National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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


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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Here we go again.

Yesterday NOAA announced that it will completely close areas of the Gulf of Maine to cod fishing for at least the next six months. It just so happens that those areas are frequented by the day-boat fleet out of Gloucester, Mass., a port that was already struggling and will again take the brunt of the regulatory shift.

The New England cod fishery continues to stand as the case study for keeping the Magnuson Act status quo or tweaking it to give managers more leeway to balance the protection of struggling fleets and struggling stocks. However, given the lack of transparency in the current process of cod management, it seems unlikely that even with broader options the managers would be inclined to give Gloucester’s small-boat fleet any slack.

According to a statement released by the Northeast Seafood Coalition, NOAA already is not maintaining baseline measures to protect the community: “Putting the lack of transparency surrounding the recent Gulf of Maine cod assessment aside, the measures being offered by the agency do not strike a balance between conservation and community interests as required under law.”

For years, New England fishery managers have said their hands are simply tied by the confines of the law. They must take more and more drastic measures to protect the species as long as its numbers are stalled out. And yet, cooperative research continues to contend that NOAA’s assessments are flawed and that its approach to cod management goes overboard.

The fact remains that no matter how strict the controls are, the NOAA data shows limited recovery. So it would seem that fishing is not the problem.

If we can’t point to fishing as the cause, then why are we continually restricting fishing as if those measures can solve the problem?

The only reasonable next step is to work with fishermen and scientists to better determine the actual health of the stock and uncover the source of its decline. Many fishermen blame the protections managers put on dogfish that coincided with a precipitous cod decline. The two species compete for resources, and dogfish have been shown to be far more prolific and resourceful than are cod fish.

And yet, as far as management goes, the answer is always the same: cut back on the fishermen who are already hardly fishing cod.

And now it appears we will have to ban fishing altogether and put more working fishermen out of business to prove to ourselves that fishing is not the problem.

The question is who will take the blame when the fishermen are gone?

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14dec NF BGsafety 350pxTallOver the weekend, tragedy struck in many parts of Maine. The most disastrous fire in the state in more than 50 years killed five young people in Portland. A car accident claimed two men under the age of 20. The loss of the Cushing-based lobster boat No Limits near Matinicus Island left skipper Chris Hutchinson wondering if his two missing crewmen would ever be recovered.

In a state with a population hovering right around a million, these losses are felt deeply through many communities statewide. Like the fishing industry, our people are closely connected.

Unlike a building fire or a car accident, the scenes of which can be searched and analyzed repeatedly until the investigators think they have gotten all the information they can glean, the loss of a boat at sea often remains a mystery unless there’s a survivor.

In “Fixing fatal flaws” on page 44 of our December issue, which you can pick up at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle Wednesday-Friday, Nov. 19-21, Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley writes about the new Coast Guard safety regulations coming down the pike as a result of the reauthorization act of 2010.

The biggest advantage to the new regulations, which will include boat inspections, is that the requirements could be defined fishery by fishery to best suit fleets in different parts of the country. What happened on the No Limits remains to be seen. The skipper survived because he found his way to his life raft and managed to fire a flare when it counted. Although the new Coast Guard regulations would not apply to the No Limits (it being less than 50 feet and operating within three miles), the fact that the lobster boat had a full suite of safety gear is a result of a wave of change in the industry.

Let’s hope the new regulations continue to make these kinds of positive changes for commercial fishermen without exacting too heavy a burden on many struggling sectors. We can’t put a price on survival, but surviving includes being able to run your business in the face of changing regulations.

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Page 7 of 38

Inside the Industry

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced last week the sixth round of grant awards from its Fisheries Innovation Fund, a program launched in 2010 to foster innovations that support sustainable fisheries in the United States. 

The goal of the Fisheries Innovation Fund is to sustain fishermen and fishing communities while simultaneously rebuilding fish stocks.


Alaskan Leader Fisheries will give Inmarsat’s new high-speed broadband maritime communications service, Fleet Xpress, a try on the 150-foot longline cod catcher/processor Alaskan Leader.


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