Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Thursday, 28 March 2013
Here in Tacoma, Wash., we're on the last day of the National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium. Our agenda today is to set some goals for the National Working Waterfront Network, as has been the tradition for this symposium, which meets every three years and is in its third go-round.
I'll admit, I'm a bit out of my comfort zone here. I'm used to spending time with fishermen and the people who supply the fishing industry. That's the sweet spot for me. This week I've been surrounded by folks from Sea Grant, port and city managers, politicians and their staff, academics, federal workers, and a few representatives from nonprofit associations who keep coastal living in their scopes.
These are the people who are steering working waterfront planning in this country on the federal and local levels.
At this morning's introduction, conference chair Nicole Faghin, coastal management specialist with Washington Sea Grant, made an excellent observation. "It's an intimate connection that we're trying to make… bringing the water to the people."
We don't have to bring the people to the water. People are already drawn to the water. The difficult task is to manage access in an equitable way.
As a representative of the commercial fishing industry, I have held to my mantra that the fishing industry is primarily concerned with maintaining access and infrastructure through down cycles in local fish stocks.
The magazine's advocacy approach is keeping fishing fleets afloat as stocks rebuild and as we improve our management techniques to keep fishermen fishing.
In a session yesterday on the National Working Waterfronts Policy, Keith Rizzardi, chairman of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, said, "If the fish disappear, you have nothing."
That's true. But that's neither the beginning nor the end of the story. If the fishermen disappear, you've got nothing. If the fish houses disappear, you have nothing. If the ice houses and boatyards disappear, you've got nothing.
We need all of these elements to preserve the fishing industry and working waterfronts as they've been defined for the last 400 years.
What I can say to our readers is that your basic needs are recognized here. The folks who are steering this ship want you to be around for the next 400 years and beyond. Whether we get there is a question we'll have to answer a few years at a time.
Thursday, 21 March 2013
I'm not a stuff person. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and my internal well-being. That being the case, I'd rather eat wild fish than farmed. But more importantly, I prefer never to eat genetically modified foods.
That's been on my radar for several years as far as corn, wheat and soy go. But now the FDA is on the verge of approving the first genetically modified animal protein for human consumption.
Before I even get to the flashing red question marks as to how a genetically-altered animal might affect the human body upon ingestion, I have overwhelming concerns about how this lab-rat-fish might affect wild populations of salmon.
There is talk of Fraser River populations looking moderately healthy again this season. Even in Maine, Atlantic salmon is set for a banner year (comparatively) of fish exiting the river systems. And of course, there's Alaska and the entire U.S. West Coast.
Some of those salmon populations have suffered setbacks, from Alaska kings to California everything. But we are working on restoring those populations.
So what could happen to them if Frankenfish mixes with these wild populations? The answer is: We don't know.
Why don't we know? Because the FDA relies on the company (in this case AquaBounty Technologies) applying for the permit to conduct its own safety studies.
And guess what the AquaBounty folks discovered in the analysis of their own product? It's safe! Imagine that.
This week several retailers, including Trader Joe's, Aldi and Whole Foods announced that they will boycott the genetically modified salmon, should it come to market.
But you can make a mark, as well. The FDA extended the deadline for public comments on Frankenfish. If you want your voice to be heard, now is your chance. And it's likely your last chance.
Click here to submit a comment directly to the FDA.
If you need a leg up, Food & Water Watch offers a standard comment that you can personalize on their site.
Thursday, 14 March 2013
This week marks the beginning of what promises to be a long process toward reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which expires at the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
Already, we have seen infighting between Massachusetts lawmakers Reps. Ed Markey and John Tierney.
Markey mistakenly believes Magnuson is flexible enough because it allows fishing fleets and communities to be eligible for disaster declarations (this eligibility is of course no guarantee of actual aid, as we've seen for fisheries across the country during this time of excruciating political retardation).
And as far as the Northeast groundfish fleet is concerned, fishermen don't want or need simple handouts (though I am sure they would not be cast aside). What these fleets need is a hope that when the stocks decide the conditions are right to thrive again, the fishing infrastructure will be there to service the industry.
The primary problem in New England is that codfish are not responding to the 10-year rebuilding timeline, despite the fact that fishermen have been catching them under increasingly restrictive management for the last two decades (to the point of strangulation for most small boat owners).
Even some who praised catch limits for the 2006 reauthorization, like Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association CEO John Pappalardo, now concede that they are an ineffective tool without annual stock assessments.
But the process of reauthorizing Magnuson will also attempt to incorporate the concerns and challenges of fisheries across the country. As House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said yesterday during his opening statement:
"The Secretary of Commerce declared seven fisheries disasters in 2012 and several more have been requested. New England is facing severe cuts in the quotas for important fisheries. The Gulf of Mexico is facing severely restrictive fishing seasons for recreational fishermen. The Pacific Northwest is seeing management and data collection costs growing with an ever increasing burden falling on fishermen. All of these fisheries and all of these regions need economic stability."
Put on your seatbelts, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
I kicked off the International Boston Seafood Show with a National Seafood Marketing Coalition luncheon on Sunday. Coalition Director Bruce Schactler spearheaded the event, with a menu featuring five iconic species from around the country.
The coalition is building momentum around a piece of legislation that would create a National Seafood Marketing Fund with a portion of Saltonstall-Kennedy coffers. The S-K grant program was established to promote U.S. seafood through marketing, but has primarily been used to fund fisheries research projects in recent years.
There is no doubt a dearth of data for many federally managed fisheries. But there is even less marketing and promotion. A national fund could help us sell U.S. seafood as a sustainable choice across the board, capitalizing on NMFS' high standards for U.S. fisheries.
Alaska salmon is a classic case of marketing being a game changer. Salmon from Alaska once was available only in a can, unless you were lucky enough to be in Alaska for fresh fish.
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute started telling a new story, and the processors and fleets responded in kind by shifting focus to improve handling and offer value-added products.
As we look at imported seafood increasingly infringing on our market share (around 90 percent of the seafood consumed in this country is imported), perhaps we need to focus less on volume and more on quality, as well as promoting the inherently high quality products of so many American fisheries.
We live in a global marketplace, so we will always eat imported seafood. But American seafood should be garnering a price worthy of its quality.
Thursday, 07 March 2013
Only a fool looks back without looking forward.
My task every year when the NF staff puts together our annual Yearbook issue is to review and project, always with a hopeful eye. And it's also my job as I make the annual rounds to regional fishing trade shows and conferences.
I talk to fishermen about what their recent seasons have been like and what they expect next year; attend conferences that review all variety of studies and try to project a future for many aspects of commercial fishing; and catch up with the land lubbers who run the shoreside businesses.
The themes this year are climate and control. Fishermen all over the country are worried about what changing ocean temperatures (among other influential factors) will mean for their fishery this year and this century. They are also worried that their access is being stripped away, as the powerful forces behind catch shares spread their influence into every facet of the seafood industry.
For the most part, they speculate, wring their hands and hope. But I have also seen a huge upwelling of motivation to do something.
This weekend, I'll be at the International Boston Seafood Show attending meetings and receptions aimed at moving forward with a national marketing agenda for commercial fishing.
This effort holds significant promise for the future of U.S. fleets across the country. More than anything else, marketing efforts can result in increased ex-vessel prices for commercial fishermen. It's certainly something to believe in at a time when faith in the future is at an all-time low in this industry. I hope we can start to turn that around.
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
I've seen some terrible headlines about fishing lately.
Officials Back Deep Cuts in Atlantic Cod Harvest to Save Industry (NYT)
Fishing's decline looms; will fish eaters notice? (AP)
First of all, if you believe the first headline, the second headline seems impossible. Cuts will save the industry, but fishing is on the precipice? (For the record, the AP story has some good reporting on imports versus local seafood and how global supply affects the markets, but I wouldn't guess that from the headline.)
Second of all, fishing is not in a decline. Or at least it needn't be. We've had a hard time figuring out why the cod aren't coming back (and for what I am sure is not the last time, fishing effort is not the only problem there), but there are 15 species in the multispecies complex that is New England groundfish. There are healthy populations in the mix, which makes perfect sense. Some are up and some are down all the time. That's the nature of nature.
Despite the now-debunked theory that we'd be all fished out globally in a mere 35 years, there are plenty of fish in the sea. We just have to figure out how best to catch the plentiful ones when they're plentiful, and then create markets for them so fishermen are getting a decent price for their efforts.
Some people who mean well are capitalizing on the horrid misnomer "trash fish."
Chefs Collaborative is organizing a $125-per-plate Trash Fish Dinner next month that will feature scup, sea robin and dogfish.
Along with being considered an — ahem — underutilized species, dogfish is very likely one of the reasons cod is so slow to return to healthy biomass numbers.
Or perhaps I should say our misguided notion to protect the dogfish is one of the reasons. Our fishery managers believed, using best available data and not accounting for fishermen's anecdotal evidence that their nets were often overwhelmed by schools of the sharks off the Atlantic coast, that dogfish were in a state of severe decline.
So we instated measures to protect them, and the result was that we were quickly overrun with them. Oh and one of their favorite meals is juvenile cod. Hmmmmm. Well that's too bad, isn't it?
There's a similar story about sea otters in Southeast Alaska, which are snapping up delicious Dungeness and quickly becoming an unsustainable population to the detriment of the remaining Dungeness fishermen there.
I suppose a true fishing advocate would run right out to order a dogfish taco while wearing a Southeast sea otter pelt.
I'm always up for a good dare.
Thursday, 21 February 2013
As we sit in our comfortable office chairs or possibly at the helm of a fishing boat in an icy sea, the families of five Nova Scotia fishermen wait for a federal salvage operation to commence.
In the meantime, a private boat with four divers aboard is on its way to find the capsized 42-foot halibut boat that flipped over in 30-foot seas on Sunday night. The missing fishermen could very well be inside the boat.
I was just in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, for the Eastern Canadian Fisheries Exposition. I met fishermen from small towns all along the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia. Many of them came to the expo with their sons, daughters and grandchildren, and nearly all of them grew up on fishing boats.
That explains why all five of the crewmen aboard the Miss Ally were under the age of 35. Fishing is a lifeline for the towns that dot the craggy coast of this province. In Nova Scotia, children still eagerly follow their parents into the fishing business.
And while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wait to make the call on a salvage operation, the Miss Ally drifts at sea, upturned and threatening to sink with her secrets.
We've lost too many fishermen and too many boats to pass up the opportunity to find out as much as we can from this accident. If the Canadian government has any interest in finding its own citizens and honoring their lives, it will snap to and do whatever it takes to salvage the Miss Ally.
Thursday, 14 February 2013
NPR's three-part series on the Marine Stewardship Council addresses primarily the environmentalists' complaints about MSC (that it has expanded too quickly and, therefore, can't possibly be certifying only truly sustainable — whatever that means — seafood).
What is shocking is the fact that this series never once mentions the U.S. fishery management system. But even worse, it doesn't dig into the conflicts of interest that persist in the MSC's foundation supporters and those who pay for the blue sustainability logo. Nor does it truly address the consequences of a sustainability logo that no small fleet could afford for the long haul.
They would have gotten straight to the heart of it by addressing the most recent MSC controversy. That McDonald's announced its fish menu items would be made with all MSC-certified pollock the same week Russia announced its (controversial) pollock fishery was going forward with MSC certification.
Whole Foods and WalMart did not agree to start selling only MSC-labeled fish out of the blue one day. They were lobbied to do so (which the series does reveal).
So here's the rub: Fleets that want to keep selling into particular markets go through the very expensive MSC certification program in order to keep selling to those retailers that MSC has lobbied. That means MSC is driving its clients on one end by marketing themselves not to the fleets or to the public, but to the retailers on the other end. It's quite clever.
What that tells me is not that their primary aim is to educate the public or protect fishermen, but that they seek to control a stake in the global fishing industry. I have a hard time believing those efforts are altruistic when I see that MSC has funding sources in common with some of the world's largest corporations.
And what this series confirms for me is my belief that it's nearly impossible to isolate one fishery, green (or blue, as the case may be) stamp it, call it sustainable and walk away (regardless of whether you promise to come back to it three or five years later).
It also makes me very fearful that perhaps this push in questioning the MSC has a deeper reason — to further the cause for open-ocean finfish aquaculture, which some people foolishly believe will result in "organic" seafood.
The oceans are complicated, people. In the United States, the National Marine Fisheries Service does a good job of addressing the ebbs and flows of fishing stocks. In some cases, it (or the states that manage some fisheries) excels. In some cases it falls flat on its face and then tries to correct a misstep. We have very high standards here for our wild seafood.
That is the best we can expect when the marine environment meets government oversight. The bottom line is you can't fool yourself into thinking any label is a panacea. And you shouldn't fool yourself into believing open-ocean fish farms are the answer to the "dearth" of wild seafood.
U.S. fisheries are overall very healthy. If we turn our focus to eating a variety of foods in general, we will be assured of supporting more local growers and small-boat harvesters as well as keeping a check on the exploitation of our natural resources.
But instead, we turn more and more to the mantra that being too big to fail is equivalent to being sustainable.
Tuesday, 05 February 2013
The New England cod fishery has existed for hundreds of years, lasting through many major swings in landings.
Yes, this is the lowest we've ever "seen" the biomass (insofar as our limited data allows us to see), but this is also the warmest we've seen the water and the most dogfish we've had to contend with.
Fishing effort has been severely curtailed for more than 20 years, every year with the promise that someday soon, the sacrifices of the fleet will be worth it. And make no mistake, this fleet has made sacrifice after sacrifice, apparently to no avail. If the cod stock gets more and more dire every year, it's not because we have been fishing them rapaciously. It's because the circumstances for their return are not optimal and even worse, they are apparently beyond human control.
Cod landings hit a low very close to what we're seeing now during a 20-year period between 1950 and 1970.
That was also a time when huge foreign fleets parked offshore and scooped up as much fish as they could carry home across the oceans. Few people mention the effects this might have on the long-term sustainability of the stock.
After the Magnuson Act pushed them off of Georges and out of the Gulf of Maine, U.S. landings increased again. Then dipped for a while, then increased again and are dipping again.
We are not fools for wanting to be sure the cod returns. What makes us foolish is the notion that we can somehow trick nature into doing our bidding just because we want it badly enough.
Some say the best option, as we keep a narrow-minded focus on "how we've always done things," may be to shut down the industry for a full year. We could try to think outside the conference room on this, but I doubt we will. As of now, it appears that we will indeed allow the ports and infrastructure to shrivel up and go the way of the vacation condo and law firm.
We'll let our 400-year-old industry drift into the fog instead of using all the tools in our arsenal to chart a clear course for the future of the fleet, allowing fishermen to pursue redfish and other healthy populations in the 15-fish complex that is New England groundfish. And then, after we've thinned out the dogfish population a little (a necessity as a result of our self-imposed protections) and the water cools again, thanks to Mother Nature, we'll pat ourselves on the back for having saved the cod.
Then we'll look around for someone to go fish for it, find one or two fishing conglomerates that amassed enough quota to make money on what little fish they were allowed to land, and wonder why it's so expensive to buy local fish.
Welcome to the short-sighted future. This is what happens when you think you're watching out for the long term, steaming full ahead, secure in your course. But the surprise attack comes from the side.
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
As New England's groundfish fleets wait for bad news this week about their quotas for the coming fishing year, I am also wondering if a federal fishery disaster declaration will result in any aid from the federal government.
The best chance of it was lost when all non-Sandy-related funding was stripped from the House relief bill, including funding for three fishery disasters.
As Drew E. Minkiewicz and Shaun M. Gehan illustrate in their Washington Lookout column in our March issue, the prospects for representation of fishermen on Capitol Hill look fairly grim as we usher in the 113th Congress.
Fishermen have lost Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and the late Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and are likely to lose John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the president's cabinet.
On the House side, we said goodbye to representatives from a wide swath of the country, including Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) .
Tomorrow I will join some fishing industry representatives from Alaska and Washington state in meetings with Maine's Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree to discuss Pebble Mine and what the implications of such a project could have on local and national fishing communities.
My hope is to spread the word that wild fisheries need to be protected across this country, whether that's keeping a mine out of the headwaters of the world's largest wild sockeye run or offering fishermen and small fishing towns a leg up in bridging the gap between disaster and recovery.
The problems we face as an industry now have very little to do with effort vs. abundance because we are managing our stocks with great care in this country. Our next hurdle is to overcome the dearth of data, so we can approach the looming problems of climate, access and gear modification.
If we hope to have an industry even 20 years from now, we have to start protecting it now, from habitat to infrastructure.
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Callifornia crabbing: Here's a fun video shot on the decks of the Majestik while catching Dungeness crab off the coast of northern California.
Over 500 lots of seafood processing equipment formerly owned by Adak Seafood will be sold at auction on Tuesday, June 18, starting at 10 a.m. Hawaiian-Aleutian Daylight Time at the Hilton Garden Inn in Anchorage Alaska.
The equipment is located in a recently updated 250,000 square foot state-of-the-art processing facility in Adak, Alaska. Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Hilco Industrial, which conducts 75 machinery and equipment auctions in a wide range of industries annually, will conduct the auction.
Adak Seafood opened originally as Ada Fisheries in Anchorage in 1986. The facility, updated in 2005, is located on the island of Adak, the southernmost city in Alaska near the western end of the Aleutian Islands. The facility processed cod primarily, as well as halibut, blackcod, crab and pollock, Hilco says.
Alaska fisherman and commercial fisheries activist Kevin Adams was elected chairman at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors meeting on May 9 in Anchorage.
The governor-appointed board consists of seven members: five seafood processors and two industry representatives actively engaged in commercial fishing. Adams was appointed to fill a harvester seat by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2004.
With 38 years of fishing experience in Bristol Bay, Adams has long been an active member in the Alaska fishing industry, ASMI says. He has worked for both the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and the Bering Sea Fisherman's Association, and represents Alaska fishermen on numerous boards.