National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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


Last week, Jerry Fraser and I both wrote about the potential loss of the Coast Guard search-and-rescue helicopter in Newport, Ore. As I mentioned, a public forum with the Coast Guard is scheduled to take place in Newport at 5:30 on Oct. 20 at the community college.

2014 1016 MH65The sun sets on a Coast Guard MH-65 rescue helicopter. Coast Guard photoHowever, the Coast Guard has announced that they are no longer planning to attend the hearing. What that means for the hundreds of commercial fishermen and other boaters in the area and their hope that they might convince the Coast Guard to reinstate the MH-65 remains to be seen.

As of Nov. 30 — the opening day of the Dungeness crab season — Newport and Charleston, S.C., are both on the Coast Guard’s chopping block as a result of budget cuts. The closure of the Charleston Air Facility will save the Coast Guard $6 million a year. Two other helicopters in the region will be reassigned, which reportedly leaves just three helicopters — one in the air and two on stand-by — for an area covering nearly 600 miles, from the North Carolina state line to Melbourne Beach, Fla.

We all understand tight budgets, but these cuts are putting lives at risk. Gone are the days of lead-lined boots that help you sink fast in the event of a sinking or fall overboard. We’ve changed the fishing culture to incorporate a higher expectation of survival, and that includes improving the use of Coast Guard-approved safety gear. Fishermen are increasingly responsible for their survival — as much as they reasonably can be — spending more of their own meager budgets on PLBs, inflatable vests and emergency lights.

We have to press the Coast Guard to ensure that these efforts toward improving fishing safety continue to make it worthwhile for fishermen to invest in their own safety. The Coast Guard must continue to do its best to fulfill the pledge that if a fisherman survives an event at sea, they might be rescued in a reasonable — and survivable — amount of time.

If you can, I encourage you to attend the forum in Newport. And please take a moment to sign this petition to keep the Newport helicopter.

You can also contact the Coast Guard by writing a letter to:
Adm. Paul Zukunft
Commandant (CG-00)
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters
2100 2nd St. S.W. STOP 7000
Washington, D.C. 20593-7000

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As always, I am enjoying gathering your onboard photos for our upcoming Crew Shots issue. This year again we requested shots of your crew on deck wearing their PFDs or other safety gear.

2014 1009 CoastGuardNewportCoast Guard air crew from Newport, Ore., hoists a fisherman after his 28-foot boat sank on May 25, 2014. Coast Guard imageBut access to timely rescue is another key factor in crew safety. One week ago, the Coast Guard announced plans to close its air station in Newport, Ore., and transfer its MH-65 Dolphin helicopter 95 miles south to North Bend, Ore., as of Nov. 30.

According to state Rep. David Gomberg, the move would delay response times to Newport, Waldport and Depoe Bay by about an hour. This year the Newport air station responded to 40 distress calls via helicopter and saved lives in at least five cases. This area hosts nearly 250 commercial fishing boats, including many Dungeness crabbers, one of the deadliest fisheries in the country.

I know fishermen across the country are grateful for the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard who put their lives at risk to help the crews of at-risk fishing boats. This is in no way a criticism of the Coast Guard and the valuable work they do. However, this decision is literally a life and death matter for hundreds of commercial fishermen.

Tomorrow, Oregon’s delegation staff will meet with Coast Guard representatives in Washington, D.C., and there will be a public forum with the Coast Guard in Newport at 5:30 on Oct. 20 at the community college.

You can sign the petition to keep the air station open or write a letter to:
Admiral Paul Zukunft
Commandant (CG-00)
US Coast Guard Headquarters
2100 2nd St. SW STOP 7000
Washington DC 20593-7000

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Jerry Schill stepped back into the center ring in April when he took back the helm of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a trade association that represents commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and processors.

2014 0814 loggerhead copyA loggerhead escapes a fishing net through a turtle excluder device. NOAA photoSchill had stepped down in 2005 and had since held the position of interim executive director. But now that he’s back, he’s committed to reenergizing the voice of the association.

And that’s exactly what he’s done so far.

Just last week, the association (and the affiliated Carteret County Fishermen’s Association) filed suit against the state and federal governments for failing to enforce the Endangered Species Act in the protection of sea turtles.

The complaint states that while commercial fishermen have been required to adhere to a number of measures in efforts to protect sea turtles, the defendants have failed to take any action to prevent the illegal takes of sea turtles in the recreational hook and line fishery.

These lawsuits, not unlike the suit Gulf of Mexico snapper fishermen recently won, is one way the commercial fishing industry has of fighting back against the endless slate of NGO lawsuits that seek to hamper commercial fishing under the guise of straw-man protective measures.

If we want to preserve both healthy fisheries and healthy oceans, we have to accept the bottom line that we all have the same goal. We cannot have any sort of balance between healthy local seafood and healthy seas by allowing frivolous lawsuits to threaten fisheries, especially when the easy targets are the family-friendly small-boat fleets (the fisheries that provide the bulk of the seafood you find in your local stores and restaurants).

We have to decide what our values are, and despite what Oceana and many other supposedly altruistic organizations would have the public believe, the answers are not simple. We have to work together, and we need our management agencies to apply the rules fairly to all sectors.

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Unsettling news out of British Columbia this week comes at the wrong time for Fraser River salmon, but perhaps just the right time for Bristol Bay. This week, the recently beleaguered Fraser River in British Columbia sees the beginning of a projected record run of sockeye salmon. Sadly, Fisheries and Oceans Canada predicts that roughly 1 million to 3 million of those projected 23 million returning fish will have to swim through the toxic runoff of a tailings pond breach from the Mount Polley mine in the next couple of weeks.

This breach also happens to coincide with the opening of public comments on EPA’s latest effort to halt Pebble Mine in the name of clean water before we run the risk of a tailings pond breech in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

2014 0807 NLAlaska salmon fisherman Natalia Povelite distributes canned pink salmon in a typhoon-stricken region of the Philippines; Global Food and Nutrition photo.We use our monthly Northern Lights column as a venue to spread the word of what’s happening in Alaska fisheries because Alaska is the source of half of the nation’s wild fish, and the state is often at the forefront of the industry. But being an industry leader is not always about the money you’re hauling in, the efficiencies you’re creating or the strides you’re making in management.

In the case of Bristol Bay, we’ve seen hundreds of small-boat fishermen band together to create a remarkable grassroots campaign that has gone to great lengths to preserve the fishery. For our September issue, Dr. Nina Schlossman writes about a massive donation of canned pink salmon to communities in the Philippines devastated by Super Typhooon Haiyan (or Yolanda). The donation provided nearly a million servings of pink salmon to more than 100,000 people. Read the full story in “Following pinks to the Philippines” on page 6 of our September issue.

To his credit, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell got the ball rolling on this project and turned to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Global Food Aid Program to facilitate the donation. It’s a great example of what fishermen, seafood companies and governments can do to give back. Unfortunately, Parnell does not see eye to eye with fishermen when it comes to protecting the very fisheries that provide jobs in perpetuity — for Alaskans and beyond — and the ability to make these kinds of donations.

Parnell has never been supportive of Bristol Bay fishermen’s drive to protect their watershed — the home of the world’s largest sockeye run — from the threat of Pebble Mine at the federal level. In fact, he recently hired a former Pebble Partnership spokesman as his top fisheries adviser. We may soon have firsthand knowledge of how dangerous the tailings from toxic mine waste can be for a wild sockeye run. Is that likely to encourage the governor to change his tune?

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The latest salvo in the battle over Pebble Mine comes from an interesting corner of Alaska fish politics. Gov. Sean Parnell’s outgoing fisheries adviser, Stephanie Moreland, is making way for new appointee Ben Mohr.

2014 0731 MohrNew Alaska fisheries adviser Ben MohrFor six years, Mohr was the public information specialist for the Pebble Partnership, the company behind Pebble Mine. Most recently he worked as a campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, who worked as the Alaska commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources and was a Pebble proponent in that role.

Parnell did not exactly win fishermen’s hearts and minds with his position in support of the Pebble Partnership and his vocal opposition to EPA’s authority. However, I’m sure many Alaskans could overlook Mohr’s history if Parnell had put him in an advisory position for any other industry or resource in the state. There are plenty in the Last Frontier who believe the state should have the authority to fulfill its permitting process (though that process is known to have considerable flaws when it comes to denying any resource extraction based on environmental concerns).

So the question is: What exactly makes Mohr an expert in fisheries or public policy for that matter? The closest he’s been is his work for a private company that fought so hard to put one of the world’s largest fisheries into a precarious position.

Given EPA’s recent actions to put the final nail in Pebble’s coffin, perhaps the governor is thumbing his nose at those who called to prevent the mine’s construction at a federal level, in a sense, going over the governor’s head. Or perhaps he simply believes Mohr is qualified for the job. It’s hard to know because the governor’s office has posted no press release on the appointment, nor has Parnell commented publicly.

It comes as no surprise that Mohr’s appointment was announced late last week. The closer political news falls to the weekend, the less likely it is to get a full lashing from the press.

I contacted the governor’s office, which put me through to a voicemail for his press contacts. I did not receive a call back before this went live.

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This week, an Alaska Superior Court Judge overturned the state’s decision to reject a ballot initiative that proposed to ban setnets in urban areas of the state.

2014 0130 SetnetAlaska Cook Inlet setnetters make up a historic fishery and fleet. Amy Grannum photoThe group seeking the initiative represents a very small segment of the sportfishing population in the Cook Inlet area (most of the charter and recreational groups are not supportive of the initiative). But the real danger is the possibility of setting a heretofore unseen precedent that allows the reallocation of a public resource to be decided by a statewide vote (which is not allowed under the Alaska Constitution). Until now, that process has been in the hands of the state’s very well-informed fishery managers.

Judge Catherine Easter agreed with the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance that the ballot initiative simply bans a gear type. She went on to say that the initiative “eliminates the fishery in order to target a specific user group.”

So the fine line is that you can be a commercial salmon fisherman without using gillnets. Therefore, the ballot initiative is allowable because it only bans a gear type of a user group and not that user group altogether.

Yet, when you try to ban a small-boat fleet that has used the gear type for generations, you are, indeed, attempting to eliminate a historical user group.

And when you look at what’s happening in Oregon’s Columbia River, it’s plain to see that attempting to replace one gear type with another is not as easy as it may seem.

In 2012, the Coastal Conservation Association successfully wooed Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, and he proposed that the state ban salmon gillnetters from the main stem of the Columbia River with the hopes (yes, a wing and a prayer came before adequate understanding) that despite years of testing seines, they would somehow find them to be far more selective than gillnets in catching wild salmon (as opposed to those released from hatcheries).

What they have found is high mortality rates among the species they hope to conserve.

What will be the long-term result? No one can say for sure, but we will be following the first round of the official commercial seine test fishery come fall. Stay tuned.

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Yesterday the Seattle Times published an opinion piece by Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of the Interior, in which Babbitt denounces the supporters of Pebble Mine, a project proposed for Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

2014 0715 NoPebble“The question of whether to build a massive copper mine in the heart of the planet’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery has a simple answer: no,” Babbit writes. “Pebble is the wrong mine in absolutely the wrong place.”

This week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is likely to thumb its nose at the widespread support of Bristol Bay’s fishermen, who fear the long-term effects of toxic mining waste at the headwaters of their historic fishery.

While thousands of Bristol Bay fishermen are taking advantage of a banner fishing year and the opportunity to supply the world with half its wild salmon, the House committee’s Water Resources Subcommittee today held an oversight hearing on EPA’s 404(c) authority with no witnesses from Bristol Bay. EPA has declared Pebble a risk too great under the Clean Water Act.

Whatever you think of the EPA in general, if you’re a fisherman or enjoy eating wild fish, you most certainly should care about clean water. And for that matter, you should be concerned about these attempts at undermining federal oversight of clean water and fisheries.

Last week I wrote about Louisiana’s senators attempting to push through two bills that would strip the Gulf of Mexico management council of its authority to oversee red snapper quota, all because sport fishermen believe they are getting a raw deal and despite the fact that the council has gone above and beyond to address their concerns.

Our federal management system is far from perfect, but we risk losing all the ground we’ve recovered on our middling reputation with the public (read: seafood buyers) if we keep stripping away the government’s ability to ensure that our fleets have quota to fish and clean waters in which to catch our food.

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When Gulf of Mexico red snapper was determined to be a fishery in precipitous decline, the public and federal attitude was that the commercial fishermen needed to fix it or lose everything. So they did — with an individual fishing quota program. And it really was just that: Some fishermen fixed it and some lost everything, as IFQs tend to go.

2014 0710 SnapperSeventh-generation Gulf of Mexico snapper fishermen David and Scott Floyd fish out of Pascagoula, Miss.Years later, the fishery is recovering, much to the joy of commercial fishermen who sacrificed years of fishing low quotas with the promise that as the biomass recovered, their quotas, too, would increase.

Now two pieces of legislation threaten to change all of that.

This week, Louisiana’s senators Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) are making a strong push for a drastic and disastrous change to the federal fishery management system.

At the behest of frustrated sportfishing groups — the most vocal of which is the Coastal Conservation Association — many of the gulf states’ political leaders support handing control of the federally managed red snapper fishery to the states to manage individually.

Vitter’s move is an amendment to a bill designed to renew hunting and fishing programs; Landrieu is seizing the opportunity to present the change in a bill of her own. Both senators claim the 9-day 2014 sportfishing season for snapper was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a fishery brought to its knees as a result of complicated and possibly draconian federal measures. It is, however, an unprecedented move on behalf of only one slice of the fishing stakeholders. Commercial fishermen would undoubtedly be left with the fuzzy end of the lollipop if this change takes place.

And this is after the gulf council surrendered to the CCA’s demands and voted to support significant changes in the way snapper quotas are allocated to the recreational sector. Instead of the longstanding and simplistic baseline of 49/51 for sport/commercial fleets, a preferred alternative would set a benchmark at 9.12 million pounds. Any quota above that benchmark would be allocated 75/25 for sport and commercial fishermen.

How is this fair to the commercial fishermen who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to bring the fishery back? What did the sport sector do to deserve such a windfall?

The message our politicians are sending is that when sportfishing is on the brink, the power dynamic shifts so that states opt to take control of federal fisheries. But when commercial fishing is threatened, it’s up to the fishermen to figure it out or go the way of the dodo bird.

This is quite possibly one of the worst end-runs around the fishery management system we have seen. But it’s not just a problem for the commercial guys. As long as the commercial sector gets handed the short straw quotawise, the dock price for snapper is likely to stay high and we’ll most likely continue to see seafood fraud on menus at restaurants whose purveyors can’t afford to source the premium fish.

In the end, the public will pay. They just might not see it right away.

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Anyone who fears the fishing industry is losing most of its youthful energy with an aging fleet of captains and crews certainly has reasons to worry. But for each of those reasons, I can think of quite a few young and enthusiastic fishermen and industry advocates who are going all out to make sure the industry is accessible and sustainable for their generation and many to come.

2014 0703 VeerhusenBrett Veerhusen, executive director of the Seafood Harvesters of AmericaOne of those stand-outs is Brett Veerhusen, who has been a drift-gillnet skipper in Bristol Bay and advocate for his fishery in the fight against Pebble Mine. Veerhusen recently helped launch the Seafood Harvesters of America. (See my story on this new advocacy group in the Around the Coasts section of our August issue and more on the role of young people in the industry in Senior Editor Linc Bedrosian’s Mixed Catch “Shrimping fits him to a Lil T” and Associate Editor Melissa Wood’s Coastlines “The fight for the future.”)

If you follow federal fish politics, you are well aware that many valiant efforts have been made toward national fishing advocacy groups. One of the things that makes this group different is that it’s based in Washington, D.C., and aims to springboard from the success Veerhusen and his colleagues at Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay had on Capitol Hill getting congressional support for EPA’s watershed assessment to help prevent the construction of Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

The Seafood Harvesters of America comprises more than a dozen commercial fishing associations from around the country and seeks to find and call federal attention to common ground for national issues that affect all U.S. commercial fishermen.

“Everything before has been done from a regional standpoint, a regional voice,” says Veerhusen, the association’s executive director. “We need a national voice.”

Chris Brown, the harvesters’ president and president of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, kicked off the announcement of the new group with a splash by serving on the Future of American Fisheries panel with NMFS director Eileen Sobeck during Capitol Hill Ocean Week in June. I hope Veerhusen and his board of veteran fishermen can keep our fishing industry at the table in federal discussions that affect fishermen from coast to coast. Their collaboration represents the best this industry has to offer in experience, national representation and youthful energy. I have no doubt we’ll hear more from them and from Veerhusen in the years to come.

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Last week I read an opinion piece in Forbes about the blogger known as the Food Babe (Quackmail: Why You Shouldn't Fall For The Internet's Newest Fool, The Food Babe). Reportedly, the health-food advocate and activist also known as Vani Hari sent Anheuser-Busch InBev scrambling with a demand that the company publish the ingredients for its beer.

Once upon a time, I appreciated the Food Babe’s advocacy for transparency in food production. After all, I like to know what’s in my food. Unfortunately, like many efforts that begin altruistically and with a clear and admirable vision, it seems Hari’s alter ego might have taken a turn toward sensationalism to raise awareness (read: money) for her cause.

2014 0626 MPAsThe Pacific Island region and monuments as they currently stand; NMFS photoWhat happens next is that the cause gets lost in the noise. Food Babe’s drumbeat to the release of the ingredient list was clearly intended to scare her audience into action. They use plane deicer! Did you know that? What she (and legitimate journalists) failed to report is that propylene glycol is used not to give the beer its je ne sais quoi. It’s used to cool the product and is listed with the ingredients because the law requires manufacturers to list all products used throughout the production process. But it gets even better: Did the Food Babe’s vegan and strict vegetarian followers know that Anheuser uses fish bladders in their beer?! Who would do such a thing? Well the answer is: the Founding Fathers.

According to Forbes contributor Trevor Butterworth, dried fish bladders, called isinglass, have been used to filter beer, wine and liquor for centuries. So the fact that beer makers use isinglass is not news to anyone who knows something about the beer-making industry, it’s certainly not exclusive to big manufacturers and it’s not a process invented to speed product to modern beer drinkers. What has changed in this case is not our beer consumption but our cultural consumption. A single blogger who has developed a good following can create sensationalist news about harmless business practices by renaming a process or product in order to scare consumers.

The real danger, Butterworth says, is when news outlets take the activists’ word for it and don’t get the inside scoop on what they’re reporting. Once you have the complicity of a press corps that is too busy feeding the 24-hour cycle to investigate their stories, then you have easy access to the public. Before you know it, you’ve created the next big Internet rumor. All those reporters had to do was call someone in the industry and ask them about the ingredients listed.

Seafood industry folks should not be surprised by this story. It happens in this business seemingly every day. Big environmental groups that started with a beautiful vision of a healthier, safer planet often get caught up in the never-ending drive for fundraising that requires sensational news to spur their audience to action (whether that be signing petitions, checks or both).

The fishing industry has proved an easy target for these groups, largely because it’s misunderstood or simply unknown to the majority of the American population. We eat seafood, but what we know about it is limited by what we see in the case or on the menu.

But what’s more devastating is when sensationalism gets such a broad audience that it begins to affect policy. That’s what’s happening with (among many other things) the expansion of marine protected areas.

Last week President Obama proposed an expansion of the central Pacific protected area that would create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the global area of ocean that is protected. The administration also finalized a rule allowing the public to nominate new marine sanctuaries off of our coasts and in the Great Lakes. His proposal was lauded by people in and out of the know. For those who don’t know much about fishing, it sounds like a no-brainer: The ocean is a big place. Why not earmark just these small parts of it to protect habitat and maintain abundance in the ocean? It’s less than 2 percent of the ocean, after all. And if you call it a sanctuary, well then, who could object without looking like a raving lunatic?

The problem is that while the ocean is a vast place, there are only so many productive fishing spots. You can’t just drop your gear at any random spot in the ocean and pull up a good commercial catch. There’s a reason fishermen haul all the way off to Georges Bank to bring back your supper. They don’t all just love steaming offshore at $4 to $5 a gallon for diesel. They go because that’s where the fish are. There’s also a reason that people in the industry take handed down knowledge and experience very seriously. People who forage the wild will tell you they have their secret spots that are always productive, or tells for locations that ought to be productive. And of course, they take what they need and leave some to keep the spot viable.

This is also how we can and do manage our commercial fisheries. Sure, closing certain areas is part of that process, but we don’t need to close them indefinitely. If we decide to close off all productive habitat to fishing, then soon there will be no more places to go fishing. That is, unless you want to fish recreationally, which is naturally exempted from the area that George W. Bush created and Obama proposes to expand.

But that’s a story for another day.

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Page 9 of 39

Inside the Industry

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center has announced that Dr. Jon Hare has been selected to serve as the permanent science and research director effective Oct. 31.

Read more ...

It’s no secret that fraud is a problem in the seafood industry. Oceana repeatedly touts a mislabeling epidemic. While their method has been criticized, the perception of rampant fraud  has been established.

Read more ...
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