National Fisherman


The Rudderpost 

jesJes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.

 

Hawaii has been at the center of the fishing news spotlight for several weeks now, beginning with President Obama’s explosive and fast-moving expansion of George W. Bush’s Papahanaumokuakea marine monument and now with a focus on slave labor allegations among the island state’s big-boat fleet.

2016 0922 HawaiiA large swordfish (Xiphias gladius) on the deck of a longliner. Derke Snodgrass, NOAA Photo LibraryOne could spend time grappling with the idea that perhaps the AP story broke shortly after the Hawaiian monument was expanded to drown out any objections to the way of life for Hawaiian fishermen. How can you feel sorry for a fleet that routinely mistreats and illegally restricts its crew (never mind the fact that the people affected by these two stories don’t even overlap)?

It can be satisfying to speculate, but if we focus on the conspiracy theory, then we’re not solving the real problems — that small-boat Hawaiian fishermen have lost access to a significant portion of their livelihood and that a long-standing loophole has allowed the large-boat fleet to treat foreign crews like indentured servants (or worse).

It’s not hard to imagine business owners taking advantage of loopholes that effectively allow them to underpay, underfeed and overwork their staff, especially when those people are from a different culture that doesn’t have high standards for working conditions.

The fault ultimately lies with the fleet owners who, like the Thai seafood kingpins we’ve so reviled for all these months, allowed this kind of treatment of fellow human beings. We should never hold ourselves to a lower standard than our competition. But one has to wonder where the oversight was. This is a significant loophole in federal fisheries legislation, which stipulates American-flagged vessels must be staffed with 75 percent American workers.

It’s not unheard of for fishing crews (especially on smaller boats) to bucket and chuck it, run low on staples, work hours on end hauling gear without a break, barely making enough in a season to catch a flight home. But the difference is that these circumstances are generally entered into knowingly. And if they aren’t and the working conditions are dangerous, American workers know they have legal recourse.

Whole Foods vowed to stop buying fish from foreign-crewed boats until they could be sure the workers are being treated fairly. The Honolulu Fish Auction is committed to selling fish only from boats that are using a new contract that aims to eliminate forced labor practices. Federal and local authorities in Hawaii have formed a task force and are vowing to resolve the problem by weeding out the bad seeds.

There are bright spots here. According to the AP report, “Hawaii's fishing industry is otherwise one of the most tightly regulated for catch limits and sustainability, attracting companies that pride themselves on being ocean-friendly.”

We can resolve this problem. But the image recovery will take some time. Unfortunately, for most Hawaiian fishermen now shut out of productive and well-managed fishing grounds, time is the one thing they didn’t get.

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It’s not very often a fishing magazine comes in handy with a reading recommendation for children’s literature. But so it was in Lori French’s column (on p. 20 of our Summer 2016 North Pacific Focus) that describes the last California Dungeness season as a parallel to “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Lori’s observations of the disastrous effects of this long-term closure of a bread-and-butter fishery for many ports up the coast encourage us to ask the question: Are we prepared?

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2016 0823-Scallop dragger-Digby CC Dennis JarvisA scallop dragger. A new Maine bill would require scallop boats to be owner operated. Creative Commons photo by Dennis Jarvis.Mainstream media loves to talk about doom and gloom in wild-capture stocks. But the reality is, the majority of U.S. fisheries are strong and getting stronger. Among fisheries that are growing or have the potential to grow, many fishery advocates and participants are suggesting that the fleets be owner operated.

The recent trend toward quota (rather than boat) ownership has led not only to consolidation, but in some cases loopholes for fraud (see the federal case against New England groundfish and scallop kingpin Carlos Rafael). Owner-operator requirements could go a long way toward resolving the complications of fishing quotas, but they are not without fault.

In Maine, state Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York) introduced a bill that would require all sea urchin diver and scallop boats to be owner-operated. The proposal, endorsed by the nonprofit Penobscot East Resource Center, is making some fishermen ask why it’s necessary, while others declare that it’s about time and would do nothing to harm the fishery or access while preserving local ownership.

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Need something quick and easy for a busy summer weeknight? Look no further.

I grew up in Georgia without central air conditioning, so my mom had many a no-fuss meal in her repertoire. This was a favorite of mine as a kid, and you can make it as kid friendly as you want, adding or taking away as many vegetables as your tot will tolerate. My big kid loves a big salad, but my toddler doesn’t (yet) eat lettuce, tomatoes or peppers, so he gets a plate of separate piles of tuna, pasta, eggs, olives, cucumbers and carrots.

If you happen to have leftover pasta and hard-boiled eggs, you can toss this together in a matter of minutes. Any of the vegetables and greens can be replaced by your favorites. But I will say that tuna, calamata olives and eggs go together beautifully.

I buy U.S. hook-and-line-caught albacore tuna. I recently caught up with Jeremiah O’Brien, a California albacore troller, via satphone from the water. He says the West Coast fleet’s catch rate has remained stable since the 1980s. The fishery is managed by international coalition and there’s no quota or total allowable catch. The U.S. fleet lands about 18 percent of the global total catch.

“We fish when they show up and stop when they go away,” he says.

Simple as that. Troll-caught albacore are also smaller fish, which means less bycatch than other methods of fishing, a higher omega-3 content and less methylmercury (though limited exposure via consumption of fish is not sufficiently connected to long-term deleterious effects, in my opinion).

For this meal, you could sub canned salmon, small cooked shrimp, lump crab meat, broiled or grilled whitefish. The world is your seafood salad salad.

If you’d like more information on albacore trolling, check out the Western Fishboat Owners Association.

2016 22 0818 TunaSaladSaladServes 4

Ingredients

2 5-ounce cans albacore tuna
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 stalk of celery, chopped fine
1/2 pound small pasta (like rotini or small shells)
2 heads of romaine hearts, chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
2 avocados
1 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup cucumbers, sliced
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 cup calamata olives, sliced


Preparation

Cook your pasta to al dente, drain and toss lightly with olive oil. Drain cans of tuna and combine with mayonnaise and celery.

Prep each plate with a salad, dress lightly, then top with pasta, tuna and olives.

You can serve with a simple blend of oil and vinegar, a homemade vinaigrette (recipe below) or any favorite (yes, store-bought!) dressing. I like to top my tuna with balsamic vinegar.


Basic vinaigrette

Ingredients

1 cup oil
3/4 cup vinegar (use your favorite)
1 shallot, chopped roughly (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon mayonnaise (optional)

Preparation

Blend ingredients until frothy. Salt and pepper to taste.

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It’s bluefin tuna season in Maine. The small fleet is offshore with harpoons, rods and reels, and handlines, hunting some of the largest commercial fish in the world. Every year, these fantastic beasts (Thunnus thynnus) make their way north, following their food to Canada and beyond.

An average mature bluefin is about 6 to 8 feet long and around 500 pounds. The largest Atlantic bluefin catch on record is just shy of 1,500 pounds. In the United States, they are being fished within the management limits.

Our knowledge of the bluefin is still fairly limited. We know the Atlantic stocks have some mix between east and west, but we don’t know how much or why. If you want to know more about them, I suggest following Molly Lutcavage, one of the world’s premier tuna research scientists, who runs the University of Massachusetts Large Pelagics Research Lab in Gloucester, Mass. She and her fellow researchers used decades of tagging studies to discover a bluefin spawning ground on the East Coast that might explain some scientific anomalies.

2016 21 TunaPlateWhile I appreciate their mystery and strength, I have to admit that there really is nothing like a bluefin tuna steak. It’s a fish that eats like the best beef I’ve ever had. As much as I love to share healthy fish suppers with my children, this is a meal made for two. I think of it as an opportunity to eat a spicy, peppery dish, made just for the grown-ups.

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 pound sushi-grade bluefin tuna steak, 1 inch thick at room temperature
2 tablespoons peppercorns, roughly crushed
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Optional scallion for garnish

Preparation

Coat tuna on both sides with sesame oil. Sprinkle with pepper and sesame seeds, pressing down to make them stick. Heat the vegetable oil on high heat in cast iron skillet until almost smoking. Cook the steak for 2 minutes on each side, remove from pan and allow to rest. Garnish with scallion.

Rice

1 cup sushi rice
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared wasabi
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey

Cook the rice according to directions. Add vinegar, and stir in thoroughly. Mix together the soy sauce, wasabi and honey and top rice with sauce. Garnish with more wasabi and black sesame seeds if desired.

To make little rice patties like these, lightly coat a 1-cup measure with oil, pack in rice and dress with sauce. Turn the cup upside down onto the plate and tap the bottom to release the rice.

2016 21 RawTunaBok choi

10-15 bunches baby bok choi (about 1 pound)
3 cloves garlic, grated
Same amount of fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Saute garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes in oil, on high heat for 1-2 minutes. Add bok choi and toss to coat. Add soy sauce, cover, allow to boil/steam on high for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and cook another 3 minutes to reduce the sauce. Finish with pan sauce and more red pepper flakes to taste.

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19 King Salmon Caesar SaladDownload a printable recipe cardThe dog days of summer are here, folks. And while this would be delicious with some dog (chum) salmon on top, a fillet of chinook makes this a salad fit for a king.

This weekend I got to meet up with a friend and fisherman from Alaska, who gifted me with some frozen wild salmon fillets. You take them frozen out of the package, put a little oil on the skin side and grill low and covered. When it’s close to done, drizzle oil on the top and flip it over for grill marks if you dare.

For this recipe, I used king salmon, sold fresh at my local fish market, but cooked about the same way, only a slightly higher heat.

 

 

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When you walk down Midden Way toward the Damariscotta River in Damariscotta, Maine, on a morning like this one (sunny, dry, high 70s), it’s easy to wonder why we don’t all grab up a Maine oyster lease and start planting the water with beautiful bivalves.

The cove is calm and inviting, the 26-foot aluminum skiff is wide open to the morning sun and a gentle breeze. We ease into the water among arcs of oyster-laden floating cages. What’s not to love about this line of work?

2016 0727 JohnsRiverDave Cheney tends his oyster lease in Maine's Damariscotta River. Jessica Hathaway photoAnd then I see Dave Cheney, a former lobsterman and owner of the Johns River Oyster Co., start to haul his traps. Cheney, 46, is no slouch. He braces his legs against the low gunwale, and his broad shoulders hover out over the outside edge of a cage as he seizes it to wrestle it aboard. I could probably do that. Once or twice.

And in that moment, I also remember that these perfect summer days are fleeting. “Six months of the year, this is the perfect job,” Cheney says.

Despite the fact that long Maine winters make for hard work, Cheney runs his operation year-round. “Oysters don’t grow past Columbus Day,” he says. “When the water gets below 41 degrees, they stop pumping.” The bivalves then essentially go dormant for the winter, which creates a ridge in the shell, not unlike a tree ring, between seasons of growth.

At that point, he sinks his seed cages in the Damariscotta so they float below the ice. Then he moves any market-ready oysters to his lease in Johns River, which doesn’t ice over like the cove. It takes about 15 months for Cheney to grow a market-size oyster, but he likes to let the mature oysters soak in the Johns River to develop flavor.

“I just wanted a unique taste,” says Cheney. “The Johns River has a higher salinity and a different phytoplankton” than the Damariscotta, he explains.

The Damariscotta River is famous for its oyster production, both for the numbers it is capable of producing and the quality. According to Cheney, “75 percent of Maine’s oysters come out of this river,” a 13-mile stretch of water.

The river’s production has a long history far older than European settlers and their modern descendents. Midden Way, the dirt road we traveled to get to Cheney’s 3-acre lease, is named for the enormous Native American oyster shell deposits left in the river more than 2,000 years ago. The Whaleback Shell Midden, just around the bend from his Damariscotta lease, was once more than 30 feet deep, the result of centuries of compressed oyster shell.

Fresh water comes into Great Salt Bay at the head of the tidal river and flushes the narrows to create a perfect balance of salinity for bivalve production. We glance out over Glidden Point, a renowned local brand of oyster. Across the cove is a 5-acre lease run by Dodge Cove Marine Farm, which produces two brands of oysters. Downriver is a cluster of other oyster producers that feed the burgeoning demand for the halfshell market.

“I have a goal to have my own hatchery when I get older,” says Cheney, always thinking of the next step. After a morning on the water getting just a taste of his work, I have a new respect for oyster farmers. Like commercial fishermen, they work long days in all kinds of weather to keep their small business running. But it takes two years to see any kind of return on a significant investment. Eight years after starting his first set of seed in 2008, Cheney hasn’t lost the edge of fear you carry with you when your income depends on the whims of nature.

“If you’re not sleeping at night, you’re probably doing it right,” he says. “I’m going to succeed because I’m not going to give up.”

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Yesterday, a recreational fisherman from Massachusetts had to be rescued after a serious injury from a spiny dogfish shark.

2016 0614 EatDogsHow many dogs do you need? John Wallace, NOAA/NMFS/NWFSC/FRAMD photoNew England commercial fishermen are no strangers to the many pains resulting from spiny dogfish catches. They have spent many years trying to describe the time and effort they put into unclogging nets full of dogs. It was insult to injury when these same aggressive and low-value sharks were being protected (in hindsight erroneously because our data bank was so shallow) by the federal government.

Now news that Brexit may put British markets in turmoil could turn into a boon for New England groundfish draggers and gillnetters. If Britain does withdraw from the EU, the economic separation could depress the value of the pound, which effectively would cause a jump in prices for the cod and haddock they import to feed the demand for fish and chips.

What’s cheaper than haddock and cod? Dogfish. And there’s plenty of it, and it even carries the MSC sustainability ecolable that Europeans love. What’s more, dogfish is the traditional fish for Limey fish and chips and one of the main catches they scooped up off our shores before the Magnuson Act sent them packing 40 years ago.

So what say you, Jolly Old Friend? We’ve got better fish to fry.

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2016 19 0614 RollsOne thing all Maine lobster rolls have in common is the top-split, buttered and toasted bun.I have a confession to make: I’m not a fan of lobster rolls. This is a risky admission as a Maine resident. But before you throw me to the wolves, allow me to explain: It’s because I love the taste of lobster so much that I prefer to enjoy it with as little interference as possible.

I like a tender chicken lobster (under 1.25 pounds) — Homarus americanus, of course — straight from the shell, steamed, not boiled (boiling fills the shell with water, which also washes out some of its delicious fat) — eaten warm, sometimes as is, or with melted butter and maaaaaaybe a squirt of lime.

Of course, if you want to do it right, put a bowl of steamers on the side with a few Maine-grown new potatoes, top it all off with a wild blueberry pie, and eat it at a picnic table nestled into a copse of tall pine trees. The scent of sun-warmed pine needles enhances the flavor of a lobster dinner.

We try to buy chicken lobsters (also called chix), and we usually get a few extras because, well, we’re in Maine, so why not? One of our few luxuries is getting to the end of a lobster supper and deciding to have just one more.

2016 19 0614 LobsterRollCampThe best-tasting lobster roll is served on your grandmother's old plates at a Maine fishing camp. This one has a roe topper.If there’s anything leftover at the end of the meal, we pull the meat from the shell and stash it in the fridge to make a lobster roll. Mainers are very particular about their lobster rolls. Some like the meat cold, with mayo, celery salt, diced celery, onion, and some call any adornment an unecessary affectation of tourism. But you will always find an authentic lobster roll in a buttered, toasted (or grilled) split-top hot dog roll. If it is missing any of these components, it’s just not a Maine lobster roll.

The only way I enjoy a lobster roll is served warm with just butter, and like my steamed lobster, maaaaaaybe a squirt of lime.

If you want to make these at home, I’ve got good news. Like most fisheries, Maine lobster is enjoying a major leap forward in processing. You can now buy cooked or raw Maine lobster vacuum packed in the freezer section of most grocery stores. Just follow the thawing/cooking instructions on the package.

2016 19 0614 LobsterRollHomeThey can be tasty served at home on your back deck, too.As for split-top hot dog rolls, I don’t know. From what I gather, these are regional. BUT my Trader Joe’s does sell them! You can also order a package of them from Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. here in Maine. They freeze perfectly!

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 1.25-1.5-pound lobsters, steamed or boiled
2 split-top hot-dog rolls
5 tablespoons butter (I use Kate’s from Maine)
Optional squeeze of lemon or lime and a sprinkle of roe if you get lucky


2016 19 0614 LobsterPartsI split the tail of this soft-shell lobster before reheating in a buttered skillet.Preparation

Melt your butter in a small skillet, lightly brush the inside and outside of your buns with it and set aside.

Add your lobster meat to the remaining butter and reheat quickly, just enough to warm it up but not overcook it. I like to split my tail down the middle, if it’s a new-shell tail. If it’s a large tail from a hard-shell lobster, do a rough chop, as well.

Set your warmed lobster meat aside, and toss your buns in the skillet, toasting each side lightly but leaving the inside soft and buttered.

Add your lobster with a nice claw on top, pour the rest of the melted butter over the meat and sprinkle with roe (the red stuff) if you happened to find any. It’s like a flavor shot from the ocean. You can spread the rest of your roe on toast and dip it in corn chowdah if you really want to Maine up your day.

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I recently stumbled across a recipe I posted years ago for halibut with spring vegetables and risotto. Before kids, my husband and I cooked together most nights. And when I read this recipe, I got a craving not only for fresh halibut but for a chance to prove to myself that we could make something like this on a weekday with two children crowding the kitchen. The reason being that timing on this recipe is best if one person is grilling while the other is stirring the risotto.

2016 0616 HalibutRisotto2I got lucky one beautiful spring night and jumped on making my risotto while the kids played outside. I also had a bunch of Swiss chard that had overwintered in the garden. My husband hopped on the grill and helped me pull this all together in less than 45 minutes.

This simple risotto is easy to make but does require attention. It’s worth it, though, to treat yourself to a grown-up version of macaroni and cheese — comforting, creamy and satisfying — that your kids will love, too.

I used Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus), the largest of all the flatfish. A properly cooked fillet of Atlantic halibut is up there with the best steak I’ve ever had. There’s something about the ribbons of fat in these East Coast flatties that could turn a cowboy into a fish lover. If you’re not lucky enough to be able to find fresh halibut, feel free to substitute anything local that can stand up to the grill.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of halibut fillet
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
Optional garnishes: parsley, lemon, chive, thyme and parmesan

Preparation

Brush your halibut in olive oil to coat, then sprinkle with salt and set aside. Pour the broth into a pan and warm over medium-high heat, then keep warm on low.

In a large sauté pan, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onion and sauté until lightly browned. Add a little more olive oil and the arborio, turning the heat down to medium. Stir and cook until the rice is just starting to get translucent at the edges of the grain.

Add a ladle of broth and cook, stirring, until the rice mixture absorbs the liquid. Add another ladle of broth and repeat until the rice is cooked through. In a pinch, you can cook the risotto until it’s almost done and set it aside, partially covered. Then rewarm to serve with another splash of broth within 20 minutes. I discovered this is just enough time to clean the slugs off of my garden chard, then chop and steam it.

Start grilling your halibut when you’re about 25 minutes away from serving. After your grill is heated on high, oil the grill itself and cook the fish, top side down for 3-4 minutes to get a nice sear (skip this step if you’re not feeling confident in your grill maneuvering). Then turn the heat to low, flip the fillet to skin side down, close the cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes. This was a 3-inch-thick piece and took a good 20 minutes on low. You can check for doneness by peeking between the flakes.

When the risotto is cooked through, add the parmesan and stir to incorporate, then add the butter and serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon, some fresh herbs and more parmesan. I like to put my fish right on top.

I love the contrast of vinegar-dressed greens with the grilled fish and cheesy risotto.

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Inside the Industry

Governor Bill Walker has officially requested that the federal government declare a disaster for four Alaska regions hurt by one of the poorest pink salmon returns in decades.

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The New England Fishery Management Council recently elected Dr. John F. Quinn of Massachusetts and E. F. “Terry” Stockwell III of Maine to serve respectively as chairman and vice chairman in the year ahead. The two have led the Council since 2014 but reversed roles this year. 

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