The Sorting Table features stories from National Fisherman contributors and guest bloggers.
Written by Ashley Herriman
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.”
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.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Ashley Herriman
feature story on the dramatic February rescue of the scalloper Carolina Queen III off the coast of the Rockaways in Queens, NY.The New York Times has published a lengthy
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.
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.
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Written by Ashley Herriman
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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Written by Ashley Herriman
I’ve been thinking lately about marketing seafood and whether the name of a fish really affects my likelihood of buying it. Reading about recent efforts to rebrand and market dogfish as Cape shark have brought this to mind.
At first, I wondered if changing the name of a fish was really the way to go about it. Wouldn’t it just introduce more confusion for consumers who already struggle to identify seafood and are hesitant to try new things?
The more I read about dogfish, though, the more I realize that this isn’t renaming a fish people are used to eating…it’s starting from zero.
A year ago if you’d asked me what dogfish was, I would have responded “A craft beer.” Not that I wasn’t aware it was also a fish — I vaguely remember seeing them when I went lobstering with my grandfather as a kid. Those trips were in waters not far off Cape Cod, and I thought dogfish were baby sharks. Learning that the FDA had officially approved the moniker “Cape shark” to market the fish (which is a species of shark), it made perfect sense to me.
And really, if given a choice on a menu between dogfish and Cape shark, I think I would choose Cape shark every time. It sounds mildly exotic and dangerous, not like an aquatic version of man’s best friend.
A new name is one thing, but how do you get it in front of people? Although dogfish has long enjoyed a healthy market abroad — think traditional British fish and chips — creating demand for it in the U.S. has required a thoughtful strategy.
Enter the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, which is working hard to build a stable domestic market for a sustainable and plentiful species in a fishery that has struggled following the collapse of traditional groundfish like cod.
“The fish gets exported, and it leaves fishermen — and the entire supply chain, frankly — at the mercy of foreign currency changes and economic fluctuations,” said Nancy Civetta, communications director for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. "This is a fishery that could use some stability, and a domestic market will not only help create that stability, but at the end of the day will probably help create a better price for the fish, long term. Right now, fishermen only get 18 cents per pound."
With the help of a Salstonstall-Kennedy Grant awarded in 2014, the group has worked closely with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the University of New England to get the fish to chefs, promoting its mild white flesh and bonelessness.
Steve DeLeonardis, who operates restaurants in Orleans and Chatham, Mass. on the Cape began using the fish in a new menu item — a burrito called the “SharkRito” — in June. In the summer of 2015, the name got a boost courtesy of the Great White sharks that came to congregate off Cape Cod.
“We’re on the Cape and there’s been all this buzz about the Great Whites down here,” De Leonardis told the Boston Globe. “We have a younger, hip demo here that responds well to what we’re doing.”
De Leonardis offered the SharkRito only on Fridays, and by the end of the summer he was selling 20 to 30 pounds of Cape shark per week.
“For a lot of fishermen on Cape Cod, their bread and butter fishery was cod,” Civetta said. “There is no cod left here, and they’ve had to reinvent themselves. For a decade now, they’ve been pursuing other species like monkfish, and skate, and dogfish. Skate and dogfish are very, very popular abroad, but not here. It’s seafood Americans could embrace, if they were more aware of it, and that’s what we want to do.”
Although the current grant to promote Cape shark domestically runs out in June, Civetta said they would pursue new funding opportunities to continue the work they’ve started, especially networking with domestic buyers who will purchase the fish in large quantities for institutions. The University of New England began trialling battered “sharck bites” made from Cape shark in dining halls last fall, an experiment extended to Southern Maine Community College through dining provider Sodexo.
So what’s in a name? A lot of hardworking fishermen and their supporters trying to adjust to changing circumstances and create demand for a fish they’ve been catching in large quantities for years. Cape shark is just one example of the ways in which people in the fishing industry are thinking critically about ecosystem management and markets — and doing something about what they learn.
Doesn’t it make you want a SharkRito?Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Ashley Herriman
Engineers at the Massachusetts Insititute of Technology have developed a new tool that may be able to give sailors a two-to-three-minute warning of an incoming rogue wave, allowing enough of a window to halt operations before the wave strikes.
The algorithm sifts through data from surrounding waves to spot clusters that have the potential to develop into a rogue wave. Depending on a wave group’s length and height, the algorithm computes a probability that the group will turn into a rogue wave within the next few minutes.
Read more from MIT.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Ashley Herriman
Acclaimed author E.B. White narrates a day in the life of a Maine lobsterman in the 1950s in a short documentary which first aired Dec. 5, 1954, on CBS.
"The trap is easy to haul, if you know how, but it's no job for the lazy or the fearful."
Hat tip to the Bangor Daily News for the video.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Ashley Herriman
Watch the Coast Guard pluck fishermen from the decks of the Carolina Queen III, a scallop trawler homeported in Seaford, Va., that found itself aground in Queens, NY on Feb. 25.
The boat was taking on water and had sent an initial distress call around 2 a.m. After getting that situation under control, she ran aground in gale force winds from a line of thunderstorms that moved up the Mid-Atlantic states.
An HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from the Atlantic City air station lifted the fishermen off the vessel by basket after a 25-foot Coast Guard response boat capsized en route to rescue the stranded fishermen.
All seven fishermen and five Coast Guard crew members in the capsized boat escaped without serious injury.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Sierra Golden
When I was just a couple years old, my parents took my brother and me on a trip up the Unuk River. We cruised grassy wetlands and took short breaks along the way to fish. Trout in hand, we traveled further upriver and spent the night in the woods.
This trip and others like it are part of my family lore. They are stories of wilderness, wildness, and nature’s absurd bounty and beauty. The Unuk is the centerpiece of the stunning Misty Fjords National Monument and one of Southeast’s top five king salmon producers; yet Canada is permitting mines at the head of the Unuk and other key salmon rivers in Southeast, putting Southeast at risk. Given that we’ve seen both the Mount Polley dam in BC and the Bento Rodrigues dam in Brazil have catastrophic failures in the past two years, that’s not a risk we can ignore.
Alaska Governor Bill Walker and BC Premier Christy Clark recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining how they will work together to protect transboundary waters. The problem the MOU is that it is non-binding. The MOU states, “This Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation shall have no legal effect… It may be amended at any time by agreement between the signatories and may be terminated by either upon written notice to the other.”
That’s like getting married with vows that say, “I will love you and honor you until death… well… actually, just until I change my mind.” If Alaska’s pristine beauty, bountiful fisheries, and cultural heritage are something we want to love and honor, we must protect them with the highest enforceable means. It’s not enough to have an MOU. The US Department of State needs to invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and refer Southeast’s transboundary mining concerns to receive federal review through the International Joint Commission.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Hoyt Childers
When I pitched my first story to then-editor Jim Fullilove in late 1994, I had already been reading National Fisherman for several years. I had been attracted to the magazine because I loved boats and the ocean and all things maritime and especially admired the people of the commercial fishing industry. They reminded me, I guess, of folks in the rural farm community in the mountains of North Carolina that I grew up among in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the nearly 22 years since, none of that has really changed.
It wasn’t especially easy to gain the confidence of fishermen early on; a lot of them have been burned by the main-stream media over the years. But I soon realized that just saying I wrote for National Fisherman opened a lot of doors that would otherwise remain closed.
I began to see my own mission, not so much to be an unbiased journalist as to honestly and openly advocate for the welfare of fishermen and tell their side of the story. They try to feed us while being stewards of the environment and daily risking their lives in this most dangerous profession. There are plenty of other media outlets that tell all the other sides of the story.
The fact that I can still make cold calls to fishermen I have never spoken with and immediately note a positive change in tone when I invoke the name of NF tells me that we have been doing a pretty good job. Fishermen trust us, and I have tried to never betray that trust.
My long-time colleagues at National Fishermen – publisher Jerry Fraser, editor-in-chief Jessica Hathaway, North Pacific bureau chief Charlie Ess, boats and gear editor Michael Crowley (plus former senior editor Linc Bedrosian, who departed shortly ahead of me) – are a talented and dedicated bunch of people, and it has been my pleasure to work with them. For myself, there are some things I still want to do that don’t have anything to do with writing, and it is time to move on.
I have talked with a lot of fisherman from North Carolina down to Texas over the years and have come to enjoy first-name friendship with many of them. My admiration for them has only increased as the years have passed. Most fishermen I know take seriously their mission to meet a basic human need and preserve a historic and admirable way of life while trying to just make a decent living for their families. And they do it with great integrity and honesty.
Knowing you and working among you has given – and continues to give me – hope.
Godspeed, and thank you for the opportunities I have had to tell your stories.Add a comment Add a comment
Written by Patrick Dixon
The 19th FisherPoets Gathering is around the next bend. During the weekend of Feb. 26-28, over 90 performers who have experience in the commercial fishing industry will school up in Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River to read, sing and recite their works celebrating working on the water. Astoria opens her doors to embrace the participants and audience – galleries like KALA, Imogen and Riversea host fish-related art shows, local hotels discount rooms if you mention the Gathering, and restaurants, theaters and pubs open their spaces for readings and music on Friday and Saturday night. The Columbia RiverMaritime Museum hosts workshops on everything from knot-tying to writing poetry on Saturday morning and afternoon, and a story-circle comprised of experienced fishermen entertains large audiences each year on Saturday afternoon.
Be sure to visit the Gear Shack, where the performers offer their books, photos, art, jewelry, ‘Zines and CDs for sale (there’s also a find-raiser silent auction) at discounted show prices. Highlights this year promise to be the first book of Wesley "Geno” Leech’s poetry and stories, Waterlogged. Of it, renowned Oregon poet Clemens Starck says, “[Geno’s] brash, salty, bare-knuckled poems and prose sketches are like nothing that has ever fallen from the sky or been hauled up from the deep.”
Erin Fristad will be promoting her new book of stories and poems about her 15 years fishing in Alaska, The Glass Jar, also. Scheduled for release in May by Finishing Line Press , she’ll have information on pre-ordering available. As author Kim Stafford describes it, “By this book’s light you peer through a porthole of visceral poetry and prose into a life onboard where the hiss of the stove, seething fish-hold, deckhand’s mood, rough weather and scant wages all cast you free from landed comforts.”
For the second year Anchored in Deep Water: The FisherPoets Anthology will be available for purchase. A seven-book set of thematic volumes on the community, history, risk, politics, family issues, gender issues and the love of the work will be offered for sale as individual books or bound in a fish-shaped cover with the complete set. Joanne Rideout, host of Astoria’s iconic PBS radio show The Ship Report, offers: “I so enjoy picturing the artists I know and love as I read their work, and getting to know those I have not seen yet. Like being at the great FisherPoets Gathering anytime I want.”
So if you’d like to join the hundreds of folks who love stories, poems and songs about commercial fishing, the sea and working on and near the water, fire up the main and head downriver. A $15 Event Button (available at the Gear Shack and the venue doors) will get you admission into performances and special events all weekend. Throw some words in your log book and bring’em along. There’s plenty of opportunity at the open mics, and the weekend festivities culminate with the Saturday night Poetry Contest, open to all comers. Check out the schedule online at www.fisherpoets.org. Put on your Xtra Tufs! We’ll see you by the water in Astoria!Add a comment Add a comment
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(Bloomberg) — After fighting for more than two years to avoid paying almost $1 billion in oil spill damages to Gulf Coast shrimpers, oystermen and seafood processors it claimed didn’t exist, BP Plc has thrown in the towel.
Read more... (Bloomberg) — Millions of dead fish stretched out over 200 kilometers of central Vietnamese beaches are posing the biggest test so far for the new government. The Communist administration led by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has been criticized on social media for a lack of transparency and slow response, with thousands protesting Sunday in major cities and provincial areas.
Beaches of dead fish sow unrest in Vietnam
(Bloomberg) — Millions of dead fish stretched out over 200 kilometers of central Vietnamese beaches are posing the biggest test so far for the new government.
The Communist administration led by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has been criticized on social media for a lack of transparency and slow response, with thousands protesting Sunday in major cities and provincial areas.Read more...