Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
This week the FDA and EPA released a joint revised recommendation on the amount of seafood pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume weekly. Since 2004, federal officials have recommended a weekly maximum amount of two servings (8 ounces) of low-mercury seafood for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as for children.
The new recommendation advises these people to eat a minimum of two weekly servings and a maximum of 12 ounces (about three servings). That’s a pretty narrow window that unfortunately will likely still serve to scare people away from seafood, when the effort is to reverse that trend.
“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Stephen Ostroff, the FDA’s acting chief scientist. Officials believe this is because they were warning women to limit consumption. As long as they’re recommending a maximum, many moms will simply continue to avoid it just to be safe.
The problem is that in this case, playing it safe means offering less (or none) of some of the best food to your family. My question is, what is the real risk of pregnant women eating more than 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood every week? Is it worse than the risks to pregnant women who are eating more than 12 ounces of feedlot beef, pork or chicken?
This subject is near and dear to my heart as a mother and a mom-to-be. When I was pregnant with my 4-year-old, I craved tuna, and I ate it in all forms: canned albacore, canned chunk light, lightly seared sushi grade yellowfin, or grilled to a perfect medium if I didn’t know the source as well.
People often ask me if I was worried about the mercury. My answer is no. The reason is that even though I craved tuna and ate it once or twice a week, I also ate a lot of other proteins, including a variety of seafood — salmon, shrimp, lobster, hake, scallops and haddock are the top few that come to mind. (And though I am biased, I’m pretty sure my boy is perfect and one of the smartest preschoolers I know. And to this day, he plows through salmon, cod, calimari, tuna salad, steamed clams, you name it.)
Consumer advocacy groups are criticizing the government for not being specific enough about what kinds of fish specifically people should be eating. The avoid list amounts to the four species highest in methylmercury: Gulf of Mexico tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish and shark. After all, the purpose of the revision is to be *less* specific. I applaud the government on its step back from policing seafood consumption. We have become too reliant on lists and strict guidelines rather than using our own local markets and common sense to eat what’s available seasonally and locally. The difference between seafood and other forms of protein is that the options are so varied by region and even state to state that a recommendation for everyone to eat specific types of fish would be ludicrous.
Pregnant women are not that different than the rest of us. Yes, we have a few more rules to follow, and a short list of foods to avoid, again, just in case. But fish should never be one of them, nor should it be for the population at large. We should all be eating a variety of local (American if that’s the closest you can get), wild seafood. We should all be just as worried (if not more so) about what’s in our pork sausage (likely produced by a Chinese conglomerate) as the level of mercury in the fish we’re eating. But where do you find federal guidelines for consumption of chicken, beef and pork, and when was the last time you saw a headline about it?
I suppose the first step is to encourage Americans to eat more home-cooked meals, less processed and less fast food. Sure, we all need shortcuts from time to time. But if we rely on them a little less, then we might find that we’re healthier, happier and have more energy to complete the never-ending to-do lists of modern living.
Next, we should spread the word to our fellow citizens about what’s available locally and in season. The chances are, you won’t find it at Walmart or Super Target. But do you really want to buy your food from the same place that sells televisions and tires? It’s time to re-expand our horizons. Get out of the big-box and big-brother mindset, and discover what’s available from your community. Support what you love about the place where you’ve chosen to raise your children, for the health of your community as well as the health of your family.
Photo: Paella offers a delicious variety of seafood in a one-dish meal; SandsteinAdd a comment
Thursday, 05 June 2014
I met Eric and Amber Petersen from Muskegon, Mich., at the 2010 NF Profitable Harvest conference, and I’ve been in touch with them ever since. I loved their family fishing story so much that I asked freelance writer Dan Denov to go out with the Petersen brothers on their Lake Michigan whitefish trap net boats. (Click here to read that cover story from March 2012.)
Back then, Amber was scratching it out at the local farmers market, selling whitefish and slowly expanding her roster to include other local and wild fish. In the last four years, Amber has created a rapidly expanding local business with a new storefront in Muskegon, where she sells wild fish from all over the country, as well as smoked and prepared fish dips and sausages.
I jumped at the chance to meet up with her last September to see her new store and processing facility, as well as the dock from which the family has been launching commercial fishing boats since 1927. (Read the full story on page 21 of our July issue, or check out my slideshow of the ship-to-shore business.)
When I got talking to the rest of the NF staff about small-scale and local marketing efforts, the idea for our July issue special section began to grow. While the stories we have to share (starting on page 20) are just a small sampling of seafood marketing efforts across the country, they are representative of the range — family businesses, gear-type associations, state and national seafood promotion boards, small businesses that focus strictly on sourcing and selling local and wild seafood, and even an app that helps locals connect with fishermen and their catch.
The fact is, fishermen and seafood enthusiasts from coast to coast are plugging away at fresh ideas that might improve public access to wild American fish. Our federal government is supposed to be setting aside funds for grants toward exactly these kinds of businesses, but most of that money instead goes toward fishery assessments and research.
The Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1939 and its 1954 revisions (read about them in a story from the May 1954 issue of Maine Coast Fisherman) earmarked federal funds for seafood marketing grants. The National Seafood Marketing Coalition is working toward federal legislation that will reclaim a portion of those grant dollars. I hope they can pave the way for ventures like those featured in our July issue to get grants that will help them launch marketing efforts to put more local seafood onto American plates.
Thursday, 29 May 2014
My husband and I have been talking seafood nearly nonstop for two days now. The main topic is Maine lobster (tis the season for out-of-town guests), but for some reason we keep coming back to Gulf of Mexico shrimp.
Lucky for us, the gulf spring brown shrimp season opened in Louisiana’s inshore waters on Monday. Shrimpers are raring to go after a delay, resulting from a longer, colder winter than usual. But some fishermen have had their enthusiasm cut short already. The state’s enforcement arm of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has cited eight shrimpers for trawling in one of the small closed areas.
Of course it’s possible the shrimpers didn’t realize they were trawling in a closed area, given how small it is (it’s the pink square west of the Mississippi River on the map — download your own copy here). “That’s one of those ambiguous things," says fisheries activist Margaret Bryan Curole in Galliano, La. "Where exactly is the closed area? Just like the way they enforce the inshore/offshore line.”
It's also possible they knew exactly what they were doing. (Several calls to the department were not returned in time to post this story.) “That’s one of the spots where there’s always been shrimp, and right now there’s hardly any shrimp anywhere,” says Curole. “And that’s the way it’s been since the spill.”
The problem is that in the end, this incident only serves to scare the public about the safety of Gulf of Mexico shrimp, when the reality is, it’s far better than the nearly entirely untested — and popular alternative — Asian imports.
A better course of action — and use of taxpayer dollars — might be to increase and improve testing for shrimp as it comes to the docks (or even as it's hauled aboard), rather than paying enforcement officers to patrol a tiny area of the bay.
The delay of the season opener has guaranteed good prices for shrimpers. So let’s hope this is a small blip in an otherwise productive season.
Thursday, 22 May 2014
On Sunday, May 17, Irish farmer John Grant was out tending his sheep near Tullagh Beach, when he heard a cry for help. What he saw half a mile out to sea was the waving arm of a fisherman clinging to a lobster pot. His boat had capsized while he was tending his traps.
Grant contacted his mother, who alerted a local radio station. Soon another local fishing boat was rescuing the lobsterman, who had been in the water for more than an hour. A local volunteer lifeboat crew transferred him and carried him ashore. The fisherman was soon released from the hospital. A member of his rescue team says part of the reason the lobsterman is alive is that he was wearing a life jacket.
Just today, the crew of a Scottish fishing boat the Sylvia Bowers found a 75-year-old fisherman and his 35-year-old grandson 46 miles off the Scottish coast after two days adrift in their 16-foot lobster boat, just hours after the search was called off. The pair had tried their best to navigate and conserve fuel in thick fog, but were lost when their compass stopped working.
Last Thursday, May 15, the U.S. Coast Guard coordinated an operation during which the crew of a Spanish longliner rescued three French sailors about 1,200 miles off of Cape Cod. (Watch the video below.)
Now there’s an ongoing U.S. Coast Guard search for British sailors whose boat began taking on water about 620 miles off of Cape Cod last Thursday. The sailors are reported missing, but their families say they were well prepared for an emergency and are very likely to have climbed aboard a life raft. A Maersk containership spotted an upturned hull that is believed to be that of the Cheeki Rafiki, and the captain of a private catamaran taking part in the search has reported spotting more debris. Meanwhile, a Royal Air Force Hercules plane is conducting a search from the air.
These at-sea searches and rescues show how vast and unforgiving the oceans are, and yet how closely interconnected are all those who ply the seas — and even those who work near the water.
Without the help of good Samaritans, many more lives would be lost to the sea.
We hope for the safe recovery of the missing sailors and are thankful to those who extend a hand to help their fellow mariners.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
Alaska’s salmon season officially opened at 7 a.m. today with wet nets in the Copper River region.
For many Alaskans, salmon is the mother species. This one fish provides for the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people who work the salmon season on tenders, in canneries, and as captains and crew. Appropriately enough, the news magazine show “60 Minutes” aired a piece on the threats of farmed salmon to wild salmon populations on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 11.
It opens with correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta traveling to a salmon farm north of Vancouver, British Columbia, with Marine Harvest’s Ian Roberts. Roberts deflects the question of whether open-ocean salmon farms are damaging their natural environment by claiming salmon farming is nearly altruistic in nature because it reduces pressure on wild stocks.
The problem with this argument is it simply doesn’t hold water. Fish farms do nothing to relieve pressure on wild salmon stocks so long as the wild stocks are well-managed. When we manage our fisheries for sustainability rather than to meet market demand, then the amount of fish on the market is fixed year by year based on — in the case of salmon — escapement goals. It is not based on the demand for fish as a protein.
If anything, one could argue that salmon farms merely hide behind the problem while actually making it worse. What of the pressure fish farms put on the wild fish they use for feed? Are those species as well managed as wild American salmon? Certainly the business of fish farming — as a private industry rather than a public resource — is more dependent on the ups and downs of the market. So how does their need for fish-based feed affect wild populations of fish globally?
Is that a moot question simply because farming is perceived as the way of the future?
“We farm everything we eat,” Roberts says on the show. “All our vegetables are farmed. All our meats are farmed."
As activist Alexandra Morton points out, these are not farms, they are feedlots. The damage fallow farms leave behind can take many years for nature to correct. And what of the risk of disease and escapement? Morton has found evidence of infectious salmon anemia among wild populations. That disease, she says, existed in Chile’s farmed salmon industry for 10 years before it exploded and did colossal damage to the populations of farmed fish. But there was no wild population at risk in Chile like there is here and in Canada.
While the rest of the food movement is urging safer practices for food sources and farming — away from feedlots and industrial agriculture — the fishing industry is being persistently edged out of the public’s right to access the last vestiges of truly wild protein.
“The ocean is the last place where we hunted and gathered,” says Roberts. Note his use of the past tense.
Shouldn’t the solution be to take a closer look at the way we eat what we eat and go from there, rather than assuming we will continue to consume in the same way and simply must manufacture the food differently?
“The problem is there is 7 billion of us now on this planet,” says Roberts. “And the oceans can't give us any more fish. We owe it to our oceans to make sure that we're providing an alternate to just capturing the last wild fish.”
Indeed. We also owe it to ourselves to make sure we’re not poisoning the last wild fish.
Tuesday, 06 May 2014
Nearly two months ago, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared from radar after it crossed into Vietnamese airspace between its departure port of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and its intended destination in Beijing.
As other news takes over the 24-hour cycle, hopes of finding the missing airplane also begin to fade, despite the help and involvement of governments from all over the globe.
Chandrika Sharma was one of the 239 people aboard the plane. In our June issue, author Paul Molyneaux profiles the executive secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, who spent her career fighting for the rights of small-scale fishermen and the women who help sustain small fishing villages.
This struggle to maintain small fishing ports is nothing new in American fisheries. In late February, Congress approved a $75 million aid package in disaster relief funds, which was half of what proponents had requested. The aid will be distributed primarily to Alaska communities hit hard by a downturn in king salmon returns, Mississippi oystermen and groundfish fishermen all over New England.
Yes, these communities are relieved to receive some funds for their federally declared disasters. However, if you ask fishermen what they really want, it’s to keep fishing, not to survive on government funding. New gear could help some New England groundfishermen survive by helping them save money on fuel and reduce bycatch. Unfortunately, the Gearnet project that has been promoting research and experimentation with semipelagic trawl doors will not continue to be funded through fishery research grants. Find out more in Steve Eayrs’ Dock Talk on page 9 of our latest issue about how the project’s leaders intend to leave a very practical legacy that fishermen take advantage of.
Though the state of American fisheries is generally positive, we cannot ignore the plight of those who are struggling to survive. Individual fishing quotas have been praised as a solution for bringing back overfished populations, but they do not work that way across the board. Catch shares programs are causing New England and West Coast trawlers to face many hardships, both predicted and otherwise.
In many cases, IFQs do more collateral damage in fishing communities than any fishery management program we’ve ever seen because they privatize the public resource, putting all the advantages of a successful fishery in the hands of a few shareholders.
This is exactly the kind of wealth disparity and exclusionary management that Sharma was fighting.
The loss of a leader like Sharma could be devastating to the people she represented on the global political stage. Her colleagues believe she had no equal in terms of passion and the ability to persuade. How can we continue her legacy? By fighting to keep small fishing ports alive and thriving. We have the potential the lead the way for fishing villages in developing nations across the globe. I have no doubt that we can find more creative and constructive solutions than simply selling out to a privatized, Walmart-style approach to fisheries.
Photo: Chandrika Sharma celebrates the 20th anniversary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers; ICSFAdd a comment
Thursday, 01 May 2014
The San Francisco Community Fishing Association, founded in 2011 by NF Highliner Larry Collins, offers something in between direct marketing and selling to the large processors. The association makes ice, offloads boats and sells the catch to wholesale outlets — while offering its members a fair price. Members get dock price with the bonus of profit-sharing. “We distributed quite a bit of money at the end of [last] year after expenses,” said Collins. The membership consists of 20 small, family-owned fishing boats based out of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Collins was hoping they’d have settled on a price by the end of opening day for the Bay Area’s summer salmon season. “But most of my boats are trip boats. Most of my guys will be delivering Monday morning,” Collins said on Thursday, May 1. “They’re all out of cell phone range, so I have no idea how they’re doing.”
At the stroke of midnight on May 1, San Francisco Bay Area salmon fishermen were ready to wet their gear for the opening of the summer season. Despite the recent focus on the California drought, which will affect future runs, this year salmon fishermen look to reap the benefits of a predicted abundance of returns from a wet 2011.
Just a few years ago, the returns were so low that the season closed entirely for 2008 and 2009. The fishery limped its way back to full openings in 2011 through last year. The projection for 2013 was about 860,000 fish, and it was indeed a great year with strong dock prices.
This year, the estimate is about 630,000 fish. While it’s still a strong number, fishermen are worried about what’s to come. The entire industry is concerned enough to commit to moving salmon fry downstream by truck to aid them on their journey to the sea, bypassing riverbeds too dry to support the run. “We’re really worried about the drought,” Collins said. But for the first time in its history, the Coleman National Hatchery agreed to truck its fry to the bay. “That’s gonna really help,” Collins adds.
I for one have had enough freezer-stocked salmon for the winter. I’m ready for the fresh stuff (or as close as I can get to fresh wild salmon on the East Coast). But I’m not the only one hungry for the red-fleshed fish. Many West Coast salmon fishermen have had an easy time selling their catch directly to their customers right off the boat, and they get a good price for it. And word on the docks is that there are a lot of sea lions in the water.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my grill hot in hopes that some of those kings find their way to my local fish markets, no matter which route they take to get here.
Photo: NF Highliner Larry Collins; SalmonWaterNow.orgAdd a comment
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
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.
There'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
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
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.)
Thursday, 10 April 2014
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.
Murkowski 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 FacebookAdd a comment
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National Fisherman Live: 12/16/14
In this episode, Bruce Buls, WorkBoat's technical editor, interviews Long Island lobsterman John Aldridge, who survived for 12 hours after falling overboard in the dead of night. Aldridge was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Pacific Marine Expo, which took place Nov. 19-21 in Seattle.
NOAA, in consultation with the Department of the Interior, has appointed 10 new members to the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. The 20-member committee is composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience who advise the departments of commerce and the interior on ways to strengthen and connect the nation's MPA programs. The new members join the 10 continuing members appointed in 2012.