National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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

 

I've seen some terrible headlines about fishing lately.

Officials Back Deep Cuts in Atlantic Cod Harvest to Save Industry (NYT)

Fishing's decline looms; will fish eaters notice? (AP)

First of all, if you believe the first headline, the second headline seems impossible. Cuts will save the industry, but fishing is on the precipice? (For the record, the AP story has some good reporting on imports versus local seafood and how global supply affects the markets, but I wouldn't guess that from the headline.)

Second of all, fishing is not in a decline. Or at least it needn't be. We've had a hard time figuring out why the cod aren't coming back (and for what I am sure is not the last time, fishing effort is not the only problem there), but there are 15 species in the multispecies complex that is New England groundfish. There are healthy populations in the mix, which makes perfect sense. Some are up and some are down all the time. That's the nature of nature.

Despite the now-debunked theory that we'd be all fished out globally in a mere 35 years, there are plenty of fish in the sea. We just have to figure out how best to catch the plentiful ones when they're plentiful, and then create markets for them so fishermen are getting a decent price for their efforts.

Some people who mean well are capitalizing on the horrid misnomer "trash fish."

Chefs Collaborative is organizing a $125-per-plate Trash Fish Dinner next month that will feature scup, sea robin and dogfish.

Along with being considered an — ahem — underutilized species, dogfish is very likely one of the reasons cod is so slow to return to healthy biomass numbers.

Or perhaps I should say our misguided notion to protect the dogfish is one of the reasons. Our fishery managers believed, using best available data and not accounting for fishermen's anecdotal evidence that their nets were often overwhelmed by schools of the sharks off the Atlantic coast, that dogfish were in a state of severe decline.

So we instated measures to protect them, and the result was that we were quickly overrun with them. Oh and one of their favorite meals is juvenile cod. Hmmmmm. Well that's too bad, isn't it?

There's a similar story about sea otters in Southeast Alaska, which are snapping up delicious Dungeness and quickly becoming an unsustainable population to the detriment of the remaining Dungeness fishermen there.

I suppose a true fishing advocate would run right out to order a dogfish taco while wearing a Southeast sea otter pelt.

I'm always up for a good dare.

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As we sit in our comfortable office chairs or possibly at the helm of a fishing boat in an icy sea, the families of five Nova Scotia fishermen wait for a federal salvage operation to commence.

In the meantime, a private boat with four divers aboard is on its way to find the capsized 42-foot halibut boat that flipped over in 30-foot seas on Sunday night. The missing fishermen could very well be inside the boat.

I was just in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, for the Eastern Canadian Fisheries Exposition. I met fishermen from small towns all along the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia. Many of them came to the expo with their sons, daughters and grandchildren, and nearly all of them grew up on fishing boats.

That explains why all five of the crewmen aboard the Miss Ally were under the age of 35. Fishing is a lifeline for the towns that dot the craggy coast of this province. In Nova Scotia, children still eagerly follow their parents into the fishing business.

And while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wait to make the call on a salvage operation, the Miss Ally drifts at sea, upturned and threatening to sink with her secrets.

We've lost too many fishermen and too many boats to pass up the opportunity to find out as much as we can from this accident. If the Canadian government has any interest in finding its own citizens and honoring their lives, it will snap to and do whatever it takes to salvage the Miss Ally.

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NPR's three-part series on the Marine Stewardship Council addresses primarily the environmentalists' complaints about MSC (that it has expanded too quickly and, therefore, can't possibly be certifying only truly sustainable — whatever that means — seafood).

What is shocking is the fact that this series never once mentions the U.S. fishery management system. But even worse, it doesn't dig into the conflicts of interest that persist in the MSC's foundation supporters and those who pay for the blue sustainability logo. Nor does it truly address the consequences of a sustainability logo that no small fleet could afford for the long haul.

They would have gotten straight to the heart of it by addressing the most recent MSC controversy. That McDonald's announced its fish menu items would be made with all MSC-certified pollock the same week Russia announced its (controversial) pollock fishery was going forward with MSC certification.

Whole Foods and WalMart did not agree to start selling only MSC-labeled fish out of the blue one day. They were lobbied to do so (which the series does reveal).

So here's the rub: Fleets that want to keep selling into particular markets go through the very expensive MSC certification program in order to keep selling to those retailers that MSC has lobbied. That means MSC is driving its clients on one end by marketing themselves not to the fleets or to the public, but to the retailers on the other end. It's quite clever.

What that tells me is not that their primary aim is to educate the public or protect fishermen, but that they seek to control a stake in the global fishing industry. I have a hard time believing those efforts are altruistic when I see that MSC has funding sources in common with some of the world's largest corporations.

And what this series confirms for me is my belief that it's nearly impossible to isolate one fishery, green (or blue, as the case may be) stamp it, call it sustainable and walk away (regardless of whether you promise to come back to it three or five years later).

It also makes me very fearful that perhaps this push in questioning the MSC has a deeper reason — to further the cause for open-ocean finfish aquaculture, which some people foolishly believe will result in "organic" seafood.

The oceans are complicated, people. In the United States, the National Marine Fisheries Service does a good job of addressing the ebbs and flows of fishing stocks. In some cases, it (or the states that manage some fisheries) excels. In some cases it falls flat on its face and then tries to correct a misstep. We have very high standards here for our wild seafood.

That is the best we can expect when the marine environment meets government oversight. The bottom line is you can't fool yourself into thinking any label is a panacea. And you shouldn't fool yourself into believing open-ocean fish farms are the answer to the "dearth" of wild seafood.

U.S. fisheries are overall very healthy. If we turn our focus to eating a variety of foods in general, we will be assured of supporting more local growers and small-boat harvesters as well as keeping a check on the exploitation of our natural resources.

But instead, we turn more and more to the mantra that being too big to fail is equivalent to being sustainable.

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The New England cod fishery has existed for hundreds of years, lasting through many major swings in landings.

Yes, this is the lowest we've ever "seen" the biomass (insofar as our limited data allows us to see), but this is also the warmest we've seen the water and the most dogfish we've had to contend with.

Fishing effort has been severely curtailed for more than 20 years, every year with the promise that someday soon, the sacrifices of the fleet will be worth it. And make no mistake, this fleet has made sacrifice after sacrifice, apparently to no avail. If the cod stock gets more and more dire every year, it's not because we have been fishing them rapaciously. It's because the circumstances for their return are not optimal and even worse, they are apparently beyond human control.

Cod landings hit a low very close to what we're seeing now during a 20-year period between 1950 and 1970.

That was also a time when huge foreign fleets parked offshore and scooped up as much fish as they could carry home across the oceans. Few people mention the effects this might have on the long-term sustainability of the stock.

After the Magnuson Act pushed them off of Georges and out of the Gulf of Maine, U.S. landings increased again. Then dipped for a while, then increased again and are dipping again.

We are not fools for wanting to be sure the cod returns. What makes us foolish is the notion that we can somehow trick nature into doing our bidding just because we want it badly enough.

Some say the best option, as we keep a narrow-minded focus on "how we've always done things," may be to shut down the industry for a full year. We could try to think outside the conference room on this, but I doubt we will. As of now, it appears that we will indeed allow the ports and infrastructure to shrivel up and go the way of the vacation condo and law firm.

We'll let our 400-year-old industry drift into the fog instead of using all the tools in our arsenal to chart a clear course for the future of the fleet, allowing fishermen to pursue redfish and other healthy populations in the 15-fish complex that is New England groundfish. And then, after we've thinned out the dogfish population a little (a necessity as a result of our self-imposed protections) and the water cools again, thanks to Mother Nature, we'll pat ourselves on the back for having saved the cod.

Then we'll look around for someone to go fish for it, find one or two fishing conglomerates that amassed enough quota to make money on what little fish they were allowed to land, and wonder why it's so expensive to buy local fish.

Welcome to the short-sighted future. This is what happens when you think you're watching out for the long term, steaming full ahead, secure in your course. But the surprise attack comes from the side.

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As New England's groundfish fleets wait for bad news this week about their quotas for the coming fishing year, I am also wondering if a federal fishery disaster declaration will result in any aid from the federal government.

The best chance of it was lost when all non-Sandy-related funding was stripped from the House relief bill, including funding for three fishery disasters.

As Drew E. Minkiewicz and Shaun M. Gehan illustrate in their Washington Lookout column in our March issue, the prospects for representation of fishermen on Capitol Hill look fairly grim as we usher in the 113th Congress.

Fishermen have lost Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and the late Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and are likely to lose John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the president's cabinet.

On the House side, we said goodbye to representatives from a wide swath of the country, including Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) .

Tomorrow I will join some fishing industry representatives from Alaska and Washington state in meetings with Maine's Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree to discuss Pebble Mine and what the implications of such a project could have on local and national fishing communities.

My hope is to spread the word that wild fisheries need to be protected across this country, whether that's keeping a mine out of the headwaters of the world's largest wild sockeye run or offering fishermen and small fishing towns a leg up in bridging the gap between disaster and recovery.

The problems we face as an industry now have very little to do with effort vs. abundance because we are managing our stocks with great care in this country. Our next hurdle is to overcome the dearth of data, so we can approach the looming problems of climate, access and gear modification.

If we hope to have an industry even 20 years from now, we have to start protecting it now, from habitat to infrastructure.

The 12th annual Mid-Atlantic Waterman of the Year Contest kicked off with a double heat of net mending on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at the Maryland Watermen's Show in Ocean City.

Emcee John Martin, a partner in the family-owned fish wholesaler and retailer Martin Fish Co. of Ocean City, announced that each heat would award $100 to the winner, $50 to the runner up and a Maryland Watermen's Association T-shirt for third place.

Brandon Malek, a rockfish, catfish and white perch fisherman out of Baltimore, was the winner of the first heat and overall net-mending title-holder.



In the second heat, father and son Rob and Sam Joiner, pound net fishermen out of Rock Hall, Md., went head to head. Sam won the heat and took second place.



The baiting round went to Rob Joiner, and second place to Sam Joiner, both in the middle of the table.



Knot tying went to Charles Martin, also a member of the Martin Fish Co. family as well as a fisherman who says he goes on any kind of boat, from longlining to dragging to working the bay. He took the second heat and first place, tying a figure 8, a bowline and a square knot in 10.85 seconds.



Brandon Malek took the $50 prize and won the first heat in 11.22 seconds.



Splicing went to Rob Joiner, with Brandon Malek in second.



This heat of the competition was not without some controversy as the judges hovered over a splicing technique and wound up disqualifying what would have been second place.



Malek also won the rope throwing (tossing a line around a piling) and survival suit heats. He got his face flap closed at the 31-second mark.



In the end Brandon Malek won the title of Waterman of the Year, knocking Rob Joiner to second place for the first time in many years. And Sam Joiner took third.

The event was sponsored by Vane Brothers and Martin Fish Co.

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As I mentioned in my current Editor's Log; for the magazine, this is the time of year when we hit the road in search of fishing shows and fishermen's input.

This weekend, I'll be in Ocean City, Md., attending the Maryland Watermen's Show, officially known as the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's and Aquaculture Trade Exposition. I love this show, and can't wait to visit with Larry Simns, NF Highliner, the Watermen's president and the subject of a wonderful new book, which is featured in our February issue.

This year, in addition to the usual shows, I'll be attending two conferences I've never been to before: the National Working Waterfronts & Waterways Symposium and Managing our Nation's Fisheries.

I'm very curious to see how communities and fishermen are discussed at these two programs, which are not necessarily fisherman-focused.

My hope and my goal as editor of this magazine is to speak for the fishermen and your communities to people who can and must make a difference simply by recognizing their value.

Successful management of our nation's fisheries and preservation of working waterfront communities should not be approached through punishment or restrictions. It should be a task focused on getting the most out of every resource without selling fishing grounds to develop other natural resources (Snowbirds included).

The Obama administration has a great opportunity, as Jane Lubchenco exits stage left, to redefine leadership at NOAA and NMFS. Lubchenco was hailed this week in a Natural Resources Defense Council blog as a champion of science. That may be, but when it comes to fishing, the science — as long as we've had it — has never been a more pathetic tale.

I don't think Lubchenco would like that to be her legacy, but there it is. I hope the next chief can improve on the condition of fishery data rather than burying the truth about current management practices in a pile of statistics manipulated to skew the disastrous results of catch shares into a rosy picture of economic success.

My fingers are crossed, but I can't hold my breath on this one.

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Dear Congress,

The people (your bosses) are tired of you. We are tired of the bickering, the pettiness, the posturing and the strong-arming.

We want to see you working, not stroking your egos or those of your major donors.

There are significant groups of people in this country who are in desperate need of help, and your response has been to let them flounder. These people may not be your constituents, but one day your own people very well could be in a similar predicament.

No region of this country is safe from disaster of any kind. The longer you hold Sandy recovery funds at bay, the more you risk disgusting the majority of voters.

This bill is not about you or your party. It's about people who are homeless as a result of a natural disaster — and many others who are struggling to keep their homes and their boats as a result of playing by the rules the federal government established for their fishery and getting bupkis in return for more than two decades.

And what has delayed action done? So far, it has not served to reduce the Senate-proposed bill, as the House Republicans initially intended. House leaders were pushing to cut fishing disaster relief funding (for Alaska king salmon and New England groundfish) from the Senate-proposed $60 billion bill. They countered with a $24 billion bill.The Senate eventually approved a $60.4 billion bill last Friday. The House approved $9.7 billion in emergency funds to the federal coastal flood insurance program and is expected to get around to voting on the rest of the bill next week.

Lest we forget, this storm hit the East Coast at the end of OCTOBER last year. The best-case scenario at this point is that it will have taken the House nearly three months to get around to releasing aid funds. That is unacceptable.

And ultimately, House Speaker Jim Boehner (R-Ohio) is conceding to the Senate's proposal. Or is perhaps seeing the light that sometimes pork is not pork, it's just the business of running the country. Most of the funding in the relief bill is earmarked for storm recovery and disaster prevention in other regions of the country. It's not hard to come to the conclusion that it was put there to secure Republican votes in the Senate.

So what was the point of delaying?

All I can see is that the modern model of national politics is a mangled, limping mess that insists it's fine, when it really needs to be put out of its misery. Once upon a time, members of Congress collaborated with a mutual understanding and respect that despite disagreements on the details, negotiations have to come to the middle, because that's where the majority of Americans are.

Can someone get that message to Congress? Maybe we should suggest sector management for the House of Representatives. We'll call it Vote Shares. There will be fewer of them, but they'll get paid more and be easier for us to control. What a deal!

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We love unveiling a new issue every month.

Our work goes straight into your hands, and we always hope it means something to you. This is a small but widely varied industry. The one thing that we all have in common is appreciation for the people who make a difference for more than just themselves.

Some do that in small ways, like an innovative boatbuilder who designs a new kind of boat and creates it out of two would-be-retired seiners. (See Splitting pairs about a Virginia menhaden seiner.)

Some do that in big ways, like NF Highliner Larry Simns, who has held the title of president of the Maryland Watermen's Association since 1970 and recently released his memoir, co-written with Robert Rich Jr. (See the Editor's Log and the full story in the magazine.)

Then there are those who just get an early jump on things, like buying their first boat at age 12. That's what Maine lobsterman Alec Peasley did and is now building his third and biggest boat. (See Around the Yards.)

More than anything, I love to hear a good story. There are a lot of challenges in our industry right now, and I refuse to bury my head in the sand about them. But today I'd like to focus on what's going right.

Let's ring in the new year with some cheer and then get down to work.

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Some days it's hard not to succumb to the feeling that the world is a very dark place. And in Maine in the winter, that is enforced by a meager 9 hours of daylight — just enough time to get to work and back.

Add to that the impending doom along New England waterfronts as we desperately search for a way out of a groundfish catastrophe that could mark the end of hundreds of years of fishing history in many small ports on our coast. And the recent disappearance of the scalloper Foxy Lady II, whose gear and rescue pod washed ashore several days after her scheduled arrival home.

Yet I try, every year at this time, to start looking back at the things that make me grateful for what I have and how I can improve my life and the lives of those around me in the coming year. (Props to my folks for my virtues, few as they may seem at times!)

For one, I am humbled to be in the position of improving awareness of fishing safety. I don't dedicate my life to it like Jennifer Lincoln (NIOSH Alaska), Jerry Dzugan (AMSEA) or Rodney Avila (New Bedford-Mass.-based safety coordinator, former fisherman and NF Highliner). And I didn't make a huge contribution to one community, like Randa Szymanski did in Haines, Alaska. But I do what little I can to put people in touch with the right people and help the industry adapt to much needed cultural changes.

Right before we headed to Seattle for the expo this year, I got a call from a guy who is selling a safety product that's new to the U.S. commercial fishing industry.

He wanted to come to the show and get a feel for the industry's possible interest in a product like his.

In other industries, an editor getting a call like this sends the guy packing to the advertising reps and never wants to hear from him again unless his product wins an award or has some legitimate reason for reaching the editorial section.

But the size and nature of our industry makes these kinds of calls an opportunity to make a difference. Yes, there's a business component to it. But more than that, it was a chance to help someone roll out a new safety product.

National Fisherman has been promoting safety at sea since long before I got here. One of our traditions, the Fisherman of the Year contest, includes a survival suit contest. Though we don't hold an official contest on the East Coast anymore, Rodney Avila and Jerry Fraser (our publisher and longtime emcee of the races) held two heats of survival suit contests at a fishing expo in New Bedford this summer.


The winner of the second heat, seen here, is Shawn Machie, skipper of the 90-foot scalloper Apollo out of New Bedford (and of the History Channel's "Nor'Easter Men"). He slipped into his suit in just 29.3 seconds, besting first-heat winner Laurie Botelho of Fall River, who finished in 40 seconds.

Can you beat those times? How about on a rolling deck? There are no guarantees in life, and more than just a small dose of luck in every survival story. But without practice, you can almost guarantee that you won't make it into a survival suit in a true emergency. Try one on today. Make a resolution to best Shawn's time in 2013.

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Page 8 of 29

National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live is a web video series featuring the latest fishing news, product information and industry analysis by our editors. In this episode:

  • Ruling favors commercial red snapper fishermen
  • Fishermen file suit over Texas oil spill
  • Florida gov. announces oyster recovery funding
  • Hatchery salmon were 36 percent of harvest
  • Maine's new elver rules delay season start

Inside the Industry

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently soliciting applicants for open advisory panel seats as well as applications from scientists interested in serving on its Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Read more...

The North Carolina Fisheries Association (NCFA), a nonprofit trade association representing commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and processors, recently announced a new leadership team. Incorporated in 1952, its administrative office is in Bayboro, N.C.

Read more...

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