National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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

 

According to Alaska Fish Radio, Sodexo is reportedly retracting its policy to supply only Marine Stewardship Council approved seafood.

The flap on this policy came when politicians and the public alike realized that meant the food supplier would not be offering a large swath of sustainable American seafood for its federal contracts (including the federal parks service and the armed forces) and would instead turn to a global supply of seafood sporting the MSC's blue label.

I wrote about this contradiction last week in "Persistent myths," and am thrilled to see that Sodexo has come to its senses.

Kudos also to Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, who pressed Sodexo to rethink their stance.

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Yesterday someone forwarded me an article from People magazine titled "The best fish to buy," by fitness and health food guru Harley Pasternak in which he lauds the consumption of farmed seafood over wild. Among the benefits he touts is a reduced likelihood of contamination from mercury and PCBs, which he claims are not as much of a risk in a "controlled, farmed environment."

I'm not sure who exactly got to Pasternak, but he's bought what they're selling hook, line and sinker. Most of his "facts" are credited to Oceana. The remainder of his piece continues the fear-mongering about wild fish by citing statistics about species substitution. The last time I checked, buying farmed wasn't a protection against substitution.

What this article does in essence is continue to scare people away from eating seafood, despite Pasternak's initial claim that it's a healthy source of protein. If you believe even half of what he says about seafood, you'd never bother to touch the stuff again. This is People magazine's health and fitness guru. I suppose I should lower my standards for People, but I am not sure that's possible. What scares me is their reach. Articles like this undo all the hard work of fishermen, their families and their associations who have been battling the persistent myths about American seafood.

In other news of the apparently powerful, misguided and misinformed, our federal government continues their food-service contracts with Sodexo USA, despite the company's refusal to buy Alaska seafood. Why? Because Alaska seafood is certified through Responsible Fishery Management based on the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization standards. Sodexo buys only Marine Stewardship Council-certified seafood. (I wonder what certifications they accept for chicken, beef and pork.)

The big question is why is the federal government choosing one independent certifier over another when neither of them is an agent of this government? If anything, they should be deferring to the UN's FAO standards because the United States is a member of that organization.

I would hope our federal agencies would take this moment to reconsider their contracts with Sodexo USA if the company is going to refuse to supply them with fish from their own country and instead defer to globally sourced fish simply because it has an MSC label (popularized by McDonald's and Walmart).

Has no one in our government spoken with Sodexo to inform them that FAO standards are A-OK? I can't imagine being torn if I had to weigh my options between being on Team Walmart versus Team Alaska. Someone send me a Last Frontier t-shirt!

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I read the news today, oh boy. The finfish aquaculture world is singing the praises of researchers in Maryland who believe they have successfully manipulated the omnivorous cobia to create a captive vegetarian.

The study's results are being hailed as a win for aquaculture and conservation. But what of nutrition?

I'm no fan of most finfish aquaculture. It's not a protein I would choose because I prefer to keep my ingredients simple and as natural as possible. I do not dispute that it may have a place at the larger seafood table, but only inasmuch as the farms are clean and environmentally friendly.

Cobia fingerlingsThe vegetarian cobia has a grain-based food supply (you guessed it — wheat, corn and soy!) that is, as of now, about 15 percent more expensive than the fishmeal alternative. The goal in the cobia's conversion was not necessarily to create a less expensive fish but to develop a product that eats less fish than it produces — hence, its praise as an environmental win.

I can't help but wonder how far off this beast is nutritionally from the Frankenfish, if only because its food is very likely to be genetically modified versions of wheat, corn and soy. I'm also wary of diet manipulation.

Grass-fed beef is purported to have the same Omega-3s as wild fish. How can that be, when beef is a notorious source of cholesterol? Well the answer is that grain-fed cattle does not eat a diet typical of that species. The grain-fed cow no doubt produces a delicious and mouthwateringly marbled steak. But that flavor and satisfaction comes at a price. (Though considerably lower than the $330,000 Stem-Cell Hamburger.)

Will we find out in 20 years that there is a similar downside to eating vegetarian cobia? I can't say for certain. But do I wonder enough to avoid the manipulated fish? Absolutely.

If there's one sure-fire way to eat fish with conservation in mind, it's to eat wild American seafood. Plucked from open waters, as nature intended. It also happens to be delicious.

Photo: Cobia fingerlings in captivity; NOAA

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I read a story yesterday about how fishermen in California are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally abandoning an agreement to maintain an "otter-free zone" in Southern California.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Jim Curland of the Friends of the Sea Otter claims that the shellfish industry flourished when the fur trade wiped out sea otters, which are a voracious predator of shellfish.

Times writer Louis Sahagan editorializes the effect sea otters have on shellfish populations by referring to the creatures as "furry, button-nose marine mammals" before quoting Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Jonathan Wood's claim that they're “ravaging fragile nearby fisheries and destroying local economies." It leaves the reader dubious of the destructive capability of those fuzzy-wuzzy critters.

Yes, it's true: Sea otters are much more adorable than pinchy-prickly crabs. That shouldn't matter, but it always does in the court of public opinion.

But what is worse is that this NGO is claiming that the biomass of crabs was artificially high because the sea otter population was devastated by the fur trade, and therefore, the fishermen should not expect to be able to make their living by marginalizing the crabs' predators. But what side are these groups on when the biomass is artificially low (as a result of climate change, habitat destruction, poor water quality, etc.)? Most often, they just defer to calling it overfishing.

Part of the problem is that in determining the ideal biomass of a species, we look at the high points, which may or may not have been artificially high. And then we aim to get all species to that high-water mark at the same time. We're aiming for the 100-year flood every year.

What we are missing is the fact that fish eat fish, humans eat fish, and marine mammals eat fish, too.  When one species is high, invariably, at least one other species is low. Untangling the complex web of predator and prey is no simple task. It may even be impossible.

The question is: Can we move beyond calling a low biomass "overfished"? Can't we just recognize that this is what fish populations do? If so, then we also have to recognize that supporting healthy fishing communities is going to depend on supporting healthy fishing portfolios — making it possible for fishermen to buy and use permits in various fisheries so they can avoid the pitfalls of boom and bust by moving from a low-biomass fishery to a high-biomass fishery, as needed.

Let's not fool ourselves by imagining that this is a new concept. This is what fishermen used to do before there was a management system in place. Why fish for a fish that's hard to find?

I'm not advocating for an end to management. That would be like calling for an end to the Internet because you're afraid of being hacked. It ain't gonna happen. That ship has sailed.

But what we need to do is learn to move with the data and make better use of the data available to us. Overwhelmingly, the information shows that the ocean is not and will never be a place of perfect balance — with or without human influence. But what we can do is make it a more malleable place to make a living.

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Jason Crosby had me at Milkbone. I was perusing his many videos of commercial fishing in Alaska and on the West Coast (get a taste at NF.com), when I ran across a Sitka sac roe short set to arguably the biggest single from an Atlanta band named Follow For Now, a group I did indeed follow as an Atlanta teenager in the 1990s.

I am more intrigued by Jason's project of rebuilding a 93-year-old wooden seiner with every new thing I learn about it. Not only did he start fishing on the boat when he was 13, but he has familial connections to the people who built the Genius at Skansie's shipyard in Gig Harbor, Wash.

Fisherman and filmmaker Jason CrosbyFate, it would seem, brought the Genius back to the family when Jason bought her at auction last year. But anyone who has been in this industry for even a short time knows how small it really is. We are all connected, whether it be by boats or by the people who work them. It should be no surprise that this Puget Sound fisherman moved to my East Coast hometown to study music and documentary filmmaking and ended up moving back home to fish and film, buy an heirloom boat and have his story end up on my desk. We even have kids the same age. That's the way it works in fishing. Everything ebbs and flows, but we're all members of a larger family.

The Genius has been out of the Crosby/Skansie family for less than two decades, but the amount of work she will need to be seaworthy again truly makes her a labor of love. It is quite possibly the kind of project only family would understand.

Jason is lovingly documenting the resurrection of the Genius in Port Townsend, Wash., with video shorts that are sure to enthrall boat enthusiasts of all ages. The once-rote work of wooden boat repair has somewhat of a cult following now, largely because it's not well understood these days. Jason's work could change some of that. He hopes to blend his video shorts with family interviews and create a full documentary.

I can't wait to see both finished projects. Read the full feature by freelance writer and seiner deckhand Sierra Golden in our September issue on page 26. But if you would like to take a more personal stake in the success of the Genius, visit Jason's fund-raising site.

Photo by Cathryn Coats: Fisherman and filmmaker Jason Crosby stands near the bow of the Genius in Port Townsend, Wash.

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In an upcoming episode of Andrew Zimmern's show Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, the eclectic epicurean host visits Bayou LaBatre, Ala., a well-known Gulf Coast fishing town, and its surrounds.

In one segment, he interviews Dustin Mizell, a Gulf Shores charter boat operator who has established a niche for sport-fishermen to bowfish skates and rays at night. (He encourages his clients to use a variety of tools in what Mizell calls his Blood Box to process their catch. Every fisherman knows how to jury rig, but this guy has the notion branded. Now that's the spark of marketing genius.)

When I think of skates, I think of the Northeast trawl fishery. When I imagine Gulf Coast recreational fishing, I envision snappers and groupers, of course.

This show illustrates how members of all fishing sectors can capitalize on underutilized species. When rec fishermen go to the Gulf Coast, they want to bring home a gorgeous red snapper. But wouldn't it be just as exciting to try something off the wall like spearing skates and rays? There's a big push in New England to help the commercial groundfish fleet by increasing the demand (and therefore, price) of the less popular (but plenty populous) fish in the multispecies complex.

Regional advocacy groups have been working with white-table restaurateurs and chefs to promote so-called trash-fish dinners (for more thoughts on that, be sure to visit the Lobsters on the Fly blog, penned by the eloquent and delightfully wry Monique Coombs), making use of once-discarded or under-marketed species.

Once upon a time, monkfish and lobster were in the "trash fish" category. Skate wings have been sold as mock scallops (both legitimately and fraudulently). You never know when you're going to strike a hot iron when it comes to food marketing. Imagine the progress we could make if the recreational and commercial segments were working toward the same goals and developing the same markets.

But in the meantime, can we come up with a better term than "trash fish"? Hidden gems? Secret seafood? Market-free fish?

As an industry, we've been far more inclined to use the collection of tools in the jury-rigger's Blood Box rather than stepping outside of our comfort zone to reach the consumer at white-tablecloth restaurants. And in many ways, it has worked for us. Where would the "Deadliest Catch" be without an edge? But when it comes to seafood — the resulting product, not just the image of fishing — we've let processors, chefs and retailers do the marketing work for us.

It's possible that we can walk a fine line between exposing customers to the Blood Box and cleaning off our hands to delve into the world of white tablecloths, but it's going to take some careful handling either way.

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We get chatting about fish — what we like, where we buy, how we cook it — quite often in the office.

Yesterday, we mused on what people buy when they're far from the source. Are they limited to what they find in their local grocery store? And why do so many people continue to declare that they're intimidated by seafood? Knowing the difference between a halibut steak and a salmon fillet is no more complicated than knowing how to cook a flank steak versus a few strips of bacon.

I have a theory that our global market (while offering a plethora of delights) has largely served to confuse people with endless choices. It seems there's at least one new species on the shelf every week.

Help may be coming courtesy of NMFS.

Today the agency opens a two-day symposium in Oakland, Calif., — Eat Local, Think Global — that focuses on eating U.S. seafood (all of which is managed for sustainability). It's a simple message for retailers and fishermen, alike, to bring to the consumers: Eat American Fish.

According to the symposium's website: "At home, some U.S. fisheries continue to battle the perception that they are not sustainably harvested. This has created mounting frustration in the domestic fishing industry and is serving to undermine domestic market access."

There is a lot of energy around this theme right now. Fishermen, fleets, community supported fisheries, marketing groups and the government are all on the bandwagon of marketing and selling U.S. wild.

If you are a fishing industry stakeholder selling or marketing seafood, I want to hear your story. Please send an email to jhathaway@divcom.com with the subject line Selling Seafood.

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It is striking how much influence recreational fishing groups can have over local decision-making when they put their minds to it.

Today, commercial fishermen in Oregon are reeling from another move to eliminate gillnetting on the main stem of the Columbia River. Gov. John Kitzhaber is likely to sign legislation that would ask the Fish and Wildlife Commission to establish an exclusion zone at the mouth of Youngs Bay, a popular recreational fishing spot.

Lawmakers are backing the bill, which was approved in the Oregon House and Senate early this week, at the request of sport-fishing interests (including the national Coastal Conservation Association).

The problem with these types of measures is that they run the risk of eliminating traditional jobs while oftentimes doing very little to better manage the resource.

In 1995, a group of sport-fishing guides in Maine convinced state legislators to close a fish ladder on the St. Croix River, preventing native alewives from returning to their historic spawning grounds.

The reason? The guides argued that the alewives were outcompeting the smallmouth bass, a popular sportfish. The most intriguing part of the story to me is that smallmouth bass have been in Maine for about 150 years, but would once have been considered an invasive species. The alewife, on the other hand, is native to the state and upriver in Canada. What's worse is that research shows the two species coexist peacefully.

This is the first season in 23 years that the fish ladder is open, and alewives are free to swim to their spawning grounds again.

What can we learn? First, that two apparent adversaries can coexist peacefully if we take the time to look at the details instead of being distracted by those who fan the flames of fish politics. Second, that just when we think we've done things the right way, we figure out we got it all wrong.

The cascading effects of our decisions occur in a landscape that is inherently chaotic. If we are not prepared to act quickly (because the chances are that any move we make will have unintended consequences, either good or bad), then perhaps it would be best for us not to act at all.

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Over the Fourth of July weekend and into this week, I've heard about several somewhat unusual commercial fishing deaths. It often feels like they come in waves. Independence Day in Alaska proved especially deadly.

Early Thursday morning, the Pauline II caught fire at the Alaska General Seafoods dock in Egegik, killing Harberg Paul, 56, and injuring his younger brothers, Joe, 50, and Paul, 55. Later that morning, Wisconsin fisherman Lewis Byerly, 55, died after getting caught in the anchor winch of the 62-foot Anna Lane just outside of Ninilchick in Cook Inlet.

Joey Paul (no relation to the fire victims), 25, of Dillingham died Thursday evening after he fell into the drive shaft area of the engine room on a commercial boat in Chignik Lagoon.

But perhaps the most perplexing for now is the loss of crewman Michael Grindle, 40, this Sunday aboard the 107-foot herring trawler Osprey out of Gloucester, Mass.

Early on Sunday morning, crew members contacted the Coast Guard when Grindle collapsed following what they believed to be a severe asthma attack. At that time, the boat was about 65 miles from Chatham on Cape Cod.

The Coast Guard notified the crew that they would not be responding to the emergency with a helicopter for emergency transport and instructed them to perform CPR. The crew, which did not have a heart defibrillator, pumped their fellow crewman's chest until Grindle's pulsed dropped away, within about 15 minutes.

A Coast Guard helicopter could have reached the boat within two hours and a hospital within another hour. The Coast Guard's reasoning for not responding with emergency transport is based on statistics that show a person undergoing chest compressions without a defibrillator will survive for an average of just less than an hour.

The pause in compressions to hoist Grindle to the helicopter would have complicated an evacuation. “There would have been no benefit to the victim to actually conduct the med evac,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Myeonghi Clegg told the Gloucester Daily Times.

The Osprey steamed home over the next 12 hours, arriving in Gloucester late Sunday afternoon. The death is being investigated as an unknown medical condition.

All of these losses serve to remind us of the dangers of fishing. Falls overboard and lack of preparedness for downflooding and capsize may be the biggest threats statistically, but working on the water and around heavy machinery is inherently dangerous.

Our thoughts are with the families of those lost and injured at sea.

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ChesapeakeAs editor of a commercial fishing magazine, I hear a lot of great stories. And quite often, those stories are told by captivating storytellers. But it's rare that I get a chance to meet someone who wants to tell the story of fishermen in stunning pictures.

That's what we found in photographers Jay Fleming and Fred Stocker. Jay contacted me out of the blue, and when I opened his attachments, I was simply blown away. I had already been working with Fred Stocker on the idea of a photo essay on the watermen of Chesapeake Bay. Sometimes things fall into your lap at the right time, and you just have to seize the opportunity.

I love the opportunity to promote the work of commercial fishermen in different parts of the country. I hope you'll enjoy it, too. Here's a PDF of those pages if you can't wait for your issue to arrive in the mail.

But these days fishermen don't just work hard on the water. There are threats to wild fisheries all over the country. One of the biggest threats looming right now is genetically modified salmon, also called Frankenfish.

East Coast stakeholders have been working hard to revitalize critical habitat for Atlantic salmon. And while Alaska salmon is certainly healthy, that fishery has seen its ups and downs, most recently with a king salmon slump.

But all of that could be moot if the Food and Drug Administration approves the sale of genetically modified salmon (the first GM meat available in this country), particularly if it's allowed to be sold without a label clearly stating its origin.

Many (if not most) salmon eaters are health-conscious consumers. They love wild salmon not just for the taste but for the remarkable health benefits. I know I would not want to eat Frankenfish, but how would I know if I had the real deal without an labeling requirement.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee recently adopted an amendment sponsored by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would make labeling mandatory for GM salmon.

Alaska Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) has a compelling Northern Lights column in our August issue that speaks to the heart of the troubles with Frankenfish. Find her piece "Put the freeze on Frankenfish" on page 8.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Page 7 of 31

National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 10/21/14

In this episode:

North Pacific Council adjusts observer program
Fishermen: bluefin fishing best in 10 years
Catch limit raised for Bristol Bay red king crab
Canadian fishermen fight over lobster size rules
River conference addresses Dead Zone cleanup

National Fisherman Live: 10/7/14

In this episode, National Fisherman Publisher Jerry Fraser talks about the 1929 dragger Vandal.

 

Inside the Industry

NOAA and its fellow Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have announced the signing of a formal Record of Decision to implement a gulf restoration plan. The 44 projects, totaling an estimated $627 million, will restore barrier islands, shorelines, dunes, underwater grasses and oyster beds.

Read more...

The Golden Gate Salmon Association will host its 4th Annual Marin County Dinner at Marin Catholic High School, 675 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Kentfield on Friday, Oct 10, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.

Read more...

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