Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Today's New York Times story on Alaska's row with Walmart is surprisingly well-informed. (That's no slant on the Times, but anyone who follows American fisheries knows mass media tends to grasp neither the big picture nor the nuance of the industry.)
The story covers how the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute decided to move away from Marine Stewardship Council certification and toward Responsible Fishery Management through certifier Global Trust (using FAO guidelines). One hiccup? As David Jolly writes, "Someone forgot to check with Walmart."
It's pithy, but it's wrong. No one forgot to check with Walmart. The insinuation that Alaska would overlook the importance of the world's largest retailer is in fact a little insulting, even if it's just a joke.
ASMI held extensive meetings with Walmart before they moved to RFM certification.
Reportedly, Walmart didn't believe Alaska would actually go through with it. Where they got that advice is up for speculation. But my guess is that seafood is not on the front burner for Walmart's corporate leadership, so they didn't spend much time wringing their hands over the possibility.
Not so in Alaska, where seafood is a top export commodity.
The fact is, ASMI tried to play fair. They did their best to give ample warning to all the retailers who buy their fish, so those buyers might have an opportunity to be educated on what MSC really means (or doesn't mean) for American fisheries and seafood consumers. ASMI didn't go looking to pick a fight with retailers. They tried to establish a dialogue, starting more than three years ago.
So when Walmart came down on the side of MSC this summer and announced their refusal of Alaska salmon in favor of MSC-certified Russian product, ASMI (and Alaska's political leadership) came out swinging, as well they should.
What ASMI has done by moving away from MSC is open the door for better marketing of all wild American fisheries, which are all managed for sustainability under our own federal statutes.
With half of the nation's wild fish coming from Alaska, ASMI has the power to break down some walls. I stand with them, because I have hope for a better future for America's fishing fleets.
Photo: Spawning and abundant sockeye swim upstream. Courtesy J Armstrong/University of WashingtonAdd a comment
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Once again, a bill at the federal level attempts to cover all the bases and winds up quite possibly doing more harm than good.
The New England Fishery Management Council's Habitat Omnibus Amendment threatens to shut down even more fishing areas to the Northeast groundfish fleets — the commercial fleets, that is. Some of the same areas that reportedly will be closed to commercial vessels in an effort to protect spawning stocks (which have been shown to have migrated from many of these protected areas as a result of the same climatic shifts that sent the stocks north and east to the Canadian Maritimes and Scandinavia) will remain open to recreational boats, which hold nearly 40 percent of the haddock and cod quotas.
The Northeast Seafood Coalition's Jackie Odell says the Closed Area Technical Team showed up very late in the process of this amendment (which has been in the works for more than five years).
Time and time again, it takes years to develop an amendment, and then at the last minute, it's rammed through the process because time is running short. The quickened pace sends us blazing past red flags and critical questions because we just don't have time for nuance (or sometimes even for common sense).
This is no slight on our fishery management council members across the country. They have their hands full. It is no easy task to manage wild and farmed fisheries in any region of the country.
Nevertheless, we have to stop managing our fisheries in panic mode. Yes we have made tremendous progress in the revitalization of fish stocks, but it has largely been at the expense of fishing communities. There is a balance to strike, but we will only find it if we can take a step back and revise.
The science has shown that no matter how little we fish cod, the climate is not friendly to its "full" revitalization right now (however that may be defined). Not to mention the exploded population of dogfish (which is outcompeting cod), which we protected in a knee-jerk response to marginal science. We have since learned that we had it all wrong about dogfish. And if we had taken more moderate steps to protect the dogged dogfish, perhaps we could have caught that mistake before it was too late.
Let's not do that with fishing grounds. Enough already with dealing death knells to the Northeast groundfish fleet. What can we do to protect the community, the small-boat fishermen who are striving for a sustainable living?
Wednesday, 09 October 2013
While purportedly busting fishing myths in his latest opinion piece for National Geographic, Pew's Lee Crockett perpetuates one of the most damaging myths in fishery management today:
"Those seeking to avoid responsible management of our natural resources often attack the science underpinning the conservation measures…
"The reality is that we have some data for every federally managed fish species. This information comes from comprehensive at-sea government surveys, historical catch levels, basic fish biology, and local knowledge. Fisheries managers are using this information to set catch limits at levels that will keep those populations sustainable."
In fact, the reality is that even fishery managers — those people who work most closely with fishing data and fishermen — admit that we rarely have adequate data to make sound management decisions.
What's worse is that Crockett implies that anyone who complains about the lack of data for a fishery is simply trying to avoid responsible management.
This could not be further from the truth, at least when it comes to commercial fishermen. I wish Crockett would take the time to talk to the hardworking researchers and fishermen who work together on collaborative research all over the country to improve fisheries data. You don't even have to get your hands dirty to make a few phone calls to university researchers. (Read more about researchers and fishermen who are working to change the face of modern fisheries data in our October issue.)
It's frankly a shame that anyone would dismiss the need for better fishing data (especially a Pew fellow) by saying what we already have is good enough. Where would any industry be in 10 years if we decided that the way we do things now is good enough?
I don't know a single commercial fisherman who would look askance at the value of better research and data. The problem is there is simply not enough of it because historically the research dollars have not been specifically aimed at projects that answer fishing-specific questions.
I believe we are starting to turn the corner on this problem, but we need to stop blaming fishermen who demand better information on their livelihoods for trying to destroy the management system. It is their system, their government, and they ought to take an active role in it.
Monday, 07 October 2013
We've got a great range of submissions for our annual Crew Shots issue, but I'm not sure if we've found our cover shot yet. If you want to get your crew on the cover of National Fisherman, now's your chance.
I love seeing the range of expressions (mostly happy) of the nation's commercial fishermen onboard with their catch and their crew. Let's celebrate the industry by showing off the heritage, history and diversity of America's fisheries. (Check out past covers here>>)
Send your pics to me with Crew Shots 2014 in the subject line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to submit online. The deadline is October 31.
Please make sure you include names of everyone in the photo (from left to right), the fishery, the boat, the home port and the location of the shot (if not the home port).
See you in the magazine!
Thursday, 03 October 2013
On August 18, Portland, Maine, hosted the last of the summer's Maine lobster boat races. The competition runs the gamut from ethanol-powered, flat-bottomed pure racing machines to a floating tiki bar. Don't miss the fireboat, flaming engine, tug muster and full-throttle races.
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Tuesday, 01 October 2013
On this first day of a federal shutdown, I have the ironic privilege of heralding a new federal program that promotes the American fishing industry — Seafood 101. The first time I heard about this idea from NOAA's Rebecca Reuter two years ago, I was intrigued and inspired by her enthusiasm.
This seafood education effort kicked off last month in the Pacific Northwest at Seattle's Fishermen's Fall Festival with public outreach across media platforms and live events, culminating in an Oct. 6 supplement to the Seattle Times. (National Fisherman subscribers in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest will receive the supplement with their December issue, thanks to a partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.) The offerings of Pacific Northwest Seafood 101 include recipes, cooking tips and demonstrations, information on local species and fishing seasons, as well as profiles of local fishermen in an effort to inform the public about local seafood.
Reuter, a Seattle-based communications specialist for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, is excited to "help showcase how government, business and community leaders are working together to achieve a sustainable, safe and strong fishing industry.”
In the last two years, fishing industry stakeholders (businesses and associations) from all over Alaska and the Pacific Northwest have thrown their weight behind starting the program in that corner of the country.
Reuter hopes (as I do) to expand the program to other regions of the country, which would make it a remarkable marketing tool for the entire American fishing industry.
“Seafood 101 is also a tremendous way to spotlight the economic value of the maritime and fishing industries and the diversity of career opportunities," Reuter says.
I could not agree more. I am proud to represent National Fisherman's sponsorship of a program that helps NOAA promote the country's success in fishery management and promote healthy, local and sustainable seafood. For more information, please visit our Seafood 101 spotlight page.
Monday, 23 September 2013
Last week I saw a few Vimeo links to the World Wildlife Fund Canada's now controversial "We Don't Farm Like This" video.
The cartoon short opens with a bucolic scene of grazing pasture animals against a wide-open blue sky, set to the song "Happy Go Lucky Me" by Paul Evans. Then comes the far-off rumbling that looms ever closer and is soon revealed to be the devastating destruction of a trawl net, churning up the ground from deep below the soil, upending everything that was so recently so peaceful and serene.
The end of the video recommends that horrified viewers stick with Marine Stewardship Council approved fish to assuage their guilt over the destruction of that beautiful place. (The video has since been removed, and the MSC released this statement to distance themselves from the message.)
It's pretty typical fodder for those who like to bash the commercial fishing industry. You know, the people who provide the world with fresh fish for their supper tables?
But the fact that this sciolism would come from WWF, which has used very positive outreach and helped the fishing industry make great strides by sponsoring the global SmartGear contest, was disheartening to say the least.
I have to admit, I laughed (and groaned) when I saw it. It's preposterous and yet overly simplistic. First of all, farming is pretty far from the "natural" way to procure food. But we don't need to ditch all the advances of the recent millennia to feel good about the way we eat.
Not all trawlers use destructive gear. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund bestowed their very own SmartGear award on a group of researchers and fishermen who created the Ruhle (Eliminator) Trawl for the Northeast multispecies groundfish fleet. That fishery is not MSC approved, and yet it's apparently good enough for the WWF SmartGear award. But wait, don't buy their fish because it doesn't have a blue label? (Side note: MSC does certify trawl fisheries.)
Talk about confusing. And that's all propaganda like this serves to do: confuse the public about global and local fishing practices to sell an agenda. Scared? Confused? Just look for the blue label and don't worry about educating yourself!
Most American fishermen work on small boats. How would the good folks who run the stands at your local farmer's market like to be compared with massive, loosely regulated Chinese factory farms? I'm willing to bet their regulations and practices are vastly different.
I want to see the video where a wild pig wanders into a lobster trap and ends up on your plate later that day. That's how we fish. Or how about the moose that bites a line and gets hauled aboard a tractor after an hourlong fight to bring the beast to the deck? That's how we fish. Or maybe a net suspended from two planes that brings in a flock of geese, one for your Christmas table. That's how we fish.
In this country, it's wild and it's sustainable, unlike any animal from any farm you will find anywhere on earth.
Tuesday, 17 September 2013
Yesterday, international mining company Anglo American made a $300 million statement: We want out of Pebble Mine.
This is big news for the anti-Pebble campaign, the focus of which is safeguarding the world's largest sockeye salmon from the potentially irretrievable damage of mining byproduct.
However, we must also recognize that it is not necessarily the death knell for the mine, as some assume a loss of partnership for Northern Dynasty would imply.
Anglo American is out of the Pebble Partnership, yes. It paid a $300 million fine to withdraw (on top of losing its shared costs of the $500 million investment to date), which is a significant statement to any potential replacement partner, yes. But there is still the matter of a vast deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum in the soil that surrounds Bristol Bay.
"This is a good day for Bristol Bay," said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. "But it's important for our members to understand that Anglo's former partner, Northern Dynasty, is still in business and will continue to aggressively pursue the Pebble project."
Let's not forget that someone stands to make billions on this mine, and Alaska's political leadership is either supportive or not vocally unsupportive.
Two rounds of public comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's assessment of the mine resulted in more than 650,000 public comments opposed to the mine, an overwhelming majority.
That's a lot of people power. But I also understand the pull of precious metals. This is the time to get serious about ending the campaign to turn Bristol Bay into mining dust.
If you're planning to attend Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, please join us for a conference that I hope will lead the way to a Pebble-free future on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Century Link Field Event Center.
East Coasters have an opportunity to hear Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay representative Brett Veerhusen speak at the Boston Seafood Festival on Saturday, Sept. 28. He will also be manning a CFBB booth there.
On Oct. 9, CFBB's Ben Blakey and Ocean Beauty CEO Mark Palmer will address the Northwest Fisheries Association meeting in Seattle.
Tuesday, 10 September 2013
I haven’t shopped at Walmart in decades. However, if I did make a habit of going there, I’d be on a break with the retailer over their short-sighted policy to refuse Alaska salmon on the grounds that it no longer carries the Marine Stewardship Council blue label.
Seafood leaders from Alaska met with decision-makers at Walmart last week, and reportedly, the retail giant seems open to revising its policy. But why is this all coming up now? Alaska announced it was dropping MSC certification two years ago in favor of Responsible Fisheries Management standards, as developed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute even previewed the decision with a press tour of some of their biggest buyers, Walmart included.
While I don’t like Walmart, there’s no denying that the retailer is where it is today because its leaders have vision. And it’s a successful vision by many accounts (depending on your definition of success). That's why I’m surprised that those same leaders didn’t get the message in 2011 that Alaska salmon is leading the charge to the post-MSC American seafood industry. Clearly nothing about Alaska salmon management has changed. And if one follows the history of MSC, its approval of Alaska salmon was as helpful to the ecolabel as it was to Alaska.
Now that MSC is the big name in global fishery certification, Alaska would like to part ways, amicably. They seem to have outgrown each other. But the megacorporations who partnered with MSC (and NGOs) to send the ecolabel to the next level aren’t too keen to see the future of sustainable seafood without their big blue anchor.
Here’s the thing about anchors: They serve you well in a storm. But when the weather clears, you have to reel them in to get to the next destination.
The skies are blue and clear over Alaska as well as the rest of this country’s wild fisheries, which are managed for sustainability year-round, coast to coast. If Walmart wants to be the great American retailer, it can start by selling great American seafood, any and all of it.
Photo: Boxes of salmon hoisted at the docks in Petersburg, Alaska, 1915; Frank and Frances Carpenter collection, Library of CongressAdd a comment
Thursday, 05 September 2013
We've all heard it before: We're fishing down the food chain. The oceans will be empty by 2048. Our problems could be solved with an end to (insert gear type) fishing.
But fishermen know the truth because they see it every day. There may not be as many monster fish out there as there were when any commercial fishery began, but they are still out there. In our October issue, columnist Roger Fitzgerald offers proof in the form of Pacific cod "bucketheads" in his story "Bye-bye to big fish?" on page 10. And some of our Facebook fans have offered up photographic evidence of their own.*
A study released today suggests that curtailing fishing does not always solve the problems of stock recovery. Again, this is something fishermen and fisheries researchers have known for many years.
The study was headed by the National Research Council (part of the National Academies of Science) and members of the organization's committee that evaluates the effectiveness of Magnuson's stock rebuilding plans.
I saw committee member and University of Washington Professor André Punt speak at the Managing Our Nation's Fisheries conference in D.C. this spring. He presented some of this groundbreaking data, which shows that the 10-year rebuilding timeline is a good tool, albeit an arbitrary one. Punt et al help make the case for building in some flexibility to Magnuson guidelines, so as to protect fishing communities, especially those with small-boat fisheries.
Like any business, the smaller your operation, the more vulnerable you are to downturns. Unless we want to convert our fisheries to the Walmart model, we have to find a soft place for small-boat fleets to land when their stock goes soft.
Once we decide to make it a priority to preserve our working waterfronts and historic fishing communities, we open up endless opportunities. But until we decide to put our fleets first (or at least tied with the resource), our only choice will be to watch small towns shut down. As Fitz says in his story, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.
*To view the slideshow in high-resolution, visit our Flickr page.Add a comment
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National Fisherman Live: 3/10/15
In this episode, Online Editor Leslie Taylor talks with Mike McLouglin, vice president of Dunlop Industrial and Protective Footwear.
National Fisherman Live: 2/24/15
In this episode:
March date set for disaster aid dispersal
Oregon LNG project could disrupt fishing
NOAA tweaks gear marking requirement
N.C. launches first commercial/recreational dock
Spiny lobster traps limits not well received
Today Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced legislation to extend a permanent exemption for incidental runoff from small commercial fishing boats.
The National Working Waterfront Network is now accepting abstracts and session proposals for the next National Working Waterfronts & Waterways Symposium, taking place Nov. 16-19 in Tampa, Fla. The deadline is Tax Day, April 15.Read more...