National Fisherman

The Sorting Table 

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

2016-0717 Otter-Dungeness-Crab AK-DeptFGA sea otter eats a Dungeness crab. Alaska Department of Fish and Game photo.The internet loves otters. This isn’t news. Did you know they hold ‘hands’ to keep from drifting away from one another while they sleep? Have you seen that video of the one having a snack?

This will be a bitter pill for the internet masses, but fishermen have known the truth for a long time: Otters can be real jerks.

“They are horrible creatures,” said Max Worhatch IV, a Dungeness crab fisherman in Southeast Alaska. “Truly, the most savage beasts on the planet.”

Believe it or not, the hand-holding, snack-grubbing otters are carnivores in the same family as badgers, minks, ferrets, and weasels. Among other things, they eat Dungeness crab.  A lot of it.

After being hunted nearly to extinction for their pelts in the 18th and 19th centuries, sea otter populations have rebounded admirably in the Pacific Northwest United States. This outcome is rightfully considered a triumph of marine conservation, but otters are predators and thriving populations present their own challenges to the overall ecosystem — and those whose livelihoods depend on it.

I spoke with Worhatch last week about the history and present-day nuisance of sea otters in Southeast Alaska. The area makes for an interesting case study because otters had been completely wiped out there until the 1960s, when 412 animals were translocated to six Southeast sites in an effort to reestablish colonies.

It worked, and today, they’re thriving. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife report revised in 2014 put the minimum population of sea otters in southeast Alaska at 21,978, with an estimated population of 25,712. The report assumes that the Southeast sea otter population has doubled since 2003, and continues to grow.

This comes as no surprise to Worhatch.

“I was talking to some other crabbers about it this spring,” Worhatch said. “We estimate we’ve lost at least fifty percent of the places where we used to fish. Anecdotally, every place that the otters show up, there’s zero percent Dungeness crab within a few years.”

Otters have a high metabolism and need to eat up to 25 percent of their bodyweight — up to 90 lbs for males and 60 lbs for females  on a daily basis. This adds up to a lot of crab. A 2011 report estimated that in 2015 otters would consume more than 10 million lbs of Southeast Alaska’s dive and crab species.

“What’s happening is that since we’ve lost those other areas, we’re getting jammed into tighter and tighter spots,” Worhatch said. We used to have this big pie, and now half the pie is gone, so the slices are getting smaller and smaller and smaller.”

The crunch on the Dungeness fishery has wide-ranging effects.

“We’re an important shoulder fishery,” Worhatch said. “[The salmon fleet] always traditionally prayed for a good Dungeness season because guys like me wouldn’t show up [for salmon]. Crab was so poor this year. I wouldn’t even be gillnetting salmon right now if it weren’t for crab."

The issue is no secret locally, Worhatch said, the problem is that there’s no easy solution. Sea otters are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Only Native Alaskans from coastal communities are permitted to hunt and kill them, processing options are limited, and there’s no meaningful market for the hides due to rules restricting the sale of otter hides, meat, handicrafts, and clothing outside of native communities.

“A lot of these native villages that used to have a fishing economy have sold all their permits, so now they don’t have any local economy,” Worhatch said. “This could bring a little local economy to these villages, but you can’t really make a living at it.”

Worhatch said he’d like to see native communities advocate to hunt more and work with the government to develop new markets, but progress on this front has been slow.

In the meantime, the otters continue their advance on prime crabbing areas.

“Our crabs have to be six-and-a-half inches across the carapace and male,” Worhatch said. “Otters, of course, are indiscriminate. It’s actually mind boggling how effective they are.”

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2016 NF 4th Photo ContestHarbors around the country celebrate the Fourth of July with fleet blessings, lobster boat races, holiday festivals and so much more.

Send us a photo of your town’s waterfront festivities on the Fourth of July and enter to win a one-year subscription and a National Fisherman hat.

We’ll publish your photo in our next issue, online and in our newsletter.

Please include your name, location and names of people in the picture from left to right and a description of the celebration.

Submissions can be made via our Crew Shots form or on our Facebook page — just message us the photo and info to make sure we see it!

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Cod. Creative Commons photo by August Linnman.Cod. Creative Commons photo by August Linnman.Listening to the radio the other night I caught a teaser for a story coming up about how fish have feelings, too.

I admit, my first thought was “Great, the latest attempt to anthropomorphize something I like to eat.”

I googled the story when I got home. Jonathan Balcombe — described on his publisher’s website as a “myth-busting ethnologist” — is promoting a new book called “What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins.”

According to the book’s online description, it addresses such questions such as: “Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water?”

It sounded familiar, and I realized that I recently read an opinion piece Balcombe penned for the New York Times on May 14 titled “Fishes have feelings, too.” Another soft promo for the book, this one focusing on a study that concluded that giant manta rays could recognize their own reflections.

In that item, Balcombe shared a variety of tidbits about fish behavior, some bits and pieces of research, and some observations to arrive at the idea that “the accumulating evidence leads to an inescapable conclusion: Fishes think and feel.”

The Times piece prompted a supportive letter — also published by the paper — by the president of a group called Fish Feel, which bills itself to be “devoted exclusively to promoting the recognition of fish as sentient beings deserving of respect and protection.”

Mary Finelli, the Fish Feel president, concluded her letter with this: “Respect fish: Don’t eat them.”

Now, I don’t think ethologist Balcombe’s goal is necessarily the end of fishing or fish consumption, though he does write in the Times that we humans should “reduce our consumption…and source what we do eat from suppliers that adhere to animal welfare standards.”

No arguments from me about responsible consumption of any resource. If anything, Balcombe’s conclusions justify a stronger focus on wild-capture fisheries over finfish aquaculture. Wild fish already exist in the environment nature created for them, eliminating the need for humans to try and recreate it in a farmed setting in an effort to improve their welfare.

I do have a lot of questions about the value of extensive research into fish feelings. While I am new to this industry, it seems to me that this is not the science fishermen need. They are already up against it in the regulation department, with much of that rule making based on a shallow understanding of how and why species boom and bust. Couple that with the world’s warming oceans and the way temperature changes affect these complex ecosystems, and we ALL have a lot to learn about fish.

It’s interesting that rays seem like they recognize their own reflections. It’s cool (and hilarious) that herrings may communicate partially through sounds produced by flatulence. It’s important to think about the effect a mass market movie like “Finding Dory” will have on the aquarium trade for blue tang. But will studying topics like this provide concrete data that can help commercial fishermen better understand and protect the resources that provide their livelihood and are a critical source of protein for so many around the world?

Call me a skeptic, but I’m not feeling it.

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It seems that spiny dogfish are on the tip of everybody’s tongue, but not literally. That’s why some fishermen, scientists, policy makers, and consumers are hoping the ‘dogs become a more commercially fished species in New England, and that the species ends up in the mouths of consumers all over the world.

2016 0615 UNEdogfishIn 2014, NOAA awarded the University of New England $245,000 grant to study dogfish and ways to market the species. UNE photo.“Fish the hell out of them, let the ‘dogs in! Really. They are like a Biblical plague of locusts, that’s what they are. They are everywhere, they are eating everything–it’s changing everything. The Gulf of Maine used to be dominated by groundfish and now it's dominated by spiny dogfish sharks,” says Barry Costa-Pierce, Director of the Marine Science Center at the University of New England in Portland, Maine.

“This requires exaggeration because not many people have seen this before,” adds Costa-Pierce. “The oceanographers have got it right–the Gulf of Maine is the most rapidly warming part of the ocean in the world.” Costa-Pierce gave a lecture this spring during which he spoke about new opportunities for Maine’s ocean economy as a result of global climate change, including the potential for a viable dogfish fishery in the Gulf of Maine. Maine, says Costa-Pierce, is becoming “the front door to the Arctic” and new shipping lines could make it feasible to transport spiny dogfish into new markets like Iceland, and possibly beyond.

James Sulikowski, Professor of Marine Science at UNE, published a report two years ago revealing how underestimated the standing stock biomass is. “The population is not overfished, the standing stock biomass is 371 million pounds throughout their range, according to the latest 2015 assessment,” says Sulikowski. ‘Dogs are not only a source of protein, but a fertilizer, meat, flesh, and lobster bait. “Everything can be used, and we don't use all of our quota since it’s underdeveloped,” adds Sulikowski. “To be sure we do the ecosystem and species right, we need more collaborative and larger scale research projects to ensure we can use this resource for the long haul.”

New Bedford is currently the center of the dogfish processing industry, and the UK’s fish and chips market (where dogfish are called rock salmon) is strong. In Germany, the bellies and backs are highly desired. But, some people have their eyes on China, a potential emerging market.

For the last few years, commercial fishermen Doug Feeney, of Chatham, MA has been focused on dogfish. He attended a large seafood expo in Qingdao, China last year in an effort to spark the world market for dogfish.

“They want American seafood that is not polluted, and they want to be able to trace their seafood and where it is coming from, which we have. I was shooting for them to take the whole dogfish and process it,” says Feeney “My whole movement is to do it for dogfish up and down the coast. I’m doing it for the fishermen. There is nothing else out there for us. We’re stuck with skates and groundfish. Instead of treating [dogfish] like crap, like we always have, this is what we have.”

Whether dogfish end up on more plates in the US, or China is unknown. But one thing, according to Feeney, is certain: the need to build new markets. “We need to rethink it. We only have so many markets–and it’s Europe right now,” says Feeney. “We have three processors, but we don’t have the markets. So we’ll go slow and steady and build new markets.”

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2016 0609 PortlandWaterfrontThe view from Pier #1 at the Portland Fish Exchange. National Fisherman photo.The National Fisherman team paid a visit to the Portland Fish Exchange this week, part of the research for an upcoming feature on Portland, Maine's working waterfront.

It was a fun morning watching the local fishing economy in action, and a reminder how much business gets done every day on Portland's piers. We've prepared a brief slideshow from our field trip, but you don't have to take our word for it — you can see the Fish Exchange and other waterfront outfits at work for yourself this weekend.

On Saturday, June 11, the waterfront will be open to a walking tour from Hobson's Wharf down to the Maine State Pier. There's a ton to see, do, and even eat from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can visit the exchange for youself, tour the cutting room at Free Range Fish and Lobster, explore several boats including Coast Guard cutter Ocracoke, the City of Portland fireboat, and the Portland Harbor Master's boat. Bowne Trading Company, Bristol Seafood and DeMillo's will offer tastings. 

Sold yet? We are. Even better, most of the activities are free. You may think you know Portland, but if you've never had the chance to see the waterfront in action, you're missing out on a huge part of the city's history and present-day viability. We'll see you on the wharves and piers!

Learn more about Walk the Working Waterfront and download a map.


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2016 0523 FultonFishMarketHome of the old Fulton Fish Market. Creative Commons photo by Beau Unruh.

“I got a beautiful box over there, the best you ever seen, but you better hurry up. They don’t come any better than that, pal.”

So went a recent sales pitch to New York fishmonger Dan Feig, according to a piece last week in the New York Times.

It’s a fun read by Corey Kilgannon, who for years has a written a weekly column profiling interesting New Yorkers. This latest installment got me thinking about the Fulton Fish Market, where Feig does his buying, as it is now and as it used to be.

The 59-year-old Feig, according to the story, started working at the old Fulton Fish Market in Lower Manhattan when he was 17. In 2005, the market moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx, and is now known as the Fulton Fish Market Cooperative.

I remember when it moved, and I remember being aware, even then, that this marked another definitive endpoint in the the history of New York’s working waterfront. The original market opened in 1828.

It will tell you something about New York politics that the new market in the Bronx was first approved in 1969. An August 1974 article in the Times promised that work on the Bronx market would start in October of that year. Thirty-six years later, the fish sellers moved in.

In chronicling the market’s final days, the Times pulled out snippets of their old coverage, pointing out that opposition to the market — which occupied a short stretch of South Street alongside the East River — existed from the start:

“In 1854, a city elder wondered whether ‘a more advantageous disposition may not be made of that valuable property by the removal of the Fish Market.’ And in 1859, another sachem suggested moving the market uptown, in part because the ebb and flow of the East River was, as The New York Times delicately put it, ‘not sufficiently strong to carry off the offal.’”

It’s true, that part of town emitted a distinctive odor during market hours and long after, and the influence of organized crime became problematic. Law enforcement crackdowns solved the latter problem, but moving the market made sense for a lot of reasons. And by the time it actually moved, many workers were behind the plan.

2016 0523 FishMarket HuntsPoint CCThe Bronx home of the Fulton Fish Market. Creative Commons photo by Michael Cory.The Hunts Point space is clean, structured, and, perhaps most significantly, climate controlled. It maintains its traditional hours, opening at 1 a.m. and closing at 7 a.m., but not much else remains the same.

After touring the Bronx facility in 2005, then Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was quoted as saying: "If you like crowded streets and unsanitary and dangerous conditions, you'll miss the old facility. Things change, the world changes, and we've got to keep up."

All true. But if you ever saw the old market in action, you saw old New York, and there’s not much of that left these days. People like Dan Feig — who called the new market 'paradise' — keep the attitude alive, but it would be impossible to recreate that same ambiance in a warehouse in the Bronx.

Dan Barry, writing about the final days at the old market, put it succinctly:

“More than the ghosts of characters, though, more than the whiff of the mob, there lingers in this city corner a palpable, connective air to who we once were; what we saw; what we said. The eels wriggling free along Fulton Street. The hook fights among fishmongers. The ice-coated masts of sloops in winter. The fedoras, the aprons, the scales of fish justice.”

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PME15 showfloorThe Pacific Marine Expo show floor in 2015. NF Staff photo.Ready or not, it's time to start planning for Pacific Marine Expo 2016.

The largest commercial marine trade show on the West Coast returns with a new date pattern this year, and the show will be held Thursday, Nov. 17 through Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Seattle's Centurylink Field Event Center.

Registration is scheduled to open in early July. 

Take a look back at our 2015 coverage to learn more about all that Pacific Marine Expo has to offer — from networking opportunities to conferences, there's no better place to connect with others in the maritime industry.

Read our 2015 Show coverage

Watch the Pacific Marine Expo 2015 Slideshow


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2016 0425 WildAmerican shrimpPackaged Gulf of Mexico shrimp. American Shrimp Processors Association photo.Shrimp is a touchy subject lately.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting from the Associated Press has shined a light on rampant slave labor in the Thai shrimp industry, which exports much of its product to major retailers in the U.S. from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods.

In addition to human rights concerns, consumers might also fret about hygiene considering that the USDA recently released data on FDA refusals of imported food, and seafood products topped the list of items turned away. Why? The most common reason was “filth,” followed by salmonella and veterinary drug residue.

Not to mention environmental concerns associated with farmed shrimp, especially from outside the United States.

Between human rights, hygiene, and the environment, one can understand why some consumers might feel a little squeamish. But Americans love shrimp — it is this country’s most consumed seafood item, which makes it very big business indeed.

Thus it's no surprise that someone is trying to capitalize on this market with a synthetic shrimp replacement.

New Wave Foods was recently featured in The Atlantic on their plans to create “shrimp” from plant matter and algae. The company’s co-founder Dominique Barnes, who studied marine conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said she was inspired by concerns over the environmental and human rights costs of fresh seafood.

“Dominique has experienced first hand the devastating impacts of commercial seafood production on the oceans,” reads her bio on the company’s website. “Her passion about marine conservation led her to start New Wave Foods with the mission to change the way we eat seafood.”

2016 0425 new wave foods foundersNew Wave Foods founders Dominique Barnes (left) and Michelle Wolf. New Wave Foods photo.Here’s the thing though — it’s not seafood. In their photograph on the New Wave Foods website, Barnes and co-founder Michelle Wolf pose before the backdrop of a working waterfront. It invites associations with fishermen, but their product is entirely lab-created, made from red algae and plant-based protein powder.

“We’re not reproducing shrimp cells,” Barnes told the Atlantic. “We use a process that's similar to baking a loaf of bread.”

In a vacuum, I don’t have an issue with this concept. Algae and plant protein don’t gross me out, and I’d probably consider trying it. The Atlantic story quotes Lizzy Freier, an analyst with the food research and consulting firm Technomic, who expresses skepticism over consumer acceptance of such a product.

“I can’t imagine consumers would be very open and willing to try algae-based ‘shrimp’ in a grocer setting, or anywhere for that matter,” Freier told the Atlantic. “Though consumers are increasingly willing to try new foods … there are some lines most consumers will not cross.”

Fair enough. That said, many consumers have accepted plant-based meat substitutes, enough to create a parallel market for those products that hardly threatens the meat industry in the same way that New Wave’s “shrimp” is unlikely to topple global fishing.

Is that the intention, though?

My beef with New Wave Foods is the way the company seems to want to trade on the image of fishermen and the sea in order to sell a product that has nothing to do with either.

In a recent interview with Seafood Source, New Wave Foods marketer Florian Radke said: “We don’t see the industry as the enemy – we want to be a part of this industry, and see if we can find a solution that’s better in the long run for us and the environment. We want to collaborate. We want to disrupt in a positive way.”

However, the company lists a three sentence mission on its website:

“New Wave Foods is committed to providing truly sustainable seafood for everyone. We believe that there is a smarter and better way to feed the planet with creating culinary experiences that pay tribute to the rich history and tradition of seafood. We are dedicated to providing the solution for supplying the world’s growing appetite for seafood by creating products that are high in clean nutrients while completely eliminating the devastating environmental impact that commercial fishing is posing on our environment.”

First, it’s still not seafood. Second, sustainable for whom? Not the fishermen it aims to “completely eliminate.” But how can faux fish be marketed without “the rich history and tradition of [real] seafood” to fall back on? That history and tradition New Wave Foods wants a piece of is based on many elements of fishing community culture that can’t be re-created in a lab.

Here it seems we have a contradiction, and that brings me back to my basic question about this product: Why do we need it?

I recognize the many troubling trends in our various food systems, and my personal answer is to try and make better choices as a consumer rather than replace natural things with lab creations (even if they do start with organic matter). I like to eat shrimp, so I buy wild American shrimp.

The alternative already exists.

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2016 0418 USCGCopterA helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, NJ, rescued seven people off of the 76-foot scallop fishing vessel Carolina Queen III on Feb. 25, 2016. USCG photo.The New York Times has published a lengthy feature story on the dramatic February rescue of the scalloper Carolina Queen III off the coast of the Rockaways in Queens, NY.

The boat ran aground after dashing inland in an effort to wait out a violent storm. The grounding, it turned out, was only the beginning of the crew's troubles.

Next, a generator failed, and mayday calls were made. After a Coast Guard boat capsized in an effort to reach the vessel and the fire department was stymied by weather, the Coast Guard opted to undertake an airlift operation — no easy feat in the same high winds that had driven the boat to shore in the first place, coupled with waves cresting as high as 14 feet. 

“We knew it was a fishing vessel, and fishing vessels are always tricky,” Lt. Mark Bruno, the Coast Guard aircraft commander whose team was dispatched to respond to the vessel, told the Times.

Watch the rescue

Although the Carolina Queen III was no more than 80 yards from the shore, responders feared that she could capsize in the rough surf. 

“It was definitely a dangerous situation they were in,” Lieutenant Bruno told the Times. “They had lost their generator and were taking on water, and I think that is when they made the decision that they had to come off.”

The full story of how rescuers managed to save the crew — and even the scallops they were carrying — is one worth reading. 

Read more at the New York Times


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2016 0406 NFCollection PenobscotMM

Like old fishing pictures? We do, too. In 2012, National Fisherman's parent company, Diversified Communications, donated the magazine's complete pre-digital library of thousands of images to the Penobscot Maritime Museum. These images, now digitized, have been curated into a searchable collection on the museum's website.

The photos offer a visual record of every nuance of American commercial fishing during four decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, providing a glimpse of fishermen, boat builders, processors, and regulators.

We've posted some favorite images from our archive in the slideshow below, but take a few minutes (or likely hours) to explore the museum's full collection. You will get sucked in — don't say we didn't warn you!

View the complete collection


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Page 1 of 9

Inside the Industry

The Northeast Trawl Advisory Panel working group is scheduled to meet Aug. 2 in Boston to discuss using commercial fishing vessels to supplement current stock assessment surveys conducted by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.


Pat Fiorelli, the long-serving public affairs officer for the New England Fishery Management Council, will step down at the end of July.

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