The Sorting Table features stories from National Fisherman contributors and guest bloggers.
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
Written by Ashley Herriman
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.
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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.
Written by Matt Marinkovich
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!
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.Add a comment Add a comment
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The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced last week the sixth round of grant awards from its Fisheries Innovation Fund, a program launched in 2010 to foster innovations that support sustainable fisheries in the United States.
The goal of the Fisheries Innovation Fund is to sustain fishermen and fishing communities while simultaneously rebuilding fish stocks.Read more...
Alaskan Leader Fisheries will give Inmarsat’s new high-speed broadband maritime communications service, Fleet Xpress, a try on the 150-foot longline cod catcher/processor Alaskan Leader.