National Fisherman

The Sorting Table 

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

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.

2016 0229 HoytFarewellIn 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.

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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.

2016 0216 FisherpoetsFisherPoets Gathering performers in 2014. 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 Put on your Xtra Tufs! We’ll see you by the water in Astoria!

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2016 0208 Argopecten irradians bay scallopA live Atlantic bay scallop, photographed at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Creative Commons photo by Mayscallop.It started over bay scallops.

Or rather, what I know as bay scallops. The little tiny ones. Not the ones you sear and eat maybe six or eight of, but the ones where a satisfying serving is more in the range of 20 (what I now know to refer to as 40/60s). I can remember eating them only a few times in my life, but those meals stand out. When I was younger, bay scallops were on a short list of seafood items I definitively and consistently liked.

I always look for them, but I don’t see them on a lot of menus. When I moved to Maine, I thought I could eat bay scallops all the time, but that was before I realized I didn’t know anything about them.

What characterizes a bay scallop other than being small? I haven’t seen them on a single menu since moving to Maine — though I have eaten some delicious Maine sea scallops — and I started to wonder whether bay scallops were a real thing or a case of mistaken seafood identity.

The person who put me on the path to scallop enlightenment was Togue Brawn of Downeast Dayboat, who works with Maine fishermen to market and sell fresh local sea scallops. She emailed me back in December explaining that “what’s commonly called ‘bay scallops’ are a species of Argopecten that goes only goes as far north as Massachusetts.”

Bay scallops as I know them don’t even exist in Maine? I was crushed.

Some further research revealed that we were talking about Argopecten irradians, which, via three subspecies, has a range from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to the midcoast of eastern Mexico. I learned from a Marine Fisheries Review paper examining bay scallop history that bay scallops supported sizable commercial fisheries in Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina from the 1870s to the mid 1980s, but that population declines since 1985 have decimated commercial fisheries in areas where bay scallops once thrived.

Why? A combination of factors, not fully understood, but stemming in many places from intense brown and red tides in 1985.

Habitat change has also affected the bay scallop. They like to live in beds of eelgrass, which has become less abundant, the composition of the phytoplankton they like to eat has changed, pollution has increased, and waters have warmed, Clyde L. MacKenzie wrote in a 2008 paper published in Marine Fisheries Review. They have a short lifespan — 18-30 months — and seem especially sensitive to environmental factors.

Efforts are underway to restore some traditional bay scallop habitats. In New York, Cornell University is working with Long Island University and Suffolk County to create a bay scallop sanctuary in Peconic Bay.

I’m new to this industry, and when I started researching bay scallops late last year, I was beginning to wonder if they were a figment of my imagination. A marketing concept, perhaps, or a case of seafood fraud. Instead, I’ve learned the beginnings of the story of collapsed fisheries up and down the East Coast. We’re talking about landings that averaged nearly 300,000 bushels of live scallops annually from 1950 to 1985 down to 40,000 bushels annually from 1986 to 2005, according to MacKenzie.

It makes me appreciate, intensely, the bay scallop meals I have eaten over the years. It also has me daydreaming of a trip to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard — where active fisheries still exist — to try and find a fix before the season closes at the end of March. Conscious consumption has become a buzzword, but I can say with certainty that I’ll never take a legitimate bay scallop for granted again.

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Celebrating the life of a seafood leader.

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Hello Bristol Bay,

After two full terms and six years of service to the Bristol Bay fishery and its fishers, I have determined I will not be running for another term on the BBRSDA. This leaves my spot on the board open—but don’t all jump at once!

2016 0118 MattMarinkovichMatt Marinkovich. BBRSDA photo.I came on the BBRSDA board because I was dissatisfied with the performance of the board at the time, and to check my “conspiracy theory” suspicions. Well, there certainly was no conspiracy—just seven opinionated fishermen that weren’t afraid to speak their minds. And when it came time to make a positive difference, I found that job to be significantly more challenging than when I was outside looking in.

In my time on the board I never lost sight that my decisions affect the way 1% of every Bristol Bay driftnetter’s earnings will be spent. I encouraged the evolution from spending $0.00 toward consumer marketing, to being on the verge of implementing a targeted, measureable, and extremely well-planned Bristol Bay sockeye branding campaign that I truly believe will provide a significant long-term benefit to our fishery. I supported efforts when we could make a significant difference in the fight against the Pebble mine, and supported moving away from the issue when the potency of our involvement was diminished. We’ve done fantastic research, sprang for early counting towers and Port Moller test fishing support, and bent over backwards to improve the quality of our fish.

We as Bristol Bay fishermen are going through a difficult time, but the BBRSDA has never been more equipped to make a difference. Our transparency has never been better (but still has room for improvement)—the website has the financials posted quarterly and all minutes posted after they are approved. We have clear and concise Policy and Procedures in place and observed. Member communication is improved. Our committee structure, which was new to the board three years ago and brought with it some distinct growing pains, is now fully developed and set to do some highly effective project planning and implementation. And our new Executive Director is poised to work with a dedicated and focused board on projects that are really going to make a difference.

These, and many more things I didn’t have room to mention, are what I’m proud to say I worked for on my stint on the BBRSDA board. Make no mistake—it is a demanding job, and not one that should be undertaken with a half-hearted effort. The right people on this board can make a difference—and if you are passionate about the fishery, have the integrity needed to oversee the spending of 1% of your friends (and enemies’) earnings, and have the insight to leave petty politics and personal agendas behind and focus on what will make a positive difference to the fishery, then maybe you should consider filling my seat when my term expires.

I’ll see you on the fishing grounds.

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It’s easy to lose track of things during the holiday season and there was plenty of fishing news last month. Gulf of Mexico red snapper quotas, a lawsuit over at-sea monitors, and slave-peeled shrimp topped the headlines. Catch up on all you may have missed.

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The pace of time sometimes seems simultaneously fast and slow, but there’s nothing like looking back over a year to put these feelings in perspective.

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16jan NF FEATspread CrewShots 320pxWideWe love seeing fishermen at work. To go along with our annual crew shots issue, we're also debuting an online slideshow to feature your pictures, and will begin publishing one new crew shot each month in the magazine.

We've kicked things off using photos from the current issue, but we need your help to keep it going!

What's in it for you? Other than the opportunity to show off your boat and your crew, we're also offering a free one-year subscription to National Fisherman for the individual whose photo is featured in the magazine each month.

So send us those pictures — you can submit through our website, or simply send an email to editor Jessica Hathaway.

Photos must be from 2015 or 2016. Please include names (left to right), boat, location, home port, fishery and gear type.


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November was packed with news and events — mid-month saw a successful 2015 renewal of the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, and we've got pictures (and video) to prove it. President Obama signed the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act, strengthening the U.S. commitment to fighting seafood fraud. We also took a closer look at Chix Who Fish and explored the cod cycle. Catch up on all you may have missed.

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Already missing the expo? We don't blame you! Take a look back at last week's fun. 


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Inside the Industry

The Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance recently announced that the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has awarded the organization a Hollings Grant to reduce whale entanglements in Alaska salmon fisheries by increasing the use of acoustic whale pingers to minimize entanglements in fishing gear.


Last week, Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski (R), Dan Sullivan (R) and Rep. Don Young (R) asked Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate with Canadian leaders to make sure appropriate environmental safeguards are in place for mine development in Southeast Alaska.

The congressional delegation explained the importance of this issue to Alaskans and the need for assurances that the water quality in transboundary waters between Alaska and Canada will be maintained.

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