National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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


A year and a half ago, the Alaska pollock industry was unpleasantly surprised when the Marine Stewardship Council announced it would extend its blue label to Russian Sea of Okhotsk pollock. Russian-trawled Theragra chalcogramma is the same species as Bering Sea walleye pollock fished by Alaska trawlers.

2015 0402 PollockThe Alaska pollock fishery relies on its reputation of abundance and sustainability as well as safety.
Corey Arnold photo
Alaskans were not up in arms simply because they compete in the marketplace with their Russian counterparts. The shock came because the Alaskan fishery has been banking on its own MSC certification as well as its widespread reputation for a safe working environment, one the Russian fleet does not share.

Industry leaders across the globe began again to ask the question, “How do we define sustainable?” Does it not include safe working conditions for seafood harvesters? Does it not encompass a right to fair labor practices?

I woke up early this morning to the AP alert that 132 people were on the Russian Dalniy Vostok freezer trawler when it went down in a matter of minutes overnight. At press time, 54 people had died and 15 were unaccounted for.

Immediately, the questions began running through my mind: Was the boat well-maintained? Did it have safety gear? How many of the workers understood the language spoken onboard? Were they all there of their own free will?

On that boat were 78 Russians. The 54 remaining crew included foreign nationals from Myanmar, Vanuatu, Ukraine and Latvia.

Even if the foreigners were there voluntarily, imagine being on a sinking boat with alarms blaring as announcements come over the loudspeaker but you don’t understand what’s being said because it’s all in Russian, a language you don’t know.

So what can we take away from this? The same lesson we’ve carried since the first big story of slave labor on Thai shrimp farms broke in 2013: By relying on seafood labels that focus on stock abundance, gear impacts and habitat but not on the working conditions of those fisheries, we are being kinder to the fish we eat than we are to the people who bring that fish to our plates.

It seems unwieldy to attempt to certify the harvesting practices of foreign products (seafood and otherwise) to verify that they are simultaneously and reliably good for us, good for the environment and good for the people who harvest them.

I’m not asking MSC to create a human rights component for its label, nor has the organization shown an interest in incorporating this element. What we can do is use the information the federal government already has to source products from countries that have clean human rights records. That puts China, Russia and Thailand on the Red List, blue sticker or no.

Their leaders will respond to marketplace demands. After all, slave labor is a response to the demand for cheap goods. We don’t need a middle man to raise these issues. We know what they are and how to act. Let’s make a change by hitting them where it counts: their GDP.

When you buy seafood, ask where it comes from. Retailers are required to provide this information. Make use of it. Buy American. Buy wild. Eat well.

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In this country, we do a lot of things based on precedence and tradition.

If there’s a long-standing tradition of lawsuits of a certain nature going a certain way based on judicial precedence, we can reasonably expect future lawsuits to go the same way unless they introduce a new element that is significant enough to change the paradigm and bring about a new precedent.

2014 0715 NoPebbleThe precedent for mining in Alaska is that if you spend a lot of money on permitting and get far enough down the road to building your mine, the courts won’t stop you from building it — regardless of objection — because forcing you to pull out would create an unreasonable financial burden.

Before that stage, there’s no precedent for analysis. That’s what the EPA stepped in to create in Bristol Bay — a preliminary assessment of the region and what it can and cannot reasonably sustain.

The supporters of Pebble Mine have registered many complaints about the EPA’s stepping in before there was an official proposal for the open-pit mine. What they want is to have any oversight and objections held at bay until they file for their permits. But precedence is the reason a whole slate of Alaska citizens asked EPA to step in: They saw back-room deals being made that would put their homes and their livelihoods at risk.

In his editorial to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner this week, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program Manager Tim Bristol called Bristol Bay “Alaska’s most magnificent renewable salmon resource.”

I’ll go one further — it’s the world’s most magnificent salmon resource, by numbers alone.

I don’t imagine that no one will ever get a permit to take precious metals out of the soil at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. What I hope for is a delay long enough for our technological prowess to advance such that the byproduct of the extraction does not threaten the world’s most productive salmon streams.

We have seen in Alaska and elsewhere that industries with competing goals can operate in harmony. What we have not seen is a plan that makes this possible in Bristol Bay.

If Northern Dynasty wants to be evaluated on the merits of their plan, then let’s see their plan. It’s been about 10 years since they first laid their claim. Surely they have something to show for their work in that time.

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And you thought it couldn’t get worse than IFQs. Well, I wasn’t sure it could. But it does seem logical that having a healthy commercial fishery in the hands of a few commercial fishermen is, indeed, a better option than having no fishery at all.

The latter is what commercial fishermen and charter captains throughout the Gulf Coast states are fearing.

2015 0319 WayneWernerLouisiana snapper fisherman and NF Highliner Wayne Werner successfully sued the federal government for failing to enforce recreational fishing quotas. Wayne Werner photoLast year, a group of commercial fishermen sued NMFS for failing to keep recreational snapper fishermen within their limits for years on end. They won the suit, and the result has led to measures that would in fact curtail the recreational catch.

The Coastal Conservation Association (the recreational fishing organization that has fought to put commercial quota into the hands of recreational fishermen all over the country) has been making a full-court press to imperil the commercial fleet to the advantage of sport quotas.

As I wrote last summer, two pieces of legislation in Louisiana attempted to wrest control of the snapper fishery from the Gulf council and divide it among the states to manage individually. This may seem a tempting offer to localize fishery management. But the motive behind it is to hand over more of the recovered snapper quota to the rec sector. As it stands now, they are apparently not satisfied with overshooting their 49 percent every year.

Rather than curb their enthusiasm for overfishing, the recreational groups would prefer to just be handed the amount of quota they are already overfishing and simply subtract their overage from the commercial fleet’s quota. That’s fair, right?

Regardless of fairness, that is what’s happening. Political leaders from the gulf states gathered in a private meeting recently and agreed to terms that would divide the snapper quota among the five states — Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas — they will now take to Congress for approval.

It is hard to believe that any commercial fleets would have this kind of support from politicians if they had been exceeding their quota year after year after year. Meanwhile, the commercial fishermen have been under strict fishing quota management, which has led to many a commercial fisherman losing his rights and ability to fish and therefore losing his livelihood.

Should those sacrifices have been for nothing just so the local CVBs can tout a long fishing season for tourists? And what will happen when the commercial fleet is gone and the recreational fleet fishes snapper into oblivion? After all, they have as of yet shown no intention nor ability to conserve. If they get what they want, snapper will no longer be on local menus and eventually, it will stop showing up on anglers’ hooks. What will the tourism boards sell then?

Recreational fishermen have been complaining that their season is too short, yet year over year, they exceed their quotas. How is it logical to give them more fish when they already take more than they should? Until there is a better system in place to dole out the considerable recreational quota over a longer season, the season will be short. Those would be the rules for a commercial fishery. So why would they not follow for recreational fishermen?

This move is a short-sighted end-run around management that has brought back the red snapper to a healthy population. If you put that management in the wrong hands now, at the height of snapper’s recovery, you will likely soon have nothing to show for it.

Fish do not stay within state lines. To divide the snapper quota among states would be to introduce confusion and the false sense of control over a wide-ranging population.
We are succeeding at bringing the snapper population back. What we need to work on is how to regulate the recreational effort to expand their season rather than just dumping quota on a group that doesn’t know how to manage it.

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Last year at this time, I was attending a National Seafood Marketing Coalition session at the Boston Seafood Expo at which Thor Sigfusson was speaking about the superior utilization of fishery byproducts his Icelandic business incubator is doing with Scandinavian cod.

2015 0317 IcelandThe Iceland Ocean Cluster now claims nearly 95 percent utilization of local cod, a movement that could change the face of the Northeast groundfish industry. Jessica Hathaway photoThe presentation was compelling to say the least. It seemed appropriate that the Alaskans (those who started the coalition) would have been introducing Sigfusson and his group’s remarkable work. Whitefish provides Alaska’s biggest landings, between pollock and cod. And as a region, they are known to be a forward-thinking faction of the industry, as well as one with close ties to Scandinavia.

But what makes even more sense, and what is taking place this year, is that Sigfusson is meeting with representatives of the Northeast groundfish industry in New Bedford tomorrow.

The Iceland Ocean Cluster now claims nearly 95 percent utilization of each cod plucked from their waters. That includes rendering 25 percent of the fish’s value from fillets and then digging far deeper to extract cod liver oil, roe for caviar, intestinal enzymes for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, the skin for fashion accessories (think fish leather), and the list goes on.

We may not have access to significant landings of cod in the Northeast, but we have plenty of room to improve what we get out of those fish.

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Unless you have no Facebook friends in the seafood industry, then you know the big Boston show is just around the corner.

2015 0312 BostonThe floor of Seafood Expo North America teems with buyers and sellers of both wild and farmed seafood. Angela Coulombe photoSeafood Expo North America (formerly known as the International Boston Seafood Show) kicks off Sunday, March 15, with the biggest show floor yet, a packed conference schedule, and attendees and exhibitors from around the world.

Sunday’s keynote at 2:15 addresses a topic of particular concern to the aging fishing industry — Inspiring the Next Generation of Leaders.

Coming off the heels of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, I have seen the concerted efforts and lure behind the shift to aquaculture. Fishing fleets will have to compete with a growing aquaculture industry — in more ways than one. Some would paint fish farming as a natural next step for fishermen, but the differences are profound.

As Monday’s session “2 Billion People Are Coming to Dinner, Let’s Feed Them Fish!” will postulate, there seems to be a complacent acceptance that we can’t possibly feed our growing population with wild seafood. The conference description reads, “Quite simply, the wild fish supply cannot expand.”

But is that true? The supply of wild fish in the world certainly has the potential to expand under good management. And without a doubt, we could be landing more fish if they were more plentiful as a result of better management.

If Brian Rothschild, president and CEO of the Center for Sustainable Fisheries, is right, the amount of fish we’re underfishing in New England is hampering our sustainability as an industry more than curbing overfishing is securing our environmental sustainability.

Do we really need to focus our efforts on finding the next great innovation that will miraculously make farmed seafood the answer to our fish supply concerns? Or perhaps we could work at streamlining and improving management practices to boost landings and make an effort to market the fish we have plenty of.

That is certainly food for thought.

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The Maine Fishermen’s Forum kicks off this Thursday with a special celebration of its 40th year.

2015 0303 MFFThe three-day trade show and conference starts at noon on March 5 at the Rockport Samoset Resort with a Seafood Celebration featuring chefs Barton Seaver (Esquire’s Chef of the Year), Dave Pasternack (Esca Restaurant in New York), Brian Hill (Camden’s Francine Bistro) and Lynn Archer (Rockland’s Brass Compass), all of whom will be sharing their tips for showcasing Maine seafood. The 12-4 event is open to the public. You can RSVP at

On the heels of the free Seafood Celebration the forum will host its annual seafood reception from 5 to 7, which will feature a raw bar; iced tables of lobster, shrimp and crab; and hot dishes to boot. Tickets for the reception are $25 and should be purchased in advance. Get all the details at

As usual, the conference side of the fishermen’s trade show is packed with topics that hit home for Maine’s coastal fishermen, including safety training, marketing, groundfish management, green crabs, seaweed, elvers, alewives, climate change and, yes, Lobster Boat Races.

Don’t forget to stop by our booth in the State of Maine room to renew your subscription at our show special rate. We’ll see you in Rockport!

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In anticipation of this year’s FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore., Pat Dixon sent me a lovely piece of poetry.

Then he sent me another.

I have a feeling this could go on and on. Moments like these remind me of how much I love my work. If only I were so lucky as to lounge over poetry every day.

2015 0224 FisherPoetsI asked Emilie Springer — who will be on stage this year and who contributed her story for our most recent North Pacific Focus quarterly — to share with me her thoughts on the Gathering: “I think sometimes, the fishermen (my dad, my brother, my husband included) roll their eyes at us (the ones doing the writing),” Emilie wrote. “But, I personally think the storytelling is really critical to the culture of the industry. Regardless of whether or not they (the fishermen) want to call themselves a culture. They are.”

As I said to Emilie, people should write about what they know. And while it may seem like regular life to some people, nothing worth writing about or getting on stage to talk about, it’s just those sort of regular, everyday things that are hardest to write about and come to life in poetry and prose. It’s the magic in the mundane.

Yesterday, I read a piece by another inspiring fisherpoet, Tele Aadsen, on being a woman in a fisherman’s world. I’ve read this prose before, or at least a version of it. But a piece of art this carefully knitted together is worth a second look.

Those of you lucky enough to attend the Gathering this year will have just one chance to absorb each of the fishy tales you’ll hear during the three-day celebration that starts Friday, Feb. 27. At least until Pat puts together another anthology.

Here’s one of the pieces he shared with me. Thanks to all of you for sharing your other craft, whichever it may be, it's the art of fishing.

I slide into this crowded bar
   like I’d ease a boat into a slip:
the river is crowded tonight.
ride these aisles like currents.
     Tying up to booths,
 dropping anchors on barstools,
 they open journals like hatch covers:
     unsure of how the catch compares.
How many brailers does the rest of the fleet
     have tonight?          
                  How many pounds?
(Maybe I’ll wait to deliver until morning,
    when no one else is watching.)
But morning comes and no one cares.
  We drink beer, watch the show,
         and listen.
The stories fill the air like jumpers;
    words weave to catch them on nets hung deep,
ears cock for the sound of a splash
eyes narrow, looking for hits.
Here comes the next set, and a poet picks up the microphone –
     static over the radio, the bar chatter fades,
     whispered verses lift us, ride on the back of a swell:
         The VHF just said a boat went down with all hands.
         Sunrise lit the mountaintops the color of salmon.
         …that halibut hook sunk deep into the side of his hand.
         The lights of the fleet looked like the stars fell to the ocean.
Pea soup.
         She went over when we weren’t lookin’…
A slip of a boot on a wet deck
becomes a slip of the tongue,
and this place fills with salt water.
The speaker pauses,
hangs up the mic and walks away without a look.
In a moment all hell will break loose,
and we’ll live it again in the telling,
but as the story lands on the dock
         solid and hard,
we can sense the slightest change of the engine,
         feel the gentlest breeze,
         hear our own heart beat
             in the distance,
             in the waves.

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It’s been a simply brutal winter in New England. This week, a hiker died in New Hampshire’s White Mountains after she got caught in one of many recent winter storms and activated a personal locator beacon. The National Guard flew over the area the signal was coming from and then a team of rescuers braved 108-mph winds and frigid temperatures to reach her, only too late.

Of course, the difference between a hiking trip and a fishing trip is that one is for leisure and one is for a living. But another significant difference is that on a properly equipped boat, you have a survival suit.

Very early Monday morning, when the crew of the 80-footer Savannah Ray ran aground, they sent an alert via EPIRB, got in their survival suits and prepared their life raft. The Coast Guard’s Kodiak station sent an MH-60 to retrieve them in 45-knot winds with rain and 11-foot seas. The crew was rescued within 90 minutes. (Watch the rescue video below.)

There is so much we can do to improve our own safety, from PLBs to weather forecasting and understanding what certain conditions can mean for a trip to sea. Being able to send out a mayday is no guarantee of rescue. As hard as the Coast Guard works to reach fishermen in peril, they can’t always work miracles. But having access to your survival suit and knowing how to get it on and quickly may save your life. And remember that if you can’t get it on in a minute while standing on stable, dry land, how long will it take to don it properly while the deck is rolling?

Having a beacon can save your life, as can a careful assessment of the weather. But no matter what happens, chance will always play a role. Don’t pile on the chances by being unprepared.

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Most of the seiners that call Washington’s Puget Sound home head to Alaska for spring herring and summer salmon. But what do you do when you can’t line up new permits and your boat has a long list of repairs? Well for the owners of the 56-foot seiner Memories out of Gig Harbor, the answer was simple: fish at home.

2015 0212 MarchFreelancer Lael Henterly goes aboard the seiner for a day of fishing in South Sound for fall chums in an At-Sea feature on page 22 of our March issue. It may not be Alaska, but a dark-to-dark day with 4,700 pounds of salmon is still a good day fishing.

Kendall Henry, a Puget Sound Commercial Salmon Fishery Manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, sent in some further notes on the local observer program:

“The reason the observers are out there is that chinook and coho have been designated by the WDFW commission as priority species for recreational fishermen in Puget Sound. Recreational priority combined with concerns over ESA listed stocks has meant that we have to require the commercial seine fleet to release chinook and coho in many of their fisheries and since these species are no longer appearing on fish tickets, we need observers to know how many fish they are encountering. In Puget Sound we are not out there with some sort of enforcement agenda to estimate compliance with the rules. Our observers are out there to count fish, and that is it.”

One note of correction is that the observer’s name in the story was Brandon Phinney, not Phinnell.

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Yesterday a group of environmental advocates testified before a Maine legislative policy committee in support of a bill to ban the use of synthetic microbeads. The tiny beads, no larger than a third of a millimeter in diameter, are typically found in facial scrubs, body washes and even toothpaste. They bypass wastewater treatment plants that are not designed to filter them and wind up in our waterways, where they are absorbed or eaten by all manner of marine creatures.

2015 0205 GyreThe Great Pacific garbage patch is created in the gyre of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. NOAA renderingMaine is one of 20 states that will introduce some prohibition on microbeads this year. One of the biggest concerns is the unwitting human ingestion of microplastics that are present in the shellfish we eat.

But microbeads are only a small, ahem, part of the problem. Plastic particles, the majority of which are called nurdles, which are about 5 millimeters in diameter, are the largest source of plastic water pollution contributing to massive swaths of floating debris in the oceans, including the Great Pacific garbage patch.

The ultimate quandary is how to rid our waters of these polymers, which do not degrade like organic substances. As plastic disintegrates in the water, it merely breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that concentrate in the upper water column. The simplest solution is to reduce our use of plastics and dispose of them properly.

If you’re interested in avoiding products that contain microbeads before legislation can weed them out, visit to download an app that will keep you updated as you shop.

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Page 4 of 37

Inside the Industry

NOAA recently published a proposed rule that would implement a traceability plan to help combat IUU fishing. The program would seek to trace the origins of imported seafood by setting up reporting and filing procedures for products entering the U.S.

The traceability program would collect data on harvest, landing, and chain of custody of fish and fish products that have been identified as particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing and fraud.


The following was released by the Maine Department of Marine Resources on Jan. 22:

The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced an emergency regulation that will support the continued rebuilding effort in Maine’s scallop fishery. The rule, effective January 23, 2016, will close the Muscle Ridge Area near South Thomaston and the Western Penobscot Bay Area.

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