2015 Year in Review

We lead this section with a story out of the Gulf of Mexico not because it makes sense geographically to start with that part of the country, but because the battle they are fighting is only one small step in a larger war against access to commercial fishing and commercial catches.

The lines are being drawn by a narrow but powerful group of sport fishing interests who believe that they are justified in attempting to eliminate the everyday citizen’s access to fresh, wild American fish in order for more people to be able to take home a souvenir from their vacation. If they succeed in taking away fishing rights from the snapper fleet after the commercial sector worked to rebuild that fishery, then they will have no reason not to knock on your door.

Our fisheries, fleets and managers are struggling to managing the effects of climate change. Those skills and strategies may improve, but the circumstances under which they are working are unlikely to get better. We need to pool our resources to manage this shift with survival in mind. 

— Jessica Hathaway

Gulf/So. Atlantic

By Hoyt Childers

After one of the mildest Decembers on record, El Niño-fueled winter finally struck Gulf Coast states in January, bringing weeks of subnormal temperatures. It also brought seldom-seen marine conditions, with reports of 18-foot average seas spawning occasional 30-foot, green-water monsters during one white-knuckle weather event on the Middle Grounds near the end of the month.

“It pushed the whole fleet in,” said Jason De La Cruz, president of Wild Seafood Co. on the John’s Pass boardwalk docks in Madeira Beach, Fla. As the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council convened at the end of January to consider yet another critical red snapper amendment, fishermen found themselves looking back over a year that had been equally tempestuous, politically...

Read the full article in our APRIL issue.


By Kirk Moore

The two-thirds cut in Georges Bank cod quota, similarly harsh proscriptions in the Gulf of Maine, and demands that industry pay for observers have some foreseeing a demise of small-boat groundfishing in New England. It’s a prediction made by fishermen many times before, but 2015 and early 2016 brought a convergence of fresh pressures. 

“It’s basically a double whammy here, with the observer coverage and the quota cuts. Every year we see a few more guys on the sideline, and the next year there’s more,” said David Leveille, the sector manager for Northeast fishery sectors II and VI. Sector II started out in 2010 with 42 boats based in Gloucester and Newburyport, Mass., but has been nearly halved since then to 26 active vessels. “And some of them are not...

Read the full article in our APRIL issue.


By Nick Rahaim

There was no shortage of sea stories on the Pacific Coast in 2015 with the mixture of abnormally warm seas, extreme drought in California and still damaging less-than-average rainfall in Oregon and Washington. Climate patterns have significantly burdened the bottom line for many fishermen.

The albacore tuna fleet found schools closer than normal to shore, yet hundreds of miles north of where usually encountered. Warm water in the Columbia River and its tributaries killed 250,000 sockeye salmon — half the year’s run — leaving big questions of health of the biomass in years to come. While salmon landings reached near record highs in much of Alaska, fishermen on the continental coastline found runs leaving much to be desired.

The Pacific sardine fishery, accustomed to long boom-to-bust cycles, came to an abrupt close on June 1, after the observed biomass fell below the cut-off threshold of 150,000 metric tons. Stocks had been trending down since 2007, but a decades-long bust that was seen from the late 1940s to the ’70s is unlikely. While anchovies and squid stocks perform betting in colder oceans cycles, sardines like it hot. 

Adding insult to injury, the warm water in the Pacific caused an algae boom that produced the toxin domoic acid in Dungeness crab that delayed the opening of the fishery in California, Oregon and Washington until 2016. Fishermen lost out on the...

Read the full article in our APRIL issue.

North Pacific

By Charlie Ess

Alaska’s salmon allocation controversy saw a landmark ruling in the courts on New Year’s eve of last year when the Alaska Supreme Court overruled a superior court judgment that would have allowed a ballot measure to determine whether setnets could be banned in the state.

Though pro-angling groups couched language in the campaign behind the initiative in the context that setnets would be disallowed as a gear type statewide, its epicenter was on the Kenai River, where the same groups have tried similar attempts to allocate the fish via popular vote before.

In 2014, Gov. Mead Treadwell sided with the setnetters against the ballot measure, and from there it moved toward the Supreme Court.

The year-end ruling brought jubilation to fishermen who worried whether the ballot measure had legs enough to make it before voters later this year.

“This issue is done with respect to state law,” said Jim Butler, president of Resources for All Alaskans, a group representing Cook Inlet fishermen. Butler added that the initiative challenged the state constitution and its stance against allocating natural resource by ballot initiative — and that it would not likely climb to...  

Read the full article in our APRIL issue. 

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A collection of stories from guest authors.

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