National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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

 

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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This week I was in Seattle for the tail end of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council Meeting and to help host the first of our public hearings with the Center for Sustainable Fisheries on making changes to the Magnuson Act.

We got some great feedback and enjoyed a couple of hours of discussion. But the real drama was taking place north of us in Anchorage at the Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting. There the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance is getting their third shot at setnetters in Cook Inlet by proxy, with the continued campaign to divert commercial fishing quota to sport fishermen.

After the alliance failed in their attempt to create a ballot initiative to reallocate commercial quota, their next step was to file a suit in Alaska's Superior Court challenging Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's decision.

Now the Board of Fisheries is making moves to restrict setnetters by cutting their fishing time and restricting their areas, as well.

The board adopted a fishing plan submitted by a sportfishing organization, which the Alaska Department of Fish & Game testified would make current escapement goals in the Kenai River an unlikely challenge to achieve. The local drift fleet also submitted a proposal, which the board did not discuss or deliberate, according to the Homer News.

The push, according to board chair Karl Johnstone, is to expand public (sport) access to salmon runs, despite the concern that allocating more quota for sportfishing interests is likely to result in overescapement, which in turn results in lower returns for following years.

“Our livelihood depends on a stable allocation of sockeye, and a healthy sockeye return to the Kenai and Kasilof," Arni Thompson, who represents processors and commercial fishermen as the executive director of the Alaska Salmon Alliance, told the Homer News. "So if you go too far with providing fish for all Alaskans, then you really do stand to jeopardize the healthy runs to the Kenai River. This (new plan) could start resulting immediately in some very large over-escapements.”

The meetings are expected to run over by at least two days, ending around Saturday, Feb. 15.

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As I traveled around the United States and Canada last month, toting our February issue, somehow the upcoming "Wicked Tuna" story (NF March p. 20) kept bobbing to the surface, not unlike a bluefin struggling against a hook and line.

The day I arrived in town for the Maryland Watermen's Association show, the cast of "Wicked Tuna" was leaving after a brief appearance in Ocean City on their way south for a spinoff show that will take place in North Carolina.

I am always thrilled when something in the magazine creates a good buzz. But it also puts a smile on my face to see people in this industry excited about something positive, especially people in New England.

2014 0204 CSFThe "Wicked Tuna" guys are doing well, and kudos to them. But we can't get lost in their glory and forget that the rest of Gloucester (and many other ports in the Northeast and around the country) are not only struggling but suffocating under draconian and outdated management measures.

Next week begins a series of public listening sessions sponsored by National Fisherman and the Center for Sustainable Fisheries. We will be in Seattle on Tuesday, Feb. 11, for the end of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting and to hold a half-day session at the Renaissance Hotel.

Our goal is to propose some changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act that will give the regional councils some flexibility and a stronger mandate to manage fisheries holistically.

Our standard for best-available science is simply inadequate in many fisheries, and the rebuilding timeline is arbitrary. It's time to focus our collective energy to create a strong and united national fishing industry that can rely on sound data to sustain the fish, the fishermen and the backbone of all fisheries — coastal communities.

I welcome you to join us and help us make a change to ensure a fishing future. For more information, visit www.nationalfisherman.com/magnuson.

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There's an epidemic in this country that seems to be spreading faster than a virus — fights over fishing allocation. All across the country, these battles rage on. Many of them have been going for decades, and few of them seem likely to end anytime soon.

In the Gulf of Mexico, sportfishing interests are knocking on the door of snapper-grouper IFQ allocations. The Coastal Conservation Association is pushing to keep the commercial allocation at a benchmark and allow any growth above that benchmark to be weighted in favor of recreational fishing.

The problem with that shift in allocation, as I described in "How is CCA like an oil spill?," is that catch shares work by allowing the rising tide of quota to lift all boats, not just the sporty ones.

The next theater for this fight is in Houston at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting, Feb. 5 and 6.

2014 0130 SetnetThis week in Alaska, Cook Inlet setnet fishermen witnessed the predicted next step in their fight against a small minority of guided anglers and fishing-camp owners to keep their fishery from being banned.

The setnetters' opponents would like to ban the gear in urban areas and turn their quota over to sport fishermen, and that's all in the name of conservation. But how is it conservation if the quota simply falls into different hands? For more on this fight, see "Setnets unsnared for now."

But of course, these are just recent examples. And in many cases, the CCA can be found at the bottom of the heap. Let's not forget that Oregon fishermen lost their fishing grounds to sportfishing last year, and that North Carolina commercial fishermen and their supporters just barely beat back yet another fish-grab when the CCA tried to get red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass designated as game fish.

It's critical for fishermen all over the country to be aware that they are not alone in these fights. Perhaps it will give every corner of the industry some momentum to keep battling. But it's not just fishermen who should care about these fights. We already import more than 90 percent of our seafood. If these fish grabs continue, the choices for consumers will continue to dwindle. Moving quota away from commercial fishermen takes American fish away from the overwhelming majority of American consumers. What happens to the fishermen floats downstream.

Photo: Alaska's Cook Inlet setnetters prefer fishing over fighting; Amy Grannum

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What do you do when the already frigid winter temps take another dip into sub-zero territory? Head north of course! I’m on the road to Moncton, New Brunswick, for the Fish Canada Workboat Canada show.

I love catching up with our friends in the Maritimes and seeing what the region brings to the table for new gear, processing and boats. The new products showcase has a wide range of entries — gloves, immersion suits, buoys, engines and more — to tempt all the fishermen who will doubtless be gearing up over the weekend.

I’ll be manning the National Fisherman booth — 325 — Friday and Saturday at the Moncton Coliseum. Come on by, and take advantage of a few show specials!

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By the time you read this, I'll have touched down in Ocean City, Md., ready for Friday's start of the 40th annual Maryland Watermen's Show — aka, the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's and 
Aquaculture Trade Exposition.

This is the first fishing show of 2014, and as always, it promises to be a fun one.

Among other boats, gear and equipment, Eugene Evans of Evans Boats in Crisfield will have on display a 1969-built wooden boat that he recently wrapped in fiberglass for Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. The expo's schedule offers a full slate of aquaculture and commercial fishing seminars, cooking demos, equipment, boats and of course the annual Waterman of the Year competition.

See more videos of last year's competition on our YouTube channel.

But like many industry gatherings, some of the most memorable traditions of the Maryland Watermen's Show take place off the show floor. I'm looking forward to catching up with many of the folks I only get to see once a year down in Ocean City, taking a slice of cake at the Fontainebleau bar and packing in as much Chesapeake seafood as I possibly can in a matter of days. Though I'm sure we'll all be missing the late Larry Simns, former president of the association and an NF Highliner, the show goes on in his honor.

If you're on the Delmarva this weekend, swing on by the Ocean City Convention Center and visit us in booth 309.

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Earlier this week, Alaska's Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell handed down a decision that a petition to ban urban setnets was in violation of the state constitution and therefore would not appear on a ballot.

2013 SetnetsunsaredAs in most cases of attempted gear bans, this initiative was created under the guise of conservation but was in reality a fish grab. The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance — backed by longtime sportfishing proponent Bob Penney — submitted the initiative in an effort to put commercial setnet quota into the hands of guided anglers. The basis of their claim is that setnets take fish indiscriminately, including the worrisome king salmon.

However, setnetters who would be affected by the ban harvest only 13 percent of the late-run king salmon in the Kenai River. Compounding the lack of urgency for a ban is the fact that Kenai kings are not a stock of concern under the state's rigorous management policies.

The ballot initiative, which would have benefited Alaska lodge owners, was not supported by most sportfishing groups. In fact, the Kenai Area Fishermen's Coalition (comprising mostly unguided anglers) submitted a letter to Treadwell opposing the initiative and claiming that it would damage critical relationships between sport and commercial interests.

According to many sources, Penney has suggested that he would like to reduce commercial fishing in favor of recreational fishing in Cook Inlet, which is the area that would have been immediately affected by the ban.

However, Alaska's Constitution does not allow resource reallocation to take place by voter initiative. Rather, the state prefers to leave those decisions to fishery managers, as it should. The riskiest effect of this initiative, however, is that it sets a precedent for single user groups to target allocation on a statewide basis.

This fish fight has been going on for decades, and most certainly is not over now. Cook Inlet setnetters are prepared for the long haul, as should be commercial fishermen across that state and the rest of the country.

Photo: Cook Inlet setnetters in Kasilof cruise to the beach in front of Redoubt. Photo by Amy Grannum

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As Lori French wrote for NF's February Dock Talk, fishermen have seemingly endless expressions for bad weather. The popularity of stories like "A Perfect Storm" would have us believe the biggest risks of fishing take place in bad weather. When in fact, the scariest prospect a fisherman can face is falling overboard. And if no one is around to see him fall, what are his chances of being rescued?

New York Times writer Paul Tough's retelling of Montauk, N.Y., fisherman John Aldridge's survival has caused more than a ripple of controversy in the fishing industry. The story itself of Aldridge's slip off the deck and subsequent (and miraculous) rescue is gripping and inspiring. But what exactly does it inspire? Fear? Hope? An impetus for change?

As former Coast Guardsman Mario Vittone wrote in his piece for gCaptain this week ("Trying very hard to die"), there seems to be a widespread acknowledgment of the dangers of fishing, yet very little effort to reduce the risk of those dangers. In fact, just a generation ago, fishermen widely accepted that if anything went wrong at sea, they would be lost. They didn't carry life rafts or EPIRBs or expect the Coast Guard to come to their rescue.

So in the grand scheme, the industry has come pretty far. That doesn't mean we don't have work to do. But changing a culture does not happen quickly. It happens slowly over generations. Fishermen are often born into the fishing industry. They fish because their fathers and grandfathers went fishing. That makes the culture of the industry not just pervasive from a community perspective but also nearly genetic. So even a small generational shift can require a lot of momentum.

The mistake Vittone and others make is comparing fishing to other maritime industries because they face similar risks by the virtue of being at sea. This is too simplistic a comparison to help solve the safety problem, and it makes fishermen easy to dismiss as cavalier and ignorant, essentially saying, they're the only ones who take these risks, so they must not care.

What makes the commercial fishing industry unique is that it is so varied. Commercial fishing boats have crews of 1 to 100 (and more). There are boat owners, fleet owners, greenhorns, deckhands; those who fish from the shore and those who fish hundreds of miles from shore; those who fish in warm waters year-round, and those who fish in cold water year-round. And, perhaps most importantly, you have those who fish with safety at the forefront and those who do not. But the dividing line is not necessarily education (though that does play a role). Economics is often a barrier, as well.

These variances make it nearly impossible to recommend a standard of safety to individual fishermen — except the use of a personal locator beacon and perhaps inflatable work vests. The one thing all boat-bound fishermen have in common is the low probability of surviving a fall overboard. If we really want to change the culture of safety in fishing, maybe we should find a way to subsidize or incentivize personal safety gear.

Many fishermen in this country are fishing right out straight, scraping to make ends meet. Those are the people most at risk for taking shortcuts and not investing in PLBs and flotation equipment. And honestly, can we blame them? Imagine asking a McDonald's cashier to invest $250 in protective gear on the slight chance that there's a grease fire in the kitchen behind them.

I don't make these comparisons to offer excuses. I make them to help people understand that resistance to change in the industry is not just cultural, it's economic as well. Many fishermen wonder what their future in fishing is literally from day to day. How can we expect them to make an investment in a murky future?

We ought to focus on clearing the air, rather than clouding the conversation with comparisons to other maritime industries. Most fishermen don't see themselves as a subsection of mariners. They see themselves as fishermen. If we want to continue the forward momentum of safety at sea, we have to make it easier for fishermen to understand the risks of not using safety gear and the benefits of investing in it.

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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 11/06/14

In this episode:

NOAA report touts 2013 landings, value increases
Panama fines GM salmon company Aquabounty
Gulf council passes Reef Fish Amendment 40
Maine elver quota cut by 2,000 pounds
Offshore mussel farm would be East Coast’s first

 

Inside the Industry

EAST SAND ISLAND, Oregon—Alexa Piggott is crawling through a dark, dusty, narrow tunnel on this 62-acre island at the mouth of the Columbia River. On the ground above her head sit thousands of seabirds. Piggott, a crew leader with Bird Research Northwest, is headed for an observation blind from which she'll be able to count them.
 
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NOAA and its fellow Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have announced the signing of a formal Record of Decision to implement a gulf restoration plan. The 44 projects, totaling an estimated $627 million, will restore barrier islands, shorelines, dunes, underwater grasses and oyster beds.

Read more...

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