Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Tuesday, 04 June 2013
Last week a little survey popped into my inbox, and I got very excited to fill it out.
This does not happen often (the excitement, that is).
However, this survey is about a whole slew of new and exciting aspects of seafood marketing that I pretty much can't believe is happening right now. The best part? You get a chance to submit your opinion, too.
The Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee is looking for input from people just like you on the possibility for a federally managed sustainability certification for U.S. seafood.
Some say this just makes perfect sense. NMFS already has all the information because they manage the fisheries. Why not tack on certification while they're at it?
This is a fair point. NMFS certainly has far more information on fisheries than most of the independent groups out there promoting traffic-light seafood lists. But does it make sense to saddle federal workers with yet more red tape?
When I put on my rose-colored glasses, my vision is that a certification system like this could help data-poor stocks become data rich (or at least data middle-class). If they go through the certification process, they will have to be studied and analyzed, which could generate critical information. Perhaps more importantly a national certification could help seafood retailers market U.S. seafood, thereby raising the demand and prices of our domestic products. Improved education, recognition and demand could slowly ratchet down the amount of seafood we import (most of which we don't test or manage for handling or quality).
What I would not want to see is well-managed fisheries being punished for factors beyond their control. The fact is, all of our fisheries are managed for sustainability. So can't we just label them as such? As far as I'm concerned, a federal sustainability label does not need to be encumbered by a certification process. Our management speaks for itself.
When I look at the American portfolio of seafood, I see that we have a bounty to offer. Why we're not promoting it as such is a true failing on our part. Perhaps some sort of certification program could help us close that gap. I'm certain some better marketing would.
If you would like to have your say, fill out the MAFAC survey today!
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
As the month of May comes to a close, we are also closing in on your last chance to let the Environmental Protection Agency know how you feel about Pebble Mine.
As of May 31, just three days from now, the comment period for the EPA's second draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed will come to a close.
"So what?" some will say.
The "what" is the future, not just for Bristol Bay salmon, wild salmon or even wild fish the world over. The "what" is the right of the people (not the government — state or federal) to decide what resources are most important to their community for the long term. The people who live and fish in Bristol Bay asked the EPA for help. This is not a case of big government telling the state what it can and can't do. This is a case of locals and fishermen fighting to protect their livelihoods so they can pass down this way of life to their children and grandchildren. If we value copper and gold over families and traditions, then we've certainly lost our way.
It is true that the headwaters of Bristol Bay hold a large deposit of copper. It is true that someday someone will go after that copper. But until there's a process for extracting it that doesn't leave the world's largest sockeye salmon run in the prospect of peril for the rest of time, then perhaps the renewable (and highly valuable) resource of salmon ought to take precedence. With an annual value estimated at $1.5 billion, Bristol Bay's salmon run is arguably more valuable than a metals mine, for now and for the future.
If you would like to know more about Bristol Bay, including directions on how to make your own comment, please visit our spotlight page.
Thursday, 23 May 2013
I've spent a lot of time diving into the archives of National Fisherman in my seven years with the magazine. I remember reading about the national enthusiasm behind creating new food products out of seafood. Think: Sea Dog, the hot dog with healthy Omega 3s!
When I was reading these old volumes, I wondered what happened to those products and the enthusiasm behind U.S. seafood. Part of the answer is that the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act established the funds that were devoted to these exciting new seafood products and marketing ventures. Over time, those grants were slowly turned over to fishery science research and data collection projects.
This week, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced an amendment to the U.S. Farm Bill that would create a National Seafood Marketing and Development Fund. (Click here to download a PDF of the amendment.)
Seven states have sent legislative resolutions of support to Congress in favor of a national marketing fund for seafood — Alaska, California, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon and Rhode Island.
On a federal level, NOAA has taken some interest in creating a national sustainability label for U.S. seafoods. It's looking like the right time for more and better marketing of American fish and fisheries.
The fund would roughly mimic the fishery management council structure by establishing five regional seafood marketing boards, and each board member would serve no more than three three-year terms.
The beauty of this marketing fund is that it would establish cost-sharing grants that help committed seafood industry marketers (those willing to pony up some of the dough) get some traction without having to bear 100 percent of the costs.
As Bruce Schactler, director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition says, the fund is merely taking back a small portion "of the Saltonsall-Kennedy funds that have always been intended for industry grants for the 'promotion and development of seafood products.'"
Cheers to that, Bruce!
If you're interested in seeing this fund come to fruition, call your federal representatives today, and keep the amendment alive in the Farm Bill.
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
What can I possibly say about an 85-year-old fisherman lost at sea?
Stian Stiansen was recovered on a Long Island beach a couple of hours after his 45-foot trawler Pauline IV capsized in rough waters just outside New York's Shinnecock Inlet.
Stiansen was rushed to the hospital, but he never recovered. Survivor Scott Finne, 42, was picked up by a rescue boat and remarkably had no injuries. He says he looked for his friend and fishing partner when he came to the surface after the boat rolled, but could not find him in the rough surf that was pushing the Pauline IV away from him.
My first reaction upon seeing the headline was, "Not another East Coast boat." Once I learned Stiansen's age, I must admit, I felt more bittersweet about the accident. What a horrible thing to happen, for any soul to endure. But surely this was a man who was determined to keep fishing until the day he died.
Stiansen spent nearly seven decades doing what he loved, he's admired as a legend in his community, and he was sprightly enough well beyond retirement age not only to get out of the house but to work on the water. We should all be so lucky.
Our hearts go out to the Stiansen family and the fishing communities in and around East Quogue, N.Y., where Stiansen is known and loved.
Thursday, 09 May 2013
As we looked at each other over steaming cups of coffee yesterday morning, somewhat in awe of the atmosphere of the NOAA conference we're attending, New Hampshire groundfish fisherman Dave Goethel summed up my sentiments exactly: The tenor of the panel discussions at Managing Our Nation's Fisheries is surprisingly amenable to the commercial fishing industry.
The sessions here in Washington, D.C., were organized by NOAA staff and have been hosted by panels of knowledgable consensus builders taking a hard look at the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Across the canvas of discussion run the themes of allowing fishery management councils flexibility to create working rebuilding programs for those fisheries that do not respond to the arbitrary 10-year rule; working toward management that recognizes all aspects of stock depletion and migratory shifts, including environmental changes; calling for better data, which can be accomplished by continuing and improving collaborative research; and establishing economic baselines for healthy fishing communities and recognizing their importance in sustainable fisheries.
As Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said yesterday, "In order to have a sustainable fishery, there needs to be stability for the fleet."
Sure, there's the odd hard-liner, but they appear here to be the outliers. And in many cases, the marginal voices are the same ones who so recently seemed to have a stranglehold on the nation's progress toward truly workable and sustainable fisheries — those with healthy fish as well as healthy fishing communities.
Yesterday, Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation, took the microphone to ask the panel not to recommend for flexibility in Magnuson because he believes we ought not write the law for the exceptions to the rule. Unfortunately, Shelley seems unwilling to recognize that flexibility is specifically geared toward those exceptions to the rule.
The law is written for the majority of fisheries, and for those it tends to work fine. But in managing those fisheries for which the biomass does not recognize the significance of returning to full strength in a decade, there ought to be some workable solution for the fish as well as the fishermen. That is what representatives from every single fishery management council requested in the opening comments at this conference.
With a surprising amount of grace and fortitude, we seem to be edging away from the assumption that fishermen are rapacious scoundrels who deserve nothing short of being put out of business for so poorly managing their own resources (which in many cases saw no serious declines until they were under directed federal management).
It remains to be seen what Congress will do with the recommendations that come out of this conference. But regardless of progress or lack thereof (and the latter seems highly likely in the current Congress), there is no doubt that we are seeing the results of a sea change in this industry.
Like Goethel (also a New England Fishery Management Council member and NF Highliner) and many other fishing industry stakeholders, I came into this conference prepared to be slogged by presentations that towed the line. What I have seen is a remarkable turnaround in attitude about our nation's fishing industry. And beyond that, the attendees have exhibited pride, gratitude and understanding.
I've overheard the phrase, "That was refreshing" multiple times in the last three days. It was. Here's to a future we can reach together.
Tuesday, 07 May 2013
I am in Washington, D.C., delving into national strategies to improve fishery management and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but today I'm being pulled toward Alaska as we launch an online spotlight on Pebble Mine with Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.
In this industry, the proposal to build Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest wild sockeye salmon run, has been a hot topic for several years. But the public at large is still largely uninformed on the subject.
A week and a half ago, the Environmental Protection Agency released its second draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed. The first draft assessment had a 90-day comment period, which garnered 250,000 comments. This second assessment has only a 30-day comment period. That means as stakeholders in this industry, we must work harder to spread the word and encourage fishermen and others to learn about Bristol Bay and Pebble Mine, and then to provide an informed comment to the EPA's assessment.
We are not all on the same page when it comes to Pebble Mine, as tends to be the case in fisheries conservation issues. But we are all stakeholders, whether we catch fish, eat fish, count fish, or just love fish.
Don't miss this opportunity. The door closes May 31.
For more information, visit www.nationalfisherman.com/pebble-mine.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
In essentials, North Carolina's House Bill 983 is a replication of prior attempts to designate red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass as game fish.
The tricky part is that it includes funds to pay for fisheries observers and dredging of shallow-draft channels, which are critical to commercial fleets and coastal communities.
The ironically named Fisheries Development Act would actually destroy the commercial fisheries for these species, which accounts for just 10 percent of their harvest. (I'm mystified as to what fisheries this bill would be developing, considering the recreational take on these species is around 90 percent already. Do they need 100 percent to fully develop?)
The bill also would remove those fish from the marketplace, meaning the only people who could eat them are the ones who fish for them. Just as we begin to understand that eating locally supports local economies as well as good overall health, why would we remove the option for the public to buy local fish?
Some critics of the bill, including Sean McKeon, head of the nonprofit N.C. Fisheries Association, call it an end-run around a net ban.
This wouldn't be the first time the Coastal Conservation Association — a strong supporter of the game fish designation — would be associated with a commercial fishing net ban.
In fact, it wouldn't even be the first time in the last six months. In December, Oregon gillnetters were relegated to narrow channels on the Columbia river as a result of a CCA-backed measure. That is, until a judge stepped in and agreed with supporters of the commercial fishing fleet that their critics need more research in order to justify stripping them of their livelihoods.
A petition to oppose the bill has already garnered nearly 600 signatures in its aim for 1,000.
The bill was introduced two weeks ago and is quickly gaining opposition. But as we saw in Oregon, opponents of commercial fishing are steadfast. We must stand together to preserve fishermen's access to the water and to the fish, no matter how small or far-flung the port.
Thursday, 25 April 2013
How do you stamp out tilapia? Just ask Roger Fitzgerald and he'll tell you, "One piece at a time."
That's essentially my approach. I know people like to tout that it's a vegetarian fish. But I don't care. If you're growing it overseas, I'm skeptical of what it's eating. I cringe when I buy my kid toys made in a wide swath of countries with opaque standards of quality (not to mention the working conditions). Why would I want him to ingest something from there?
On top of that, any animal protein I buy should not be too uniform. If it comes in a cookie-cutter shape, it's not wild enough for me.
I had a delicious meal of Brazilian fish stew this week with a big fillet of Pacific cod. I buy local cod whenever I can, but I had to make this purchase at the grocery store fish counter rather than my local fishmonger's, so frozen-at-sea P-cod it was.
After I had my pound-and-a-half piece all wrapped up, I noticed some gorgeous sockeye in the case next to it. I needed whitefish, but man that salmon looked amazing. I said as much to the fish fella. He grinned, thanked me and turned to the next guy in line.
And what did that guy get? "Atlantic" salmon steaks. He was quite proud of his choice, from what I could tell — chest puffed out, confidently ordering for himself and his companion as she smiled behind him. I cannot imagine how anyone looks at farmed salmon steaks sitting below a gorgeous swath of red-fleshed wild sockeye fillets and says, "I'll take the the pale one! Two servings, please!"
Like Fitz says in his column in our June issue (page 10): "There will always be the tilapia eaters, and there will always be those who are looking for something better — and those are the folks we need to help find it."
I keep getting the feeling that when it comes to fish people have no idea what they're ordering. It seems like the average buyer believes that if the fish counter is selling it, it must be good fish, right? Atlantic salmon means it came from the Atlantic ocean, right? Genetically speaking, yes. Why would anyone think any different? Because no one has ever told them.
And what do they think of fish after they've eaten their watery (floating!) tilapia? If it's not good, then seafood as a household protein takes a hit.
This is where marketing can make a difference. A recent study showed that Americans are willing to pay 10 percent more for clothing and appliances made in the States. Would they do the same for seafood?
I think it's high time we found out.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
As I drove into town on Congress Street this morning, I noticed the road was lined with bright American flags.
Were they there last week, or am I just seeing everything with fresh eyes?
Our offices are based in Portland, Maine, and pretty much everyone around here had co-workers and loved ones attending the festivities in Boston yesterday, myself included.
When I hear about communication problems, emergency response and chaos, I often think of emergencies on fishing boats.
The reports out of Boston yesterday are excellent. Emergency response teams as well as locals were helpful and relatively calm in the face of a horrific attack. There were 23,000 people in Boston simply to run the marathon. That says nothing of the people who streamed in to see the traditional Patriots' Day Red Sox game at Fenway or the families who come in droves, because many New England schools are closed this week for spring break.
In light of the potential for utter chaos (T stops closed, no knowing if or when there would be another explosive device, tens of thousands of extra people in your city, including many children), Boston held it together.
Some of that can be chalked up to drills, training and tactical response measures. And some of it is truly the triumph of the human spirit.
Fishermen generally have spirit to spare, in my experience. But there's no such thing as too much training.
In honor of those who made a difference in Boston yesterday, do a drill or three. Do it for your loved ones if not for yourself and your crew. Get home safely.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
It's the season of blessings in the South. And I'm not talking about the sneezing brought on by the sudden swarm of pollen. (Bless you.)
From the bayous of the Gulf Coast to the bays of the southeast Atlantic between Easter and early May, the shrimp boats line up to celebrate with thousands of revelers in their fishing communities' annual Blessing of the Fleet.
This weekend, in Darien, Ga., the tide is right for the shrimp boats on parade to pass under the Darien River Bridge, atop which will stand a dozen priests and preachers poised with holy water to sprinkle down on each boat as it passes beneath them.
The blessing is the centerpiece of these celebrations, which often include live music, food, road races, parades and art walks. At the heart of it is the community, a gathering of souls at the waterfront to offer appreciation for an age-old industry that is the life blood for many small coastal towns.
As we send our fleets and fishermen off to sea for each season, we do so with hopeful and sometimes heavy hearts. Their days on deck, their harvest in the harbors and their families on shore are living, breathing Americana in hundreds of communities.
In Darien this weekend, about half of the town's 50 fishing boats are expected to take part in the blessing. The rest will be offshore trawling for shrimp.
I'm a might partial to Georgia and Carolina shrimp, being a native peach. That's the stuff I was raised on. But I'll say this, I've tried shrimp from all over this country, and it's all far superior to any of that imported farmed stuff that hardly passes as protein in my book.
Though we won't be honoring all the American shrimp fleets this spring, we say our own grace for the work you do when we eat the fruits of your labor. Thank you. (And bless you.)
Page 8 of 31
National Fisherman Live: 9/23/14
In this episode:
'Injection' plan to save fall run salmon
Proposed fishing rule to protect seabirds
Council, White House talk monument expansion
Louisiana shrimpers hurt by price drop
Maine and New Hampshire fish numbers down
The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is introducing its Chef Ambassador Program. Created to inspire and educate chefs and home cooks across the country about the unique qualities of lobster from Maine, the program showcases how it can be incorporated into a range of inspired culinary dishes.
More than a dozen higher education institutions and federal and local fishery management agencies and organizations in American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii have signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at building the capacity of the U.S. Pacific Island territories to manage their fisheries and fishery-related resources.