National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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


I admit I had the wind knocked out of my sails late last week when I read that President Obama has opted to dismiss out of hand Alaska Rep. Don Young’s Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization draft, reportedly based on the advice of his staff.

2015 0526 MagnusonSen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was one of many bipartisan speakers at the 2012 D.C. rally to reform Magnuson. Jessica Hathaway photoAfter the industry mustered support for the bill that could possibly be a Hail Mary pass for the Northeast groundfish fleet, I was excited to see it get widespread support (though Senate approval was uncertain), because that means more people understand the inordinate amount of pain under which New England fishing ports and fleets are operating right now (not to mention the forecast for harbors all along the Eastern Seaboard).

According the White House statement, the objection is to “arbitrary and unnecessary requirements that would harm the environment and the economy.” The problem is that as management now stands, arbitrary and unnecessary requirements are harming the economy and the industry, and quite possibly the environment, too.

What all those opposed to Young’s bill say is that there’s already flexibility in the Magnuson Act. And yet, the powers that be in the Northeast refuse to use that flexibility, and there is no way to hold them accountable for that choice.

So our fleets are caught in the middle, and those who wield the power to change the future have nothing to lose from the collapse of our infrastructure.

The fishermen stand to lose everything. And the public stands to lose access to healthy, local fish when the small-boat fleet gives out after a 95 percent cut in quota.

It looks more and more like we will have to lose it to know the value of what we’ve lost. And then what?

What we will get if we keep tightening the vise on our small-boat fleet is the little guys selling out the the big guys and total ownership of the resource by a handful of large corporations. If what we want is to establish and maintain sustainability in fisheries, it seems to me that the last thing we want to do is put the entirety of the ownership of fisheries in the hands of powerful corporations who have the legal prowess to write their own rules.

If you agree, please contact your representatives and tell them you want to help save small-boat fleets across the country by passing H.R. 1335.

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There are no guarantees in life. Even if you despise the green movement for some reasons, you may find yourself working with environmentalists to protect your own backyard.

2015 0519 PebbleSeveral Alaska-based groups continue to fight Pebble Mine, including is the case with some of the opponents of Pebble Mine.

A Wall Street Journal article last week was yet another attempt to damn the process at EPA by clutching pearls at the idea that an environmental activist was involved in fighting Pebble Mine at the early stages.

“Where is the transparency?” the mine’s defenders ask, and rightly so. While I admit that this is not a shocking development, it presents evidence contrary to EPA’s claim that they were merely responding to the requests of Native tribes and local fishermen.

I’ve talked to people in those groups, and I can say without a shred of doubt that they want to keep Pebble Mine far away from their livelihood and source of subsistence for all the right reasons (that is, not political ones).

But if EPA has been lacking transparency, they ought to have their feet held to the fire on this point. What they should not be demonized for is the claim that the mine owners were overlooked and ignored when EPA came knocking.

The pro-Pebble people would have us believe EPA shut them down before they had the chance to file a plan. And yet, they spent more than a decade pouring resources into the idea of building this mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. What were they doing for those 10 years? Research, development, marketing. All without a plan? Does that seem like the kind of business blunder a multibillion-dollar mining company would make?

You can only legitimately complain so long that EPA blocked you before you could file a plan before you actually file a plan. We are going on the second decade. How long does it take?

So go for it, Pebble. File your plan. Have your say.

Or is it possible that the bigger priority is to prolong the legal fight until the whole region is so bankrupt they won’t be able to fight anymore?

Maybe sometimes environmental activists are the bad guys, the ill-informed. (See: Oceana’s fleet of interns crafting off-base PR at an alarming rate.) And maybe sometimes the international mining companies who have no stake in the local culture, longevity of the region’s most significant source of employment and subsistence are actually rapacious industrialists.

Maybe. Sometimes.

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I will admit, my first instinct when writing about Oceana’s latest press release was to crack wise about how Kate Mara knows the dangers of drift gillnets because a frightening experience with an entanglement led to her tragic haircut.

2015 0512 MaraOceanaActress Kate Mara has attached her name to Oceana's latest misinformed and misguided campaign. Oceana photoBut that ’do wasn’t the first thing I noticed in the email. I skimmed right past the celebrity eye candy and noticed that the release contains numerous errors, as most of us have come to expect from Oceana.

It’s interesting to me that a group can spend so much time courting celebrities to be the face of their cause and not even bother to google whether it’s legal to use gillnets in Washington and Oregon.* They say, “Washington State prohibits drift gillnets and Oregon does not allow fishermen in the state to use them.” (You can also watch Mara's video on YouTube.)

For more on the drift gillnet fisheries in these states, check out our Cover Story excerpt “Up and down in Puget Sound” by Matt Marinkovich, who gillnets for chum — or keta — salmon in Washington. See also the Yearbook section in our April 2013 issue. Columbia River (Oregon) gillnetter Larry Telen graces the cover.

While it’s true that Oregon’s former Gov. John Kitzhaber (who resigned amid scandal recently) made an effort to restrict gillnets on the Columbia River, his alternative of allowing commercial seining isn’t panning out quite as planned.

The reason being that gillnets can indeed be a highly selective gear type if used properly (the right size mesh, appropriate length and depth of the net, timing of the fishery, and even adding lights or pingers to the nets to deter bycatch).

What I have learned from reading Oceana’s marketing materials is that there’s almost always a better solution to the problems they claim to want to resolve.

Just today I read a great story about Massachusetts’ South Shore lobstermen solving their own whale entanglement woes with more than 1,000 personal hours of research and development. Ask a fisherman to help you solve a problem, and in most cases, you’ll get a pretty useful solution that saves jobs, reduces bycatch and keeps fresh fish on your plate.

National Fisherman has long celebrated fishermen who devote their own free time to these kinds of projects. Their friendly faces and calloused hands carry considerably more substance than a celebrity with a glamour shot and an empty cause.

*For the record, I googled Ms. Mara. I recognized her from "Brokeback Mountain," but I haven't had the opportunity to binge on the Netflix series "House of Cards." Suffice it to say her IMDB entry is far more impressive than her ability to choose a cause.

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It reads like a practical joke: Weed of Stonington faces pot charges. (Traps, that is.)

But behind the amusing headline lies one of the pitfalls of a fiercely independent fleet of fishermen: they do what they want.

2015 0427 StoningtonLobster boats tied up in Maine’s Stonington harbor. Photo by Dana Moos Benjamin Weed of Stonington, Maine, is being charged with fishing untagged lobster traps and for setting more than he was allotted in certain fishing zones. But there’s more to this story than the government coming down hard on another hard-working fisherman (a rather disturbing trend, but that’s a topic for another day).

The Maine lobster fleet has for years been enjoying flush landings and more recently a price jump that led to record landings value last year just shy of $457 million, and 2015 is looking up from there with a late start to coincide with the tourist season.

At the same time, the number of V-notched egg-bearing lobsters (reproducing females marked so they can consistently be thrown back whether or not they are bearing eggs at the time they are caught) is on the decline from 76 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2014, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The last time the landings increased significantly, the percentage of V-notched egg-bearers held steady between 70 and 80 percent. So the decline is worrisome. And to some, it’s suspicious. Are more Maine lobstermen slacking off on V-notching because they think the fishery is invulnerable and no longer requires strict adherence to that rule, or is some other factor at play?

Of course, lobstermen have a reputation for being suspicious of each other, even — and maybe especially — of their own neighbors. Despite their fierce independence, most of Maine's lobstermen work hard to maintain a sustainable fishery and want to know that their neighbors are doing the same. If there's a chance they're not, they are sure to be the subject of some scuttlebutt. Before the story broke, the rumor had it that Weed was fishing thousands of unmarked traps.

Rumors aside, he’s likely to be held up as an example to the rest of the fleet. Weed risks losing his fishing license for a year, which is a steep price to pay when the gettin’ is just gettin’ good.

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Catch share programs have been heralded in all corners of the country, first by NGOs and second by some of the fleet owners, fishermen and processors to whom they have brought success.

2015 0423 NAMANAMA's social media campaign urges fishing community supporters to sign the petition and use the hashtag #StopFailingtheFishermen. Facebook photoThe counterbalance to those claims of success are of course the thousands of voices of fishermen and many more thousands of supporting small businesses put out of work as a result of catch share programs. But even worse, at least one catch share program was implemented with such haste that it may actually be damaging the ecosystem it was prescribed to save.

Enter: New England groundfish. In a press release yesterday, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance Community Organizer Brett Tolley stated, “In the five years since the catch share policy was implemented in New England, fishing rights have dramatically consolidated, community based fishermen have less access to fishing quota, and pressure on inshore fishing areas has increased.”

“For many fishermen, this means a loss of our livelihood and culture. It means a break in a family tradition. And perhaps more importantly, it means future generations in these fishing families will have no access to using and stewarding the fish stocks and marine ecosystems that have sustained them for so long,” said fisherman Tim Rider of Saco, Maine.

If an entire region of the country is struggling after going far above and beyond to protect their resource, then we have to consider that what we’re doing to manage the resource is not effective.

No single management system will have a 100 percent success rate. Of course we should strive for that. But regardless of what happens to the New England codfish, we can say without a doubt that we did everything we could to protect that species and bring it back to no avail.

What we don’t know is what’s hurting us.

What we do know, we’re not acting on, and that’s hurting us, too.

Flexibility in Magnuson is the only way to give some New England and Southern fisheries a whisper of hope. The fishermen in these regions need legislation to push their councils to take a holistic look at fishing communities and ecosystems. How can we refuse to offer a helping hand to fellow fishermen?

They don’t want help in the form of disaster money or handouts in the form of buybacks or buyouts. What they want is to be given a chance to try something new with their fishery.

In the meantime, we should be putting more effort into gear innovations and data on these fisheries and more money into marketing underutilized species like dogfish. Instead we keep leaning harder and harder on the fishermen to maintain an ineffective status quo.

As Tolley points out, stewards of the resource have made appeals and suggestions to improve the New England program. But the council has turned a blind eye to the system’s flaws, which they promised at the outset to fix because they recognized five years ago that the program was shoved through in haste and was likely to be a disaster in the making.

We still have a disaster. We still have a broken system. The question is how long we will still have a fishery?

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How does a company based in Hiram, Ohio, come to be a leader in marine technology? In the case of Duramax Marine, it all started in the late 1800s with maple syrup buckets. Tapping trees was and still is big business in Amish country. When the industry moved to metal buckets with lids, they needed rubber seals, which led to bearings, and the rest was history.

2015 0416 DuramaxDuramax Marine's Mike Schonauer demonstrates the DuraCooler SuprStak keel cooler. Jessica Hathaway photoI’m down in New Orleans this week for the WorkBoat Maintenance and Repair show. Compared to Maine late winter/early mud season, the spring weather down here feels a might steamy. So I grabbed a chance to catch up with Mike Schonauer from Duramax to see a demonstration on their DuraCooler SuprStak keel cooler.

About a year ago, the company invested in a full-scale water tunnel to test water flow and maximize cooling efficiency. The research from that investment led to the addition of flow diverter scoops which draws water in through the cooler. While Duramax is not officially releasing their numbers while the patent is pending, they will claim a double digit increase in efficiency.

But increasing the flow through the TurboTunnel is a delicate endeavor. Too much flow, and you run into a corrosion problem. The SuprStak is designed for optimized flow that meets Tier III and IV requirements. Check it out at

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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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Page 6 of 39

Inside the Industry

It’s no secret that fraud is a problem in the seafood industry. Oceana repeatedly touts a mislabeling epidemic. While their method has been criticized, the perception of rampant fraud  has been established.

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The Center for Coastal Studies recently announced that Owen Nichols, Director of the Center for Coastal Studies’ Marine Fisheries Research Program, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the John Annala Fishery Leadership Award by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. 

Read more ...
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