National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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


We are hunkered down here in Maine. You may have heard about Juno, this little blizzard we’re having. Though our downtown office is closed to keep our staff off the roads, we are plugging away from our home offices. Like the fishermen we so admire, our work rarely stops because the weather gets a little hinky. The significant difference being that we’re not out in it.

2015 0127 MissAlly2The Canadian Coast Guard found no sign of the five missing Nova Scotia lobstermen in the overturned Miss Ally. RCMP photoIt was just about two years ago that the last big winter storm, Nemo, hit the Northeast and the Maritimes. I remember because I was in the Nova Scotia fishing town of Yarmouth. Reports from home were of more than 2 feet of snow, and my coworker and I thought we’d never make it to Halifax in time to catch our flight back to Maine the next day.

In a moment of great daring and stupidity, we decided to brave the drive to Halifax a night early, almost 200 miles on a two-lane undivided and unlit road (now called the Fishermen’s Memorial Highway), as the storm was churning away from the coast, and hole up there the night before our flight. The drive was long and hairy. Every time we stopped for coffee or gas, the locals looked at us like we had three heads when we reported that we were going to keep driving. When Canadians think the storm is too rough to go on, it’s probably wise to listen to them.

But we made it to Halifax many hours later, had a lovely warm supper by a fireplace, and got on our flight the next day. Smooth sailing all the way home, where they had gotten 32 inches of powder.

Being out in bad weather reminds me how easy I have it most days, even driving through a blizzard, at least I was on solid ground that may have been passed over by a plow truck recently enough for the tires to grab the road.

Just two days after we left Yarmouth, the five-man crew of the Nova Scotia lobster boat Miss Ally was lost to rough seas, most likely capsized by a rogue wave.

Fishing is a risky business as it is. I hope all of our fleets are safe in port or far enough off the coast to endure this storm in relative calm.

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Late last week, the menhaden industry learned that something good can come from having special interest groups get involved in the management of your fishery.

2015 0120 MenhadenThe Wallace clan unloads pogies in Phippsburg, Maine. A new menhaden assessment includes a broader range of the fishery outside of its predominant Southern grounds.In response to a wave of layoffs and outcry from the menhaden fleet when their quota was slashed by 20 percent in 2012, the managers responded by assigning a technical team to find as many new sources of data on the fishery as they possibly could and to assess the new model.

(I call that going above and beyond. But the truth is, any major fishery should have the resources to do exactly what the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission did in this case, especially when a new model shows a drastically different assessment of the fishery than prior data indicated.)

In 2012, managers bowed to pressure by a suite of NGOs who claim the fishery is overfished. The model used to develop the 2012 assessment has since been determined to be deeply flawed. That determination was made by a team of fishery scientists whose objective is to get the science right and leave behind the politics. The new data covers a wider geographical range, as well as a deeper historical scope.

Despite what some of the opposition would have us believe, the result of the new benchmark assessment is not a backslide to the old days of so-called mismanagement. Rather, it’s a whole new world for the menhaden fishery with new sources of data in abundance.

And yet still we are not tapping the valuable resource of spotter pilots who search for schools of menhaden from the air to direct purse seine skippers toward their prey.

Read more about the menhaden fishery’s eyes in the sky in our upcoming March issue.

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Reality TV series have taken over the race for fish. It seems every time you turn around, there’s another camera crew rushing off to the fishing grounds, wrapping their tentacles around the next muscle fishery to capture the action and drama that comes with commercial fishing.

2015 0115 BattleBayWill these "Battle on the Bay" fishermen be the next famous faces of the industry?The fact is, they’re not wrong. Compared to the sedentary lifestyles of most Americans, the kind of work fishermen do is legitimately exciting. And to think, most of us get to watch all the action from the comfort of our own overstuffed couches.

When you go to fishing towns where these shows are based (or read the blogs about them), the local people tend to roll their eyes a bit about the choice of the stars, how unrealistic the so-called reality show is, how commercial it’s gotten or is bound to be. But behind that eye roll, there’s a glimmer. They’re a little puffed up to have some inside knowledge of a national show.

We all tend to get caught up in our own little worlds. People think as a magazine editor that I write all day long. I do a good bit of writing, but what I do most is generate and traffic ideas for stories, staying in contact with the people who write them, editing them as they come in, finding photos and other art to accompany them. And that’s just for the magazine. I do the same for our website, the newsletter we send out twice a week, the quarterly we send out to the West Coast and Alaska, our conference programs and any other industry-related shows and conferences I’d like to attend in my, uh, spare time.

You get the idea. As busy as I am and as exciting as I find my work, I’m doubtful it would make a decent reality show. But what you do is genuinely thrilling, and it’s unlike anything else. I know it can be repetitive. And for many of you the lifestyle is all you’ve ever known. All your parents and grandparents knew. It’s what many of your friends do.

But there’s no denying that it’s wild. And most of America simply has no idea — until they see it come across the screen. The death-defying action of the American fishboys!

Sure, I’d like to see more interesting and thoughtful shows about the nation’s commercial fisheries. But we all know what makes for popular TV, and it’s not thoughtfulness. But what does happen when there’s yet another fishing reality show is that a small portion of those viewers will have their eyes opened to what it all really means. Those will be the people who will watch the documentaries about commercial fishing. Those are the people who might happen upon your direct-marketing page on Facebook. Those are the people who will ask where their fish comes from the next time they walk up to the fish counter. And I would guess some of them might even try fish from your waters for the first time after watching the show.

It’s easy to imagine that being in the spotlight exposes all the wrong things. But ultimately, most people don’t remember all of the gory details. What they remember is that you fish for a living, and they want to eat what you catch.

Just look at Sig Hansen. He was just another Norwegian-Alaskan crab captain. Sure he may have stepped in it a little with his Russian crab deal. But just look at him now on Celebrity Apprentice! The general public doesn’t remember the bad stuff unless it’s really, really bad and consistently so.

Love him or otherwise, Sig represents king crab. And what that means is that every time his face is on TV, someone who might not have thought of it is going to go out and buy some king crab. That may not be the marketing scheme of your dreams. But the reality is it gets people talking about and buying American-caught fish. And that is nothing to roll your eyes at.

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I will never forget talking to the late (and great) Larry Simns about Chesapeake Bay fisheries. Larry, an NF Highliner and longtime president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, was one of the first old-timers to talk to me in detail about the health of the estuaries and bays being critical to the future of many fisheries. As Larry explained it, small-scale fishermen were the original environmentalists.

2015 0108 Fleming FebRead more about the next generation of Chesapeake crabbers in our February issue.I’m not sure how he would feel about the bay’s D+ grading from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The report released this week acknowledges that the bay’s health is improving, but says that farmland and urban runoff are still hampering restoration efforts. Larry was a leader in the mission to clean up the bay. He knew the future of bay and its harvesters depended on water pure enough to breed temperamental oysters and blue crabs.

And for that reason, I am sure Mr. Simns would be proud of the next generation of commercial fishermen taking to the bay to fulfill a dream of independence on and off the water. Writer and photographer Jay Fleming’s feature story in our February issue highlights the working lives of Annapolis-based crab fishermen Nick Crook (skipper/owner), 27, and his deckboss Ben Byers, 24.

These young upstarts leave the dock at the end of a long fishing day and hop in a truck to carry their product directly to restaurants and consumers. In their spare time, they’re marketing and making connections with new retail outlets.

Maybe the extra-long hours and legwork is what makes it a young man’s game. But whatever it is, these baymen are carrying on a long tradition of planting the seeds for the next generation, just as Larry and his contemporaries did for them.

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This Christmas season has been particularly hectic in my house with a new baby, being back in the office full time starting the first of the month (whose idea was it to start back to work in December?) and a very excited almost-5-year-old whose enthusiasm for the season I am trying to foster and not take for granted.

This time of year is always busy, and it can be so easy to get caught up in the lists and gloss over what’s really important. This morning I read a story that put it all into perspective for me once again.

2014 1223 ShrimpFireVideo still of the shrimp boat Miss Eva engulfed in flames near Grand Isle, La. Click to watch the video.Shrimper Ryan Barcot was burned over 75 percent of his body when the boat he was working on exploded in flames near Grand Isle, La., on Dec. 1. As you can see from the video, the crew was lucky to be within sight of an offshore oil supply vessel that witnessed the fire and called for help.

The open ocean can be a lonely place. When a layperson watches footage like this, they can see why fishing is so dangerous. The shrimp boat appears to be isolated, surrounded by miles of water. But in the scope of ocean fishing, the fact that they were visible by another boat means that they were far closer to help than many fishermen are in their daily work.

A rescue at sea is inherently miraculous. In Barcot's case, proximity to another vessel would not have been enough to save him just a few hours later. For the next two days, the area was covered in a dense fog. Chris Hanks, the oil rig foreman who witnessed the fire and alerted the Coast Guard, told the Times-Picayune: ""If it would have happened the next day, the boat would have burned up. I would have never seen the smoke."

As I was preparing to post this blog, I got an email from a friend of a Montauk, N.Y., fisherman who was injured in an ATV accident on Sunday. He’s suffering from a traumatic brain injury (despite reportedly wearing a helmet), and his friends are reaching out to raise money. Henry Sjoman is only 24, but he has been fishing for almost a decade, longlining for tilefish on the Kimberly for the last five years.

My thoughts are with the friends and family of these two fishermen as they navigate a difficult holiday season. You can also make a donation to Barcot's recovery via GoFundMe.

Every fall, as the days get colder and shorter, I find myself giving thanks for my friends and family, for this life with which I have been graced and, once we have passed the solstice, for the slow return to longer, warmer sunnier days.

The planet keeps spinning, and we are just here for the ride. Don’t take too many moments for granted without pausing to be grateful. Forget a few of the things you’re “supposed” to do, and instead take a few beats to give someone you love a sincere thank you.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all of you.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

2014 1218 LOSNeed a last-minute stocking stuffer? You have one day left to grab the Lobster Fishermen's Calendar. No excuses! Heroes of the Sea/Joe Greene photoThat’s right, folks. The shopping days to Christmas are going fast, and if you celebrate Hannukah, you’re really down to the wire to get something special for the last few nights.

Regardless of your denomination — eating lobster may not be Kosher, but the fishery is sustainable — if you want to celebrate the North Atlantic lobsterman, tomorrow (Dec. 19) is your deadline to get the Heroes of the Sea 2015 Lobster Fishermen’s Calendar delivered before Dec. 25.

The calendar features lobstermen from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, and is the result of a remarkable collaboration of seven U.S. and Canadian lobster organizations. Proceeds are donated to a variety of charities near and dear to the lobstermen who comprise the bulk of the organizations.

And thanks to the digital age, there’s always more online. The Heroes of the Sea website features short bios of each starring lobsterman along with an expanded photo album from each shoot, captured by photographer Joe Greene. PEI’s Captain Alcide, 84, has been fishing for 70 years and calls fishing “the healthiest life you can know.”

Who am I to quibble with an octogenarian skipper? I’d best get out my card and make it so.

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The passage of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill yesterday will keep open the Coast Guard air facilities in Newport, Ore., and Charleston, S.C., for another year, until Jan. 1, 2016.

2014 1211 NFWThe Newport Fishermen's Wives. Newport Fishermen's Wives photo The Newport Fishermen's Wives were instrumental in petitioning the Coast Guard and the public to plead for the survival of the Newport facility, which saved the lives of commercial fishermen even as the community and Coast Guard debated the need to keep it open.

The Coast Guard has claimed that sending a rescue helicopter from North Bend, about an hour away, would be sufficient in most cases. However, the Dungeness fleet, considered one of the nation’s deadliest fisheries, fishes in winter, when a fall overboard or downflooding can quickly lead to hypothermia, certainly in less than an hour’s time.

The wives published a petition on that currently has more than 17,000 signatures with an ever-increasing goal and littered social media outlets with posts, quotes, photos and the hashtag #savethehelo. This victory shows what a motivated community can do when armed with some solid data and social media.

I learned about the potential cuts and the petition in early October via Facebook, followed the happenings closely there and covered the story here. I am still astounded by the outreach I witnessed online, and I know the wives had just as many Xtratufs on the actual ground as they had in the virtual realm.

Although I know their work is not done, as this is only an extension, I would like to congratulate the Newport Fishermen’s Wives; the organization’s president, Jennifer Stevenson; members Ginny Goblirsch and Michele Longo Eder; Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici; and everyone else who has fought so hard to keep this air station open for the security of the fishing community, which is the largest in the region.

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Every issue of our magazine is an ode to commercial fishermen. And more than any other, our annual Crew Shots issue is devoted to life through your lens. This year, however, the theme of the ode to the fishing life spread itself naturally through all of our pages.

2014 1202 CrewShotsFor our Moment of Youth column, lifelong Bristol Bay fisherman Reba Temple writes an ode to her late father, Tom, and the family tradition of summering on a 32-foot drifter. On page 10 of the January issue, Robert Powell’s Dock Talk contribution is a literal ode — a fisherpoet's devotion to the Pretty Work of Chesapeake Bay watermen. I’ve been holding on to this piece for quite some time, much to Bob’s consternation (thanks for hanging in there!). But I’ve found that a story finds its way into the issue it’s meant to be in.

As I wrote in my Editor’s Log, Roger Fitzgerald’s In Search of the Simple Life is all about feeding the crew of days gone by. What happens when fishermen retire from Alaska to Washington? According to Fitz, they put the squeeze on apples over a fine kettle of codfish.

As we like to say, this is your life, and it would not be possible without the products that keep the industry humming. Boats & Gear Editor Mike Crowley’s compendium of the year’s best will help you throw off the albatross in place of something useful. It’s well worth a peruse for fishermen as well as anyone who might be looking to fill a fisherman’s Christmas stocking with something extra special (and possibly life-saving) this year.

Download your own PDF of all of our Crew Shots pages on our website (while you’re there, you can peruse PDFs of Crew Shots spreads since 2007).

As always, thank you.

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While California’s salmon advocates are scrambling to shoot their salmon over dry riverbeds and into briny feeding grounds, the Pebble Partnership is aiming its guns directly at a world-class salmon fishery in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

2014 1125 BristolBayFinn Braund and Adrian Barhan on the Wild One in Bristol Bay’s Nushagak Point. Crew Shots photOn Monday, advocates of the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay received a major blow: A federal judge halted EPA’s ability to take further action against the mine until a lawsuit is decided. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland dismissed two claims in Pebble Limited Partnership’s suit but also gave the mining conglomerate time to rewrite one part of its complaint against EPA. The suit claims EPA was working as an anti-mine team when it studied how the mine would affect the Bristol Bay watershed and the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.

The Pebble team has filed two other suits, including a challenge to EPA’s authority to impose Clean Water Act restrictions prior to the partnership’s official submission of a mine plan.

The reason this fight is so important to the commercial fishing industry as a whole is because Bristol Bay has been well-poised to fight a drawn-out battle waged by a multibillion-dollar mining company. Not many fisheries would have the resources to fight the bottomless pockets of a massive international mining partnership.

This fight has been going on for a decade. But what’s significant about Bristol Bay’s battle is that it’s not funded by the owners of a single massive fishing company but rather by the collective efforts of hundreds of small-boat fishermen. The Bristol Bay season draws fishermen from all over the country. It is our fishery. It is your fishery.

EPA is fighting on behalf of the Bristol Bay watershed, and its work could set a precedent that will help protect your fishery from being obliterated in favor of another business, and all for the short-term prospect of dollar, dollar bills, and despite the prospect of a total loss of water clean enough to support fish habitat.

We spend so much time worrying about so-called overfished fisheries, it’s quite amazing that we would even be considering launching one of our most productive fisheries into harm’s way.

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Reports from the ground are spectacular. It’s another beautiful, bright and dry fall day in Seattle as the crowds roll into the city, getting ready for Pacific Marine Expo.

2014 1118 BallardA visit to the Pacific Fishermen yard in Ballard, the heart of the West Coast fishing fleet. Jessica Hathaway photoBack in the office, we just wrapped our Crew Shots issue. We’ve been staring at your faces all week on the page, and now we get to see you in person.

We love to talk about all the great deals on the show floor, the roster of new products revealed over the next three days, the conferences that will spark changes in every corner of the maritime industry, the magic of the Emerald City and Fishermen’s Terminal. But the nexus of this show is you. And we’ve put together a full-throttle Expo with you in mind.

The Wednesday keynote this year is John Aldridge, the Montauk, N.Y., fisherman who survived more than 12 hours treading water after falling overboard from a lobster boat last year. Aldridge became a household name after The New York Times piece “A Speck in the Sea.”

The numbers are out for Bristol Bay’s projected 2015 returns, and like the Expo, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever. If you fish the bay, don’t miss the conference on permit buybacks for the drift fleet Thursday morning at 10.

If you’re planning to build a new boat or overhaul, you are likely going to be on the show floor all three days, and our conference program will have offerings the whole way through, starting on Wednesday with an update on classification and load lines, as well as an hour on shipyard project planning. On Thursday, Terry Johnson will lead a panel discussion on a new Energy Analysis Tool that can help you plan and improve energy efficiency onboard. On Friday, get the full scope of the new safety and equipment requirements from a panel led by Jack Kemerer, the Coast Guard’s chief of Fishing Vessel Safety Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance.

And those are just the conferences. Don’t forget to stop by the National Fisherman booth to pick up a copy of our December issue, and be sure to check out our daily coverage of the Expo in our Show Daily, in print at the show and online.

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Page 6 of 38

Inside the Industry

(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.


(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.

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