National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

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

 

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.)

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Mainers are a fiercely independent bunch. And Maine lobstermen are some of the prime examples. It makes sense. Many of them spend a lot of solitary time out on the water. It can be a trying task, eking out a living on this craggy coast.

Many lobstermen have deep family history to show that it can be done. And who wants to be outdone by their ancestors?

These days, the Maine lobster fishery has a healthy resource that's relatively easy to manage and can be fished in small boats with or without a sternman.

Yes the fishery is sustainable, but is the market?

Right now, the opportunity to pass a $3 million marketing bill in the Maine statehouse is at risk as a result of industry infighting. Where it is coming from is somewhat of a mystery to the fishery's representatives, including the Maine Lobstermen's Association's Patrice McCarron, Dave Cousens and Annie Tselikis.

The approach to the marketing bill started with outreach meetings last year, which carried into a flurry of meetings in January. In all, roughly 1,600 lobstermen turned out, and the support was overwhelmingly positive.

Now after three legislative work sessions (and a fourth looming) aimed at finessing the bill that would bring this marketing effort to life, the prospects are looking shaky. And it all comes down to what percentage the lobstermen and the processors are going to pay.

The bill was written with a 75-25 split between harvesters and processors. The Maine Lobstermen's Association is looking at a possible 60-40 split, and the Maryland-based union International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is suddenly representing a small pool of lobstermen and reportedly pulling for a 70-30 split, with processors taking on the heavier burden.

The union is claiming that it wants to help Maine lobstermen by sending their representatives to Augusta. But they don't do that for nothing. They would take dues and send 60 percent of those funds right back to Maryland.

The point of a lobster marketing fund is to keep hard-earned Maine money in Maine. It seems to me the best approach to that is to keep Maine lobstermen represented by groups based in Maine and people who live in the state.

Take a page out of Alaska's salmon fishermen's books. Theirs is also a fishery of small boats, steady management and a limited market. Limited market, you say? For salmon? That's crazy! Everyone loves a salmon fillet. Yes, now. Thanks to the fishery's dedication to marketing through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Starting in 1994, these fiercely independent fishermen agreed to tax themselves at 1 percent to pay for increased marketing efforts. And that decision has paid off in spades. (The tax has since been restructured, but everyone has to start somewhere.)

What have you got to lose in trying out a new marketing effort? A relatively small increase in license fees. What have you got to gain? Growth and sustainability of market share.

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Chesapeake Bay's crab season started yesterday, on April Fools' Day. And according to many locals, anyone on the hunt opening day would have brought home the wrong kind of blues.

For many watermen, the real season doesn't begin until the crabs are really on the move in mid- to late-April. Until they rouse from their winter dormancy and begin moving around, blue crabs are unlikely to land themselves in anyone's pots. This year, however, the region is experiencing unusually cold temperatures and late-season snow, which could push the season even later.

While it's not unusual for fishermen to bring back the first reports of ocean weather and temperature oddities, it does seem odd that there are so many to report and no apparent trend outside of the magnitude of these anomalies.

The same cold snap is keeping white shrimp scarce off the southern Atlantic coast. Their spawn produce the fall crop. And no one knows what will happen in the meantime with the summer brown shrimp.

Last year, warm waters swung far north far too early in the season, which prompted Maine's money-maker lobster crop to shed their hard shells early. Soft-shells, or shedders, are great for small, local, live markets. But they are more difficult to ship, making the season borderline at best for profitability.

In some places, the shifts in water temperatures are simply resulting in some species moving into vastly different territory. Codfish are hard to come by in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, but they are rebounding in Norway and off Newfoundland.

Humboldt squid have moved far north off the coast of California over the last several years, possibly in search of cooler waters.

Maybe the populations of different species have always behaved this way, and we paid less attention because fishing was managed, shall we say, less proactively?

In my mind, it indicates two critical things. First, that we need to pay attention to these shifts and look for patterns. Second, the best way to keep the fishing industry alive through these changes is to give fishermen more flexibility to go after multiple species.

Our current management trend toward fishing quotas does the opposite. This style of management may work great for some fisheries, but it does not suit all, or arguably even most.

Fishermen don't fish in a vacuum, nor should they be managed that way.

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Here in Tacoma, Wash., we're on the last day of the National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium. Our agenda today is to set some goals for the National Working Waterfront Network, as has been the tradition for this symposium, which meets every three years and is in its third go-round.

I'll admit, I'm a bit out of my comfort zone here. I'm used to spending time with fishermen and the people who supply the fishing industry. That's the sweet spot for me. This week I've been surrounded by folks from Sea Grant, port and city managers, politicians and their staff, academics, federal workers, and a few representatives from nonprofit associations who keep coastal living in their scopes.

These are the people who are steering working waterfront planning in this country on the federal and local levels.

At this morning's introduction, conference chair Nicole Faghin, coastal management specialist with Washington Sea Grant, made an excellent observation. "It's an intimate connection that we're trying to make… bringing the water to the people."

We don't have to bring the people to the water. People are already drawn to the water. The difficult task is to manage access in an equitable way.

As a representative of the commercial fishing industry, I have held to my mantra that the fishing industry is primarily concerned with maintaining access and infrastructure through down cycles in local fish stocks.

The magazine's advocacy approach is keeping fishing fleets afloat as stocks rebuild and as we improve our management techniques to keep fishermen fishing.

In a session yesterday on the National Working Waterfronts Policy, Keith Rizzardi, chairman of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, said, "If the fish disappear, you have nothing."

That's true. But that's neither the beginning nor the end of the story. If the fishermen disappear, you've got nothing. If the fish houses disappear, you have nothing. If the ice houses and boatyards disappear, you've got nothing.

We need all of these elements to preserve the fishing industry and working waterfronts as they've been defined for the last 400 years.

What I can say to our readers is that your basic needs are recognized here. The folks who are steering this ship want you to be around for the next 400 years and beyond. Whether we get there is a question we'll have to answer a few years at a time.

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I'm not a stuff person. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and my internal well-being. That being the case, I'd rather eat wild fish than farmed. But more importantly, I prefer never to eat genetically modified foods.

That's been on my radar for several years as far as corn, wheat and soy go. But now the FDA is on the verge of approving the first genetically modified animal protein for human consumption.

Before I even get to the flashing red question marks as to how a genetically-altered animal might affect the human body upon ingestion, I have overwhelming concerns about how this lab-rat-fish might affect wild populations of salmon.

There is talk of Fraser River populations looking moderately healthy again this season. Even in Maine, Atlantic salmon is set for a banner year (comparatively) of fish exiting the river systems. And of course, there's Alaska and the entire U.S. West Coast.

Some of those salmon populations have suffered setbacks, from Alaska kings to California everything. But we are working on restoring those populations.

So what could happen to them if Frankenfish mixes with these wild populations? The answer is: We don't know.

Why don't we know? Because the FDA relies on the company (in this case AquaBounty Technologies) applying for the permit to conduct its own safety studies.

And guess what the AquaBounty folks discovered in the analysis of their own product? It's safe! Imagine that.

This week several retailers, including Trader Joe's, Aldi and Whole Foods announced that they will boycott the genetically modified salmon, should it come to market.

But you can make a mark, as well. The FDA extended the deadline for public comments on Frankenfish. If you want your voice to be heard, now is your chance. And it's likely your last chance.

Click here to submit a comment directly to the FDA.

If you need a leg up, Food & Water Watch offers a standard comment that you can personalize on their site.

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This week marks the beginning of what promises to be a long process toward reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which expires at the end of the 2013 fiscal year.

Already, we have seen infighting between Massachusetts lawmakers Reps. Ed Markey and John Tierney.

Markey mistakenly believes Magnuson is flexible enough because it allows fishing fleets and communities to be eligible for disaster declarations (this eligibility is of course no guarantee of actual aid, as we've seen for fisheries across the country during this time of excruciating political retardation).

And as far as the Northeast groundfish fleet is concerned, fishermen don't want or need simple handouts (though I am sure they would not be cast aside). What these fleets need is a hope that when the stocks decide the conditions are right to thrive again, the fishing infrastructure will be there to service the industry.

The primary problem in New England is that codfish are not responding to the 10-year rebuilding timeline, despite the fact that fishermen have been catching them under increasingly restrictive management for the last two decades (to the point of strangulation for most small boat owners).

Even some who praised catch limits for the 2006 reauthorization, like Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association CEO John Pappalardo, now concede that they are an ineffective tool without annual stock assessments.

But the process of reauthorizing Magnuson will also attempt to incorporate the concerns and challenges of fisheries across the country. As House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said yesterday during his opening statement:

"The Secretary of Commerce declared seven fisheries disasters in 2012 and several more have been requested. New England is facing severe cuts in the quotas for important fisheries. The Gulf of Mexico is facing severely restrictive fishing seasons for recreational fishermen. The Pacific Northwest is seeing management and data collection costs growing with an ever increasing burden falling on fishermen. All of these fisheries and all of these regions need economic stability."

Put on your seatbelts, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

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I kicked off the International Boston Seafood Show with a National Seafood Marketing Coalition luncheon on Sunday. Coalition Director Bruce Schactler spearheaded the event, with a menu featuring five iconic species from around the country.

The coalition is building momentum around a piece of legislation that would create a National Seafood Marketing Fund with a portion of Saltonstall-Kennedy coffers. The S-K grant program was established to promote U.S. seafood through marketing, but has primarily been used to fund fisheries research projects in recent years.

There is no doubt a dearth of data for many federally managed fisheries. But there is even less marketing and promotion. A national fund could help us sell U.S. seafood as a sustainable choice across the board, capitalizing on NMFS' high standards for U.S. fisheries.

Alaska salmon is a classic case of marketing being a game changer. Salmon from Alaska once was available only in a can, unless you were lucky enough to be in Alaska for fresh fish.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute started telling a new story, and the processors and fleets responded in kind by shifting focus to improve handling and offer value-added products.

As we look at imported seafood increasingly infringing on our market share (around 90 percent of the seafood consumed in this country is imported), perhaps we need to focus less on volume and more on quality, as well as promoting the inherently high quality products of so many American fisheries.

We live in a global marketplace, so we will always eat imported seafood. But American seafood should be garnering a price worthy of its quality.

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Only a fool looks back without looking forward.

My task every year when the NF staff puts together our annual Yearbook issue is to review and project, always with a hopeful eye. And it's also my job as I make the annual rounds to regional fishing trade shows and conferences.

I talk to fishermen about what their recent seasons have been like and what they expect next year; attend conferences that review all variety of studies and try to project a future for many aspects of commercial fishing; and catch up with the land lubbers who run the shoreside businesses.

The themes this year are climate and control. Fishermen all over the country are worried about what changing ocean temperatures (among other influential factors) will mean for their fishery this year and this century. They are also worried that their access is being stripped away, as the powerful forces behind catch shares spread their influence into every facet of the seafood industry.

For the most part, they speculate, wring their hands and hope. But I have also seen a huge upwelling of motivation to do something.

This weekend, I'll be at the International Boston Seafood Show attending meetings and receptions aimed at moving forward with a national marketing agenda for commercial fishing.

This effort holds significant promise for the future of U.S. fleets across the country. More than anything else, marketing efforts can result in increased ex-vessel prices for commercial fishermen. It's certainly something to believe in at a time when faith in the future is at an all-time low in this industry. I hope we can start to turn that around.

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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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Page 10 of 32

National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 12/16/14

In this episode, Bruce Buls, WorkBoat's technical editor, interviews Long Island lobsterman John Aldridge, who survived for 12 hours after falling overboard in the dead of night. Aldridge was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Pacific Marine Expo, which took place Nov. 19-21 in Seattle.

Inside the Industry

NOAA, in consultation with the Department of the Interior, has appointed 10 new members to the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. The 20-member committee is composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience who advise the departments of commerce and the interior on ways to strengthen and connect the nation's MPA programs. The new members join the 10 continuing members appointed in 2012.

Read more...

Fishermen in Western Australia captured astonishing footage this week as a five-meter-long great white shark tried to steal their catch, ramming into the side of their boat.
 
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