Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Thursday, 09 May 2013
As we looked at each other over steaming cups of coffee yesterday morning, somewhat in awe of the atmosphere of the NOAA conference we're attending, New Hampshire groundfish fisherman Dave Goethel summed up my sentiments exactly: The tenor of the panel discussions at Managing Our Nation's Fisheries is surprisingly amenable to the commercial fishing industry.
The sessions here in Washington, D.C., were organized by NOAA staff and have been hosted by panels of knowledgable consensus builders taking a hard look at the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Across the canvas of discussion run the themes of allowing fishery management councils flexibility to create working rebuilding programs for those fisheries that do not respond to the arbitrary 10-year rule; working toward management that recognizes all aspects of stock depletion and migratory shifts, including environmental changes; calling for better data, which can be accomplished by continuing and improving collaborative research; and establishing economic baselines for healthy fishing communities and recognizing their importance in sustainable fisheries.
As Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said yesterday, "In order to have a sustainable fishery, there needs to be stability for the fleet."
Sure, there's the odd hard-liner, but they appear here to be the outliers. And in many cases, the marginal voices are the same ones who so recently seemed to have a stranglehold on the nation's progress toward truly workable and sustainable fisheries — those with healthy fish as well as healthy fishing communities.
Yesterday, Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation, took the microphone to ask the panel not to recommend for flexibility in Magnuson because he believes we ought not write the law for the exceptions to the rule. Unfortunately, Shelley seems unwilling to recognize that flexibility is specifically geared toward those exceptions to the rule.
The law is written for the majority of fisheries, and for those it tends to work fine. But in managing those fisheries for which the biomass does not recognize the significance of returning to full strength in a decade, there ought to be some workable solution for the fish as well as the fishermen. That is what representatives from every single fishery management council requested in the opening comments at this conference.
With a surprising amount of grace and fortitude, we seem to be edging away from the assumption that fishermen are rapacious scoundrels who deserve nothing short of being put out of business for so poorly managing their own resources (which in many cases saw no serious declines until they were under directed federal management).
It remains to be seen what Congress will do with the recommendations that come out of this conference. But regardless of progress or lack thereof (and the latter seems highly likely in the current Congress), there is no doubt that we are seeing the results of a sea change in this industry.
Like Goethel (also a New England Fishery Management Council member and NF Highliner) and many other fishing industry stakeholders, I came into this conference prepared to be slogged by presentations that towed the line. What I have seen is a remarkable turnaround in attitude about our nation's fishing industry. And beyond that, the attendees have exhibited pride, gratitude and understanding.
I've overheard the phrase, "That was refreshing" multiple times in the last three days. It was. Here's to a future we can reach together.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Tuesday, 07 May 2013
I am in Washington, D.C., delving into national strategies to improve fishery management and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but today I'm being pulled toward Alaska as we launch an online spotlight on Pebble Mine with Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.
In this industry, the proposal to build Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest wild sockeye salmon run, has been a hot topic for several years. But the public at large is still largely uninformed on the subject.
A week and a half ago, the Environmental Protection Agency released its second draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed. The first draft assessment had a 90-day comment period, which garnered 250,000 comments. This second assessment has only a 30-day comment period. That means as stakeholders in this industry, we must work harder to spread the word and encourage fishermen and others to learn about Bristol Bay and Pebble Mine, and then to provide an informed comment to the EPA's assessment.
We are not all on the same page when it comes to Pebble Mine, as tends to be the case in fisheries conservation issues. But we are all stakeholders, whether we catch fish, eat fish, count fish, or just love fish.
Don't miss this opportunity. The door closes May 31.
For more information, visit www.nationalfisherman.com/pebble-mine.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
In essentials, North Carolina's House Bill 983 is a replication of prior attempts to designate red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass as game fish.
The tricky part is that it includes funds to pay for fisheries observers and dredging of shallow-draft channels, which are critical to commercial fleets and coastal communities.
The ironically named Fisheries Development Act would actually destroy the commercial fisheries for these species, which accounts for just 10 percent of their harvest. (I'm mystified as to what fisheries this bill would be developing, considering the recreational take on these species is around 90 percent already. Do they need 100 percent to fully develop?)
The bill also would remove those fish from the marketplace, meaning the only people who could eat them are the ones who fish for them. Just as we begin to understand that eating locally supports local economies as well as good overall health, why would we remove the option for the public to buy local fish?
Some critics of the bill, including Sean McKeon, head of the nonprofit N.C. Fisheries Association, call it an end-run around a net ban.
This wouldn't be the first time the Coastal Conservation Association — a strong supporter of the game fish designation — would be associated with a commercial fishing net ban.
In fact, it wouldn't even be the first time in the last six months. In December, Oregon gillnetters were relegated to narrow channels on the Columbia river as a result of a CCA-backed measure. That is, until a judge stepped in and agreed with supporters of the commercial fishing fleet that their critics need more research in order to justify stripping them of their livelihoods.
A petition to oppose the bill has already garnered nearly 600 signatures in its aim for 1,000.
The bill was introduced two weeks ago and is quickly gaining opposition. But as we saw in Oregon, opponents of commercial fishing are steadfast. We must stand together to preserve fishermen's access to the water and to the fish, no matter how small or far-flung the port.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Thursday, 25 April 2013
How do you stamp out tilapia? Just ask Roger Fitzgerald and he'll tell you, "One piece at a time."
That's essentially my approach. I know people like to tout that it's a vegetarian fish. But I don't care. If you're growing it overseas, I'm skeptical of what it's eating. I cringe when I buy my kid toys made in a wide swath of countries with opaque standards of quality (not to mention the working conditions). Why would I want him to ingest something from there?
On top of that, any animal protein I buy should not be too uniform. If it comes in a cookie-cutter shape, it's not wild enough for me.
I had a delicious meal of Brazilian fish stew this week with a big fillet of Pacific cod. I buy local cod whenever I can, but I had to make this purchase at the grocery store fish counter rather than my local fishmonger's, so frozen-at-sea P-cod it was.
After I had my pound-and-a-half piece all wrapped up, I noticed some gorgeous sockeye in the case next to it. I needed whitefish, but man that salmon looked amazing. I said as much to the fish fella. He grinned, thanked me and turned to the next guy in line.
And what did that guy get? "Atlantic" salmon steaks. He was quite proud of his choice, from what I could tell — chest puffed out, confidently ordering for himself and his companion as she smiled behind him. I cannot imagine how anyone looks at farmed salmon steaks sitting below a gorgeous swath of red-fleshed wild sockeye fillets and says, "I'll take the the pale one! Two servings, please!"
Like Fitz says in his column in our June issue (page 10): "There will always be the tilapia eaters, and there will always be those who are looking for something better — and those are the folks we need to help find it."
I keep getting the feeling that when it comes to fish people have no idea what they're ordering. It seems like the average buyer believes that if the fish counter is selling it, it must be good fish, right? Atlantic salmon means it came from the Atlantic ocean, right? Genetically speaking, yes. Why would anyone think any different? Because no one has ever told them.
And what do they think of fish after they've eaten their watery (floating!) tilapia? If it's not good, then seafood as a household protein takes a hit.
This is where marketing can make a difference. A recent study showed that Americans are willing to pay 10 percent more for clothing and appliances made in the States. Would they do the same for seafood?
I think it's high time we found out.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
As I drove into town on Congress Street this morning, I noticed the road was lined with bright American flags.
Were they there last week, or am I just seeing everything with fresh eyes?
Our offices are based in Portland, Maine, and pretty much everyone around here had co-workers and loved ones attending the festivities in Boston yesterday, myself included.
When I hear about communication problems, emergency response and chaos, I often think of emergencies on fishing boats.
The reports out of Boston yesterday are excellent. Emergency response teams as well as locals were helpful and relatively calm in the face of a horrific attack. There were 23,000 people in Boston simply to run the marathon. That says nothing of the people who streamed in to see the traditional Patriots' Day Red Sox game at Fenway or the families who come in droves, because many New England schools are closed this week for spring break.
In light of the potential for utter chaos (T stops closed, no knowing if or when there would be another explosive device, tens of thousands of extra people in your city, including many children), Boston held it together.
Some of that can be chalked up to drills, training and tactical response measures. And some of it is truly the triumph of the human spirit.
Fishermen generally have spirit to spare, in my experience. But there's no such thing as too much training.
In honor of those who made a difference in Boston yesterday, do a drill or three. Do it for your loved ones if not for yourself and your crew. Get home safely.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Thursday, 11 April 2013
It's the season of blessings in the South. And I'm not talking about the sneezing brought on by the sudden swarm of pollen. (Bless you.)
From the bayous of the Gulf Coast to the bays of the southeast Atlantic between Easter and early May, the shrimp boats line up to celebrate with thousands of revelers in their fishing communities' annual Blessing of the Fleet.
This weekend, in Darien, Ga., the tide is right for the shrimp boats on parade to pass under the Darien River Bridge, atop which will stand a dozen priests and preachers poised with holy water to sprinkle down on each boat as it passes beneath them.
The blessing is the centerpiece of these celebrations, which often include live music, food, road races, parades and art walks. At the heart of it is the community, a gathering of souls at the waterfront to offer appreciation for an age-old industry that is the life blood for many small coastal towns.
As we send our fleets and fishermen off to sea for each season, we do so with hopeful and sometimes heavy hearts. Their days on deck, their harvest in the harbors and their families on shore are living, breathing Americana in hundreds of communities.
In Darien this weekend, about half of the town's 50 fishing boats are expected to take part in the blessing. The rest will be offshore trawling for shrimp.
I'm a might partial to Georgia and Carolina shrimp, being a native peach. That's the stuff I was raised on. But I'll say this, I've tried shrimp from all over this country, and it's all far superior to any of that imported farmed stuff that hardly passes as protein in my book.
Though we won't be honoring all the American shrimp fleets this spring, we say our own grace for the work you do when we eat the fruits of your labor. Thank you. (And bless you.)
Written by Jes Hathaway
Thursday, 04 April 2013
Mainers are a fiercely independent bunch. And Maine lobstermen are some of the prime examples. It makes sense. Many of them spend a lot of solitary time out on the water. It can be a trying task, eking out a living on this craggy coast.
Many lobstermen have deep family history to show that it can be done. And who wants to be outdone by their ancestors?
These days, the Maine lobster fishery has a healthy resource that's relatively easy to manage and can be fished in small boats with or without a sternman.
Yes the fishery is sustainable, but is the market?
Right now, the opportunity to pass a $3 million marketing bill in the Maine statehouse is at risk as a result of industry infighting. Where it is coming from is somewhat of a mystery to the fishery's representatives, including the Maine Lobstermen's Association's Patrice McCarron, Dave Cousens and Annie Tselikis.
The approach to the marketing bill started with outreach meetings last year, which carried into a flurry of meetings in January. In all, roughly 1,600 lobstermen turned out, and the support was overwhelmingly positive.
Now after three legislative work sessions (and a fourth looming) aimed at finessing the bill that would bring this marketing effort to life, the prospects are looking shaky. And it all comes down to what percentage the lobstermen and the processors are going to pay.
The bill was written with a 75-25 split between harvesters and processors. The Maine Lobstermen's Association is looking at a possible 60-40 split, and the Maryland-based union International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is suddenly representing a small pool of lobstermen and reportedly pulling for a 70-30 split, with processors taking on the heavier burden.
The union is claiming that it wants to help Maine lobstermen by sending their representatives to Augusta. But they don't do that for nothing. They would take dues and send 60 percent of those funds right back to Maryland.
The point of a lobster marketing fund is to keep hard-earned Maine money in Maine. It seems to me the best approach to that is to keep Maine lobstermen represented by groups based in Maine and people who live in the state.
Take a page out of Alaska's salmon fishermen's books. Theirs is also a fishery of small boats, steady management and a limited market. Limited market, you say? For salmon? That's crazy! Everyone loves a salmon fillet. Yes, now. Thanks to the fishery's dedication to marketing through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Starting in 1994, these fiercely independent fishermen agreed to tax themselves at 1 percent to pay for increased marketing efforts. And that decision has paid off in spades. (The tax has since been restructured, but everyone has to start somewhere.)
What have you got to lose in trying out a new marketing effort? A relatively small increase in license fees. What have you got to gain? Growth and sustainability of market share.
Written by Jes Hathaway
Tuesday, 02 April 2013
Chesapeake Bay's crab season started yesterday, on April Fools' Day. And according to many locals, anyone on the hunt opening day would have brought home the wrong kind of blues.
For many watermen, the real season doesn't begin until the crabs are really on the move in mid- to late-April. Until they rouse from their winter dormancy and begin moving around, blue crabs are unlikely to land themselves in anyone's pots. This year, however, the region is experiencing unusually cold temperatures and late-season snow, which could push the season even later.
While it's not unusual for fishermen to bring back the first reports of ocean weather and temperature oddities, it does seem odd that there are so many to report and no apparent trend outside of the magnitude of these anomalies.
The same cold snap is keeping white shrimp scarce off the southern Atlantic coast. Their spawn produce the fall crop. And no one knows what will happen in the meantime with the summer brown shrimp.
Last year, warm waters swung far north far too early in the season, which prompted Maine's money-maker lobster crop to shed their hard shells early. Soft-shells, or shedders, are great for small, local, live markets. But they are more difficult to ship, making the season borderline at best for profitability.
In some places, the shifts in water temperatures are simply resulting in some species moving into vastly different territory. Codfish are hard to come by in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, but they are rebounding in Norway and off Newfoundland.
Humboldt squid have moved far north off the coast of California over the last several years, possibly in search of cooler waters.
Maybe the populations of different species have always behaved this way, and we paid less attention because fishing was managed, shall we say, less proactively?
In my mind, it indicates two critical things. First, that we need to pay attention to these shifts and look for patterns. Second, the best way to keep the fishing industry alive through these changes is to give fishermen more flexibility to go after multiple species.
Our current management trend toward fishing quotas does the opposite. This style of management may work great for some fisheries, but it does not suit all, or arguably even most.
Fishermen don't fish in a vacuum, nor should they be managed that way.
Written by Jes Hathaway
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.
Written by Jes Hathaway
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.
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(Bloomberg) — After fighting for more than two years to avoid paying almost $1 billion in oil spill damages to Gulf Coast shrimpers, oystermen and seafood processors it claimed didn’t exist, BP Plc has thrown in the towel.
Read more... (Bloomberg) — Millions of dead fish stretched out over 200 kilometers of central Vietnamese beaches are posing the biggest test so far for the new government. The Communist administration led by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has been criticized on social media for a lack of transparency and slow response, with thousands protesting Sunday in major cities and provincial areas.
Beaches of dead fish sow unrest in Vietnam
(Bloomberg) — Millions of dead fish stretched out over 200 kilometers of central Vietnamese beaches are posing the biggest test so far for the new government.
The Communist administration led by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has been criticized on social media for a lack of transparency and slow response, with thousands protesting Sunday in major cities and provincial areas.Read more...