National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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

 

This week, John Hathaway (no relation), owner of Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond, inched a few steps closer to finalizing the construction of a new lobster processing facility on the Portland waterfront.

2014 0423 ShucksThere's been a little squawking about some possible compromises to the 950-foot Whaling Wall mural painted by artist Robert Wyland on one side of the now-vacant building on the Maine State Pier.

However, Hathaway has pledged to work with the city to preserve as much of the mural as possible while adding a loading dock and a door for employees to the building that will potentially house the 18,000 square-foot plant.

I am delighted that Hathaway plans to open the plant (ideally by summertime), which will offer as many as 70 new working-waterfront jobs in a town with a rich maritime heritage and a struggling working waterfront. As Hathaway has said, the alternative is to keep sending millions of pounds of our Maine lobster to Canada for processing and reimport it for the wholesale market as product of Canada.

Hathaway has also long been a strong proponent of the Marine Stewardship Council's approval of Maine lobster as a sustainable fishery. Now that Maine lobster carries the label, it only makes sense to take full advantage of the price tag the ecolabel carries by keeping the product in local hands from boat to throat.

Perhaps more importantly, a recent University of Maine study indicates that Maine's record lobster landings may start to slide. The numbers gathered from 11 Maine locations indicate the number of baby lobsters has declined by more than half since 2007.

If that is the case, then we ought to maximize the catch by keeping it off the long haul across the border and in the hands of local entrepreneurs like Hathaway.

Photo: Caitlin Hathaway, Shucks of Maine sales and operations manager, displays some of the company's innovative retail products; Jessica Hathaway

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Though this 1937 lobster marketing video was filmed well before the era of Mad Men, those of us who are once again immersed in the show's backward glance at Americana (and often very backward cultural ideals) can find a cozy spot in this old newsreel.

"One Lobster? Yes, Sir! At Once, Sir!"

And what about the industry has changed in the intervening eight decades? The fishermen are still exposed to the elements, hauling traps, hoping for a good price and minimal shrinkage. And once again, many marketing dollars are being thrust at the healthy fishery whose dockside price is struggling.

And yet, the reputation for an in-shell lobster dinner remains pristine. Like the video says: "As the main course for a delicious dinner, he's tops!"

I can see Don Draper tossing his bib aside and diving in. Delicious, indeed.

(Special thanks to Good Morning Gloucester for posting this find.)

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This week Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) signed on to co-sponsor a bill proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and David Vitter (R-La.) that would severely curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to protect Bristol Bay from proposals like Pebble Mine.

The purpose of the legislation is to gut the Clean Water Act and prevent the federal agency from using its authority to disrupt business interests. The way the bill is written would also enable Congress to strip EPA's authority retroactively and prevent the final watershed assessment from closing the door on Pebble.

2014 0410 MurkwoskiMurkowski claims that she supports the bill because she's afraid the Pebble decision is going to set a precedent that will negatively affect the business climate in Alaska. But that would only be the case if EPA were voracious in its approach, which it certainly has not been in this case.

EPA stepped into the Pebble fray because of a groundswell of support from a large and motivated population of fishermen and residents of the area. The agency didn't just come knocking on Gov. Sean Parnell's door one day flashing federal authority. The Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay lobbied members of Congress and appealed to the voting fishing public day after day for years to convince EPA to step in and assess Pebble Mine under the Clean Water Act.

If Murkowski is legitimately worried about the precedent this sets for the EPA stepping in, then she can comfort herself knowing that the precedent set here is that the EPA only steps in when there is a massive effort to bring it in.

This kind of "interference" doesn't happen because the feds are sitting on a golden EPA throne just waiting to quell the dreams of the little guy in a far-off state. It happens because the little guys band together to fight Goliath with Goliath.

Some people call it an inappropriate use of federal authority to intervene in what they consider a state issue. But if we want to talk about inappropriate uses of authority, here's a great example: a giant (foreign) mining company spotting a rich deposit and making back-room deals with representatives from state government regardless of the wishes of the residents and historic stakeholders of the area in which the deposit rests.

I know Alaskans are independent. I have lived in Maine for 16 years, and I grew up in Georgia. The residents of these states are also fiercely independent. I can absolutely relate to hesitation about having the federal government intervene. But if the state is not willing or able to step up and protect the fishing industry — its largest private sector employer — then don't the people of that industry have a right to find someone who will?

The EPA didn't volunteer to assess Pebble just so it could shut down a mine. The federal government stepped in because that's what the people in Bristol Bay begged them to do. Because that was the only way they saw that they could protect their jobs and their communities.

And why did they think that? Because of precedent. Not the precedent of the feds waving their Jolly Roger, but the precedent of how the state of Alaska has handled large mining projects. To date, the state has never shut down a proposal for a large mine, regardless of what the locals or scientists have to say about it. Why? Because it's good revenue.

That may also be true of Pebble. It would provide some good jobs. But what makes this situation stand out as a clear-cut case for protection is that there is already a stellar source of revenue to be found in Bristol Bay. And that source is completely natural, native and renewable. If we protect the habitat for salmon in Bristol Bay, the fish will be an annual source of income for thousands of people forever. Forever. No one can say that about any mine on the planet.

The companies that have a stake in resource extraction have a lot of power and money. I understand that they are powerful interests to have on your side. I would like to take this moment to ask Sen. Murkowski to show some of her Alaskan fortitude and just say no to selling out her state to big businesses.

Photo: Sen. Lisa Murkowski smiles in front of a king salmon; Lisa Murkowski via Facebook

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As most of our readers know, last year was an epic one for Alaska's salmon fleets. This year, as the opening story in our May issue's Around the Coasts section describes, the West Coast is looking particularly strong, especially the Columbia River.

2014 0401 PinksAccording to National Geographic, a new report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is sounding the alarm about these high returns and calling it "an uncommon case of too many fish in the sea."

The report points to resource competition between pink salmon and other marine life, focusing on Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands colonies of seabirds. Noting that pink salmon has a two-year life cycle, alternating between high and low returns, the researchers found that in the salmon's down years, the breeding success of seabirds like kittiwakes and puffins is much higher.

Actually, the National Geographic article stated the reverse — that in the pinks' abundant years, seabirds have less success breeding.

So the question is: Which came first? The puffin or the fish eggs?

Let's follow the logic:

First, seabirds and pink salmon are in competition for the same sources of food. Second, ostensibly the pinks' numbers are rising because rising ocean temperatures have increased their food supply. So doesn't it stand to reason that in the off years of pink salmon returns, the seabirds are also faring better than they once were?

How would the salmon exclusively be benefiting from the increased supply of zooplankton, squid and Atka mackerel?

The researchers admit that "very little is known about how open ocean ecosystems work." This is another step toward understanding more about the wild BSAI ecosystem. We may indeed have to rethink the way we manage salmon hatcheries in Alaska. But the precautionary principle goes both ways. Just because pinks outcompete seabirds every other year does not mean seabird populations are unsustainably low.

In the meantime, we'll celebrate the success of pinks, perhaps over supper.

Photo: Southeast Alaska pinks packed for processing; Jessica Hathaway

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Oceana made a big splash last week with its "Wasted Catch" paper, touting details on the nine dirtiest American fisheries.

2014 0325 OceanaLike many of Oceana's campaigns, this "report" goes to great lengths to vilify U.S. fisheries for their bycatch rates without mentioning the efforts made on the industry side to reduce bycatch. (What better way to beat the drum for donations than to tell only half the story?)

Oceana's recommendations at the end of the report (which occupy half of a page out of a total 44) are perfectly in line with what I hear from most fishermen. (The key there is that I actually talk to fishermen.)

For example, Oceana would like to reduce bycatch, as would fishermen. The report also recommends that the industry avoid bycatch by using cleaner gear. If Oceana got involved in the process of gear improvement, it would find itself in a crowded field. Fishermen, fishing organizations and researchers all across the country would love to improve access to gear modifications. The problem is that our fisheries are managed by federal and state governments, so any tiny modification to gear must go through the slow-grinding wheels of government due diligence.

Oceana's staff also recommends finding a way to account for bycatch and discards. Well that's where the fishing industry takes it a step further. Fishermen would rather land fish than throw them overboard. So why not allow them to land bycatch (at no profit) and channel it into local food banks?

If you combine bycatch reducing gear with allowable bycatch landings, you would have a better idea of what fishermen are catching (by counting it at the dock instead of at sea), cleaner fishing gear and phenomenal sources of protein for the hungry.

If you want to be a part of the solution, then your solution should not be relegated to a few short talking points at the end of a long diatribe. I challenge Oceana to take a step away from the keyboard and the streams of federal data, and get involved in what's actually happening in U.S. fisheries. The picture is not as daunting as they would have anyone believe, themselves included. Fishermen all over this country are working hard to make this industry better every single day.

Kudos to all of you who truly care about the future enough to put on your boots and walk the walk.

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2014 0318 ShucksIcy winter winds were whipping through the Northeast yesterday as I walked the show floor in Boston at Seafood Expo North America. So I was delighted to indulge in the classic summer treat of a fresh lobster roll made with Shucks of Maine flash-frozen lobster. The company, owned by John Hathaway (no relation), had on display an impressive array of retail and wholesale products featuring Maine's signature seafood.

I'm happy to report that the roll looked and tasted like fresh summer lobster. This could be the start of a marketing revolution for Maine lobster, which has been hampered by unpredictable prices as a result of the challenges of a predominantly live-product market. What doesn't go to restaurant and fishmonger lobster tanks once was shipped almost exclusively to Canada for processing. Hathaway is one of a few entrepreneurs determined to bring that industry back to Maine. Last year he processed about 4 million pounds and hopes to best that in 2014. So far, it sure tastes like a success.

A few hours before I found myself on the show floor, I kicked off the morning with the Center for Sustainable Fisheries board of directors — Dr. Brian Rothschild, former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang and former Congressman Barney Frank — as we led our second national conference on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Many fishing communities across the country are desperate for some flexibility in the arbitrary rebuilding time lines and a commitment to improving science-based management. (See Melissa Wood's piece, "Flexibility a must for Magnuson.")

In the afternoon, Massachusetts' Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) spoke to a National Seafood Marketing Coalition meeting about a bill he's sponsoring to start an industry-funded marketing coalition that would promote seafood harvested in the commonwealth. Though the coalition would promote all types of seafood (including wild and farmed product), the fund was largely inspired by the drastic quota cuts that have affected the state's groundfish fleets.

"No one can survive with a 77 percent reduction in the volume of their product," said Tarr.

On Sunday evening the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay hosted a reception during which Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Bob Waldrop announced that he's stepping down after more than eight years of service to the association.

What's next for Maine lobster, Magnuson, Massachusetts and Bristol Bay? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, enjoy this image of pure summer goodness.

2014 0318 Lobster

Photos: Shucks of Maine lobster products; Jessica Hathaway

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This spring, many loving parents will give their graduates a check, a hug, a copy of "Oh the places you'll go!" and send them on their way into the big wide world. In California this year, the scientists who have lovingly hatched salmon smolts will go to great lengths to make sure their babies make it to the big blue sea.

2014 0311 GGSAAs a result of a 2014 drought, the Golden Gate Salmon Association pleaded with state and federal officials to aid the small fry from the Coleman National Hatchery in their trek from the upper Sacramento River to San Francisco Bay. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which runs Coleman) has agreed to transport as many as 12 million of its juvenile salmon to the bay or the western delta unless drought conditions improve significantly by the release dates in April, May and June.

The plan is based on the status quo of state-operated hatcheries, which regularly cart their salmon babies to the bay and delta for release; the state has committed to moving even more via tanker truck this year because of drought conditions in Central Valley rivers.

“As more and more fresh water is extracted from the Sacramento River and Delta for delivery to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness, the salmon’s migration corridor downstream and through the Bay-Delta estuary has become a deadly gauntlet,” said GGSA vice chairman Zeke Grader, who is also the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Add drought and the Central Valley rivers and Delta become virtually impassable for salmon.”

California’s salmon industry is valued at about $1.4 billion annually, and hatchery salmon could make up most of the 2016 harvest, when those fish mature.

These fingerlings are no small potatoes. Here's hoping they survive the journey.

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The coast of Maine beckons with her own sweet siren song in summer. For at least two months, Route 1 is bumper to bumper from Red's famous lobster roll take-out in Wiscasset all the way to Acadia National Park 120 miles to the north. It's a different scene in February when the edges of the road are encased in ice and the pavement is streaked with so much salt you can barely make out the painted lines. But it's still beautiful to me.

On Thursday, Feb. 27, my two-hour drive up the coast landed me at the Samoset Resort for the Maine Fishermen's Forum in Rockport. The wind was whipping flags atop 40-foot poles that seemed to huddle together at the edge of the parking lot, signaling a brutal but thankfully short walk to the hotel. As I entered the double doors, my spine relaxed and I cracked a smile, excited to see so many familiar and friendly faces.

2014 0304 KeithI spent the weekend walking the exhibit halls and attending conference sessions, enjoying some one-on-one time with New England and Canadian fishing folks. I even bumped into Eileen Sobeck, the new NMFS director. I happened to be carrying the April issue of NF, in which Sobeck's first column appears (p. 5).

She may be new to this job, but Sobeck is not new to NOAA or the fishing industry. Find out more in my video interview with the new director in an upcoming episode of NF Live.

Among many familiar faces at the forum was 2012 Highliner Dewey Hemilright from Kitty Hawk, N.C., who queried Sobeck and other NMFS staff on the intricacies of the new shark-fin ban that has serious side effects on fishermen who land sharks legally.

I also had the pleasure of sitting down with a couple of Alaskans — Jennifer Lincoln, director of the NIOSH Alaska Field Safety Station, and Keith Colburn, captain of the Wizard. Even in a seemingly isolated, small Maine town as far from the tourist season as you can get, you'll find that fishing folks are drawn not by the siren song of perfect summer weather, but the ever-present lure of folks who love to talk about fish. And that we did.

Photo: Jessica Hathaway, Capt. Keith Colburn and Melissa Wood in the National Fisherman booth at Maine Fishermen's Forum; Jessica Hathaway

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New England is still firmly in winter's grasp with no signs of spring, except the luxury of returning home from work and school in waning daylight — for nine-to-fivers, that is. Most fishermen still start their day before sunup and return to dock well after dark. That is, if they're still fishing.

This week, the beleaguered Northeast groundfish industry saw a few glimpses of light. Nothing that can magically turn this ship around, but every little bit helps. After all, we're not looking for magic, just for folks to be able to make a living.

First, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that NOAA expects to cover the costs of at-sea and dockside monitoring for the Northeast groundfish fleet again for the 2014-15 season.

2014 0227 DraggersYesterday, NMFS director Eileen Sobeck announced that Northeast fisheries will get $33 million — nearly 45 percent — of the $75 million slated for disaster relief in six fisheries across the country. This relief money follows 2012 federal disaster declarations and more than a year of waiting for Congress to come around to funding the government action. In the meantime, the original $150 million allotment was cut in half, but NOAA officials also waived the 25 percent match that is usually required of states who apply for funds.

Also yesterday, the New England Fishery Management Council meeting adjourned after identifying several alternatives to Northeast area closures. At the end of the meeting's first day, it seemed as though the industry proposed plan would be set aside entirely in favor of the status quo. In the end, the new plan was included for review along with other proposals, all of which will be reviewed at a public hearing later this year.

NOAA recently released figures that show how disastrous 2012 was for the New England fleet, and by all accounts 2013 was even worse. There is little hope that we can sustain the fleet as it exists now. But with small increments of change like these, we can hope to retain critical infrastructure that will keep New England's 400-year-old commercial fishing tradition alive to fight another day.

Photo: Draggers tied up in New Bedford, Mass.; Jessica Hathaway

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A group of environmentalists is threatening to sue NOAA because it's not working fast enough to protect turtles from interactions with Gulf Coast shrimp trawls.

Welcome to the federal management process, folks!

Now imagine the outcome of those slow-grinding wheels actually determined your livelihood. Seems slightly more uncomfortable, no?

2014 0220 TEDTurtleNOAA is not stonewalling environmental groups to protect shrimpers. You'd be hard pressed to find a precedent for that type of action from NOAA or NMFS.

But to their credit, the agency has committed to some thorough research on the subject. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that non-governmental organizations have all the facts, NOAA's southeast regional administrator, Roy Crabtree, held meetings to discuss the targeted skimmer trawls in the summer of 2012. Skimmer trawls are used primarily in shallow waters like Louisiana bays and estuaries.

"We're not abandoning this issue, there's just more work that needs to be done to get it right," Crabtree said in November 2012. This statement followed NOAA's research of working skimmer trawls that indicated requiring turtle excluder devices on these trawls would not provide the predicted conservation benefit because TEDs don't work as well on inshore gear as they do on offshore otter trawls.

But why let the research muddy the waters? This lawsuit is an end-run around a system that is working to find a way to reduce turtle bycatch without destroying an entire fishery. It is the latest salvo in what appears to be systematic attack on Louisiana shrimpers, who have been hard hit by severe hurricanes and the massive BP oil spill in 2010. Most recently, environmental groups gathered behind the red-listing of Louisiana shrimp on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

In a letter to NOAA yesterday, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Sea Turtle Conservancy wrote, “One year, 2 months, and 25 days (or 451 days) have passed since the Fisheries Service reinitiated consultation and it has still not issued a biological opinion.”

That's about the same amount of time it takes to get federal fisheries landings figures — and we have a system and process in place for gathering that information. We are still studying the effects of Corexit and oil contamination on the people and sea life in the Gulf Coast — with no firm conclusions. The spill began on April 20, 2010, and was plugged on July 15, 2010. It's been 3 years, 7 months and 5 days (or 1,316 days) since the spill was capped.

If we really want to solve the problem of turtle interactions with shrimp trawls, let's let NOAA finish the job of studying it. But if we want to get the big picture of what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico fisheries, we need to commit to more research on the oil spill.

Photo: A turtle escapes an offshore TED-equipped net; NOAA

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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 4/22/14

  • OSU study targets commercial fishing injuries
  • Delaware's native mud crab making recovery
  • Alaska salmon catch projected to drop 47 percent
  • West Coast groundfish fishery bill passes
  • Maine's scallop season strongest in years

Brian Rothschild of the Center for Sustainable Fisheries on revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Inside the Industry

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently soliciting applicants for open advisory panel seats as well as applications from scientists interested in serving on its Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Read more...

The North Carolina Fisheries Association (NCFA), a nonprofit trade association representing commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and processors, recently announced a new leadership team. Incorporated in 1952, its administrative office is in Bayboro, N.C.

Read more...

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