercial fishermen in the United States is more strong than a hurricane or foreign imports,” said Samanie. “Make sure people know we’re down, but we’re not out.”

As soon as business started to pick back up, many of those same fisheries were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which spewed 210 million gallons of oil into the water.

In an area that some were starting to think must be cursed, fishermen began to rebuild their lives and once again got back to the water against all odds. They rebuilt their homes, boats, docks and facilities, getting back to what they do best as soon as they could.

Unfortunately, while fishermen were recovering, their markets were being slammed with a continuous flood of cheap imports. Now, 10 years after most people would’ve given up, fishermen are still at work.

We’re proud of the men and women who have stayed the course against all odds to continue providing quality gulf seafood from boat to throat.

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Before Katrina and before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gulf of Mexico shrimp was suffering in the marketplace from competition with volumes of farm-raised, imported product.

In 2004, the year before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in prime Gulf of Mexico shrimp territory, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board kicked off a cook-off in an effort to showcase wild American seafood. Little did they know what was really about to hit them. But their foresight set them up for recovery, long and slow though it has been.


2015 0813 CookOffAlaska chef Beau Schooler of the Rookery Café in Juneau holds the title of America’s Best Seafood Chef.In the aftermath of the spill, Louisiana tried to reclaim its markets. Fishermen and chefs played major roles in getting the word out, according to Ewell Smith, former director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board

“Before Katrina we had worked with chefs and did little PR pieces,” Smith said. “Then we created the Louisiana Chefs Council, and they became our ambassadors.”

The damage to oysters was an example of how wide-open communications channels to officials and the public at large helped address brand damage.

While some oysters were lost to oil, the overwhelming damage to the crop was from fresh water introduced to the ecosystem to combat the spill.

Today, there are more ways for consumers to know where their domestic seafood comes from, in many cases right down to the vessel and voyage.

The work done to offset the effects of the BP spill, economically, spiritually and emotionally, continues, although the crisis it caused is long gone.

Both chefs and fishermen have unanswered questions about the long-term effects the spill might have spawned, not in terms of seafood safety for consumers but the health of the resource itself.

Last weekend, Alaska chef Beau Schooler took the title of America’s Best Seafood Chef at the annual event. But Louisiana is never far behind. Chef Michael Brewer made seafood nachos and claimed third place. Second place went to Georgia’s Adam Evans, who prepared roasted (invasive) lionfish with Sapelo Island clams.

Read more about the Gulf Coast’s recovery in our September issue.

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Top10BLOGS graphicBycatch was the byword when it came to National Fisherman’s most-read blog in July 2015, but suspicious boat fires, illegally caught abalone, and seafood slaves all were hot topics. Catch up on the blogs you may have missed last month. 



1. Editor’s Log: Talking trash

2. Coastlines: Can’t burn them down

3. Coastlines: Death by Abalone

4. The Rudderpost: Seafood slaves work for us

5. Boats & Gear: Half a boat length is enough

6. Mixed Catch: Do we need more labels?

7. Boats & Gear: Pursing up 

8. Boats & Gear: Simple things

9. The Sorting Table: The fishermen know best

10. The Rudderpost: Sugar spills


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Maine bluefin tuna harpooner Corky Decker explores the history and this season's highlights of this artisanal fishery in our September cover story.

Catch the outtakes, including 75-year-old Sonny McIntyre's comeback.

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A massive cleanup effort has been underway in Alaska over the past few weeks, as crews work to remove debris build-up from the 2011 tsunami in Japan that has accumulated along Alaska’s coast.

2015 0803 SORTINGTABLEDebris along the Gulf of Alaska. NOAA photo.Debris has been floating across the Pacific and landing on West Coast and Alaska beaches for years, piling up on rocky coastline, which make removing it difficult.

Removal has proved to be too big of a project for Alaska to handle on its own, so with Japan agreeing to pay $5 million to help, crews have airlifted debris from shores and beaches that will be taken by barge to be sorted, recycled and destroyed at a waste management facility in Washington.

Teams from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Gulf of Alaska Keeper, a group dedicated to removing marine debris from Alaska’s coast, have been hard at work.

The location of a lot of the debris — on remote shores and generally hard-to-reach places — prevented the use of heavy machinery. Crews took small boats to shore and piled them full of debris, searching narrow beaches backed by cliffs and into nearby forests. Once they landed, most traveling was done on foot and almost everything had to be removed by hand.

The sheer amount of debris that settled along the coast was a serious environmental problem. According to reports from members of Gulf of Alaska Keeper, the teams have managed to clean more than 1,500 miles of shoreline and rehabilitated a large amount of Alaskan habitat. Although a lot of these areas are remote and rarely used, there was always a potential for the debris to harm ocean habitats.

Read more in the Around the Coasts section of our September issue.

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On Wednesday, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center held a series of outreach meetings throughout New England to discuss the state of groundfish in the region and upcoming assessments of 20 stocks of the multispecies complex.

2015 0723 Sorting Table GroundfishOff-loading groundfish in Portland, Maine. Jerry Fraser photo.The information gathered during the assessments will be used to set annual catch limits. Recreational and (effectively) commercial codfishing have been closed in the Gulf of Maine because modeling data has not shown recovery of the stock despite a severe reduction in fishing effort. Preliminary survey data suggests that the quota could be lowered again.

One fisherman at the meeting in Portland, Maine, argued that the data can’t be accurate and that the surveyors and scientists working on the research project need the knowledge of local fishermen to get more accurate data from their trawl surveys.

“I think the survey’s too thin,” said Jim Odlin, trawl fleet owner and 2010 NF Highliner, during the meeting.

Odlin, along with other members of the industry at the meeting, said the cod population has recovered enough in the Gulf of Maine to see a higher quota and that fishing vessels are even avoiding certain areas in order to stay away from cod.

Odlin said his sector had voluntarily shut down operations at Platts Bank, or New Ledge, because there were simply too many cod. The risk of catching the choke species was too great to fish for other species there. The fleet spends a lot of time avoiding fish, he added.

But when the researchers fished for samples in that same area, they caught zero cod. Representatives from the science center explained that they look at a variety of fishing grounds while gathering data, not just hot spots, but industry folk said fish patterns are too unpredictable to base quotas on a single day.

Some days there are fish; some days there aren’t. Some tows bring in fish; some don’t.

Basing catch limits for a year or three on a single survey is problematic, especially when fishermen agree that researchers are towing in the wrong areas to begin with. Add that to the fact that the survey won’t include updated information on changes in natural mortality, reference points or new data streams, like cooperative research projects.

At the meeting, fishermen and science center reps agreed that there could be better communication between the two parties to help facilitate research and even discussed the possibility of conducting future surveys using working fishing vessels and crews.

The comments made at these meetings, which also took place in Gloucester, Woods Hole and New Bedford, Mass., were recorded, and the feedback from the community will be included in a final report.

Hopefully, something comes of this feedback, and we learn that what the fishermen see on the water and understand about their fisheries will count for something.

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Freelance writer Victoria Minnich writes to tell us she’s been working the Wild West booth at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, a San Diego venue that allows local fishermen to sell their catch directly to the public. The market is down the street from Comic-Con, which helped to inspire Victoria’s Old Glory Rockfish illustration.

2015 0702 RockfishDockside is an open-air market that carries the whole spectrum of seafood from a diversity of local fishing operations, ranging from small fishes (rockfish, sheephead, blackcod, sculpin, cabezon, ling cod) to larger fishes (yellowtail, white sea bass, albacore, and more unusually, yellowfin and bluefin tuna). And of course, we have our share of invertebrates (rock crab, box crab, spiny lobster, sea urchin, whelks, octopus, squid, etc.). It's fun when one of our fishermen is able to sell a completely oddball seafood item, like a wolf eel!

The market is closed on the Fourth, so get there by Friday to pick up your fresh, local catch. Wherever you are, we hope you’re eating American seafood on Independence Day. Happy Fourth!

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It's been five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and triggering the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. We know how much crude oil was pumped into the Gulf of Mexico — more than 200 million gallons — but the scope of its impact upon the region's marine life remains unclear.

Fears about the safety of eating gulf seafood have eased, and demand for it is there. But the region's fishermen are still struggling to regain their footing.

In this video, WDSU-TV in New Orleans takes a look at how the spill has affected the fishing industry in Grand Isle, La., one of the places hardest hit by the spill.

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Inside the Industry

Abe Williams, who was elected to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association board last spring, has been selected as the new president as of September.

Williams fishes the F/V Crimson Fury, and is president of Nuna Resources, a nonprofit that supports sustainable resource development in rural Alaska, including fighting for an international solution to issues raised by the proposed Pebble Mine project.


The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is teaming up with leading shark-tracking nonprofit Ocearch to build the most extensive shark-tagging program in the Gulf of Mexico region.

In October, Ocearch is bringing its unique research vessel, the M/V Ocearch, to the gulf for a multi-species study to generate previously unattainable data on critical shark species, including hammerhead, tiger and mako sharks.

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