Monday, September 5, 2011

Most plants and animals adhere to a seasonal pattern of feeding and reproduction. Fish and other ocean bound animals are no exception. Most of the fish that you get from Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC) spend the summer getting fat on the abundant prey of herring, sand eels, lobsters, juvelnile fish etc., that abound in our rich ewaters in the the summer months. That is why I find that fish tastes the best in the fall. Or shall I say fish feels the best in the fall, because really the difference is in the texture of the fish as much as any difference in the flavor of the fish.

One of the great things I have learned since I've been getting CAFC shares is how very different the same fish can taste at different times of the year. Again, its more of a texture difference than a taste difference, but once you have one of those sublime meals that are part and parcel of the CAFC experience, you'll know exactly what I mean. (I hope!)

For me personally, fall is when most of the fish are at their finest. I also find that New England's other land based harvest foods pair exceptionally well with fresh seafood. Its the best time of year to enjoy the hard work of the sun!

Healthy oceans and a secure source of day-boat fresh seafood are not guaranteed! Part of supporting a Community Supported Fishery is lending your voice to support the values you are supporting. If you care about CAFC please consider taking the pledge to support a diverse fleet. A critical vote to stop rapid uncontrolled consolidation of the local fleet is taking place in three weeks. Please consider signing a pledge to support your local community based fishermen.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fleet Diversity gets a boost

In the ongoing battle to protect the community based fishermen from being consolidated out of the fleet, a small but important victory happened last week. The Groundfish committee of the New England Fisheries Management Council voted to approve a scoping document that begins the formal process of initiating an amendment to Magnusen Stevens that will put protection in place for smaller vessels.

If that all sounds like fisheries gibberish, here it is in plain English: the people who make the fish rules voted to start working on rules to protect a diverse fleet.

The process is somewhat long and cumbersome, but this was an important step to get things going. NAMA (in case you are new here, NAMA is the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and we are one of the organizations that helped launch Cape Ann Fresh Catch and we continue to work very closely with CAFC. I, the primary author of this blog, am Sean Sullivan and I work for NAMA)...NAMA has worked hard to try to get regulators to listen to fishermen who are feeling pinched under catch shares. The primary complaints are that under catch shares they are under economic pressure to get big or get out. We know that the "get big" scenario doesn't work. In fact it can be argued that the whole problem of overfishing is the result of the governments last push to have the fleet "get big".

In any case, over 200 people signed a pledge to support Fleet Diversity. We are still encouraging people to sign the pledge to show fisheries managers that people care about who fishes matters.

Click here to read the pledge and add your name!

In other news, the new CAFC season will be coming along shortly. Fall is typically my favorite season for seafood. Much like terrrestrail plants and animals, fish are often the most "ripe" in the fall having eaten well all summer and adding reserves of fat. Most species will begin to put the feedbag on over the coming weeks and begin schooling up for their migrations. Almost all fish migrate to a certain extent whether it is from rocky shores to deep water, such as lobsters or from deep to inshore such as cod. In my opinion most fish species taste the best in the fall and have the best texture.

Lastly, NAMA has its own blog, and there is some interesting stuff there about fishy events around the area.

Monday, August 8, 2011

100 Dead Fish and Amendment 18

100 Dead fish are 100 dead fish. We can either have one large factory trawler catch all those fish or we can have a diverse fleet that is appropriately scaled to the size of the eco-system, that enriches our communities with local healthy food and provides more jobs.

Quite literally, as seafood consuming folks we have a say in how the fish we eat are caught. Most of us take for granted that there will be folks catching fish in New England from small vessels plying the harbors that dot the coastline of New England - because its been that way for four centuries. But as we look at the current state of the fishery:
  • Three permit holders control 41% of the George's Bank Winter Flounder (which is a choke species*)
  • The groundfish fleet lost 458 crew positions last year.
  • Vessels over 50 ft. increased landings by 8.4% and increased revenues 21.5%
  • Vessels under 50 ft. had landing drop 51.7% and decreased revenues of 34.2%
All of this points to a picture of consolidation of the fleet to larger and fewer vessels. There may always be small vessels plying the waters, but we should not take it for granted or before our eyes we could not only lose the small day-boat fleet and the jobs associated with it, but also the high quality seafood we have come to love at CAFC.

What can you do? Pledge to support a diverse fleet!

Over the coming months, the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) will debate Amendment 18 to the Magnusen Stevens Fishery Act about whether and how to enact regulations (many of which existed prior to the Catch Shares program) that will help preserve a diverse fleet through allocation caps, quota set-asides for new entrants and owner-operators and measures to foster an affordable fishery through leasing restrictions.

Without these controls in place, we are very likely to see the fleet consolidated further over the coming years, so please consider signing the pledge and lending your voice to a diverse fleet.

* Fishermen are allocated a variety of fish species to catch. Once they catch all of any single allocation they have they cannot fish anymore unless they lease allocations from another fisherman. "Choke species" then are the ones typically considered to be low in allocation.

For example, a fishermen from the South Shore recently reported that he had already caught all of his allocation of Winter Flounder. His choice to continue fishing is to either lease Winter Flounder at $1/lb or stop fishing. Winter Flounder sells for $1.40/lb at the dock. If someone controls a large amount of a choke species they can control who gets to fish.

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the dock...

Local fisherman Doug Maxfield writes a blog about fishing (among other things - fair warning sometimes the content is spicy) and late last week he penned a post about some of the issues we have been concerned about, specifically consolidation of the fishing fleet into fewer boats. We consistently hear that consolidation is happening and it is driving out the small guys most. Doug's view is something we hear all the time from fishermen up and down the coast.

In recent and likely in coming years the costs to go fishing will continue to rise. Everything from fuel to the cost to lease fishing quota (a necessity for many fishermen under the new catch shares management plan). Meanwhile fish prices have remained largely unchanged in the last decade, ranging from 1.50/lb to 2.50/lb.

The resulting picture is not pretty for the smaller day-boat vessels that have the least impact on the ocean and provide the highest quality seafood. Supporting CAFC is a great way to support the local dayboat fleet, but in the long run, more will need to be done to ensure a healthy diverse fishery.

In the coming weeks, NAMA will be making a push to put protections in place for smaller inshore vessels and we hope that some CAFC folks will help us get the message to fisheries managers that people other than fishermen care about who fishes!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Behind the scenes

CAFC is featured on WGBH!

A special shout out to Steve Tousignant who works diligently behind the scenes to make sure everyone gets their fish. Beyond being the man behind the curtain at CAFC, Steve is a great cook so if you get the chance ask him about cooking seafood. He does a mean smoked bluefish.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mackerel and other fishy fish

One of the great things about a CSF like Cape Ann Fresh Catch is that you get fish you might not normally eat or purchase in a market. For those of us who like whole fish, oftentimes it is hard to even find whole fish at the fishmongers. Still, for most folks there are just some fish that people do not like. Or, let's phrase that differently, there are fish that people don't know they will like yet.

The most common complaint about these types of fish are that they are too "fishy". I love hearing that, it reminds me of when people complain that a wine is too "grapey". The irony of the language however cannot detract from the real feelings that most people have to the strong taste of some oily fish such as herring, mackerel, and bluefish.

I have yet to get a mackerel in any of my shares, though I did get a bluefish or two and once got four or five herring (which I admit I converted into Striped Bass by placing chunks of them on a hook at the end of a line!) If you talk to "old-timers" you'll hear about people eating and loving mackerel "back in the day".

There was a recent article about macks in the Gloucester Daily Times. And an even more fascinating link in the comments from Joey Cimartaro of Good Morning Gloucester about a trap fishery for mackerel with some really nice pictures.

The article though makes great points about how healthy macks are to eat. I also find that the "fishy fish" can be prepared without too much fishiness in particular if they are fresh, you cut away some or all of the dark meat (which is also unfortunately the meat with the most Omega 3 oil), and lastly, you cook them with a vinegar dressing.

I didn't realize it, but when I was a kid we would catch bluefish all the time and cook and eat them ourselves (believe it or not, the parents were more finicky about this than the kids) and we'd coat the fillets in mayonnaise and let then sit for a few hours before cooking to reduce the fishy flavor.

More recently, I had Mackerel at 5 Corner's Kitchen in Marblehead (which unfortunately suffered a fire from the adjoining building last week and will be closed for a month). Chef Barry Edelman grills the mackerel and serves it with a vinegar dressing that is just delightful.

Tangent alert: As a seafood aficionado 5 Corners Kitchen should be on your list of places to eat. Barry is not afraid to serve what is fresh, in season, and sometimes considered "trash fish". He recently had on the menu, bluefish, skate, mackerel and a fish stew made from redfish (courtesy of NAMA - shameless plug). And you will no longer find the albatross of real seafood on the menu - the awful farmed salmon.

In any case, one of the things we discuss at our CAFC meetings is whether folks would like to get mackerel in their shares? One of the problems is finding mackerel that is fished sustainably. Currently other than the trap caught mackerel, most macks are caught in large pair trawlers which have a bad record of huge by-catches of striped bass, haddock and other fish which are just dumped overboard to slowly die on the surface.

Sometimes macs come in as by-catch from the dayboat fleet, and hopefully you'll find a few in your shares at some point and you'll learn to love this very pretty little healthy seafood.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fish are just birds underwater

Short post this week with some recent comments from fishermen. At the Spatial Sales Conference I wrote about last week, the last panel was a group of four fishermen and one sector manager. They were asked about their observations on the water and how they reconcile with some of the emerging scientific consensus that was the focus of the conference.

One fisherman when asked if his experiences on the water match what the scientists are finding out responded by saying he always thought of fish as flocks of birds moving underwater. Most of the other fishermen had similar analogies.

When it came time to talk about new management ideas one fishermen said to the room full of scientists, NGO staffers and NOAA/NMFS/NEFMC staff, "You all are the fishermen now. You are the ones with steady jobs, benefits."

He went on to say what a lot of fishermen have said in recent years, that there are more people employed in regulating, lobbying and managing fish than there are people catching fish. He concluded by saying, "Whether this science is right and the old science is wrong, or the new way is better at managing fish I don't know. I just hope you get it right, so the fishermen can get back to fishing."

All of the fishermen agreed that the numbers of fish "out there" in the Western Gulf of Maine was the largest they had seen in their fishing careers. They all said they no longer have to think to catch fish, they just go to whatever area is not closed drop their nets and pull them back full of fish.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Emerging scientific trends shake up fisheries management

Everyone knows that Salmon are born in rivers, spend their adult life in the ocean and return to the very same river they were born in to spawn. Until recently most people thought that Salmon were the exception among fishes. It was commonly thought that most other fish were dispersal spawners and did not exhibit natal homing. In other words the eggs of the fish were released into the ocean's currents, the fish eventually grew and settled somewhere among a school, then spawned with that school.

It turns out that most fish are more like salmon than we ever thought. In fact, most fish return to the location they were born (or nearby that location) to spawn. Cod for example may return to the exact same hump of rock where they were born to spawn year after year. This is just one of the emerging scientific trends that was reported recently at a Reconciling Spatial Scales and Stock Structures for Fisheries Science and Management Conference.

The implications of this emerging scientific consensus are fairly drastic if you are a fisherman, fisheries manager, fisheries scientist or as in the case of us at NAMA, advocates for small scale community based fishermen. The conference produced a slew of other earth shaking ideas and notions, but before we get to those, lets walk down the path of understanding just the example above, our beloved codfish.

One of the great mysteries scientists, fishermen and others have been struggling to understand is how some populations of over-fished cod have rebounded, such as in the Western Gulf of Maine, while those in the Eastern Gulf of Maine and George's Bank are still struggling. It has always been thought that a dispersal breeding fish would necessarily over time re-stock the ocean just through the magic of winds and currents moving those very young cod around.

But if Cod are like Salmon, and humans put up a barrier - in the case of Salmon say a dam, in the case of Cod say a net, that prevents them from returning to their natal spawning grounds, an entire population or stock of fish may disappear. A river may regenerate, but it is thought that the timeframes for nature to re-stock a river may be in the hundreds if not thousands of years. If a cod breeding ground is wiped out by overfishing, the fish that have that genetic code that tells them to return to say the Eastern Gulf of Maine to spawn are gone. Let's repeat that, those fish are GONE.

Cod population crashes are well documented most spectacularly in Canada, but have also happened in the North Sea and here in the Eastern Gulf of Maine. A recent sentinel fishery (a fishery designed to gauge fish populations) in the Eastern Gulf of Maine conducted in conjunction with our friends at the Penobscot East Resource Center, showed that there are more Halibut in the Eastern Gulf of Maine than there are cod (and the numbers of Halibut are still extremely low). And with little to no fishing pressure these formerly abundant fish are still not returning.

Why they are not returning could in fact be the result of fishing pressure resulting in an "extirpation" of a stock. So, in other words somehow the breeding fish for that area were wiped out and because of that, there are no adult fish in those areas. Quite literally, the Eastern Gulf of Maine used to be one of the most productive fishing areas, equal to Stellwagen Bank, George's Bank and other well known historical fisheries. Today there is no commercial fishery there at all.

To make things even more complicated, additional research presented at the conference shows an inter dependency between some species, again we will use cod as an example, and their main prey. For example, Cod in parts of Canada fed primarily on Capelin, a small fish related to herring. The Capelin provided the nutritional basis for Cod to spawn successfully. If there are no Capelin, Cod will feed on shrimp. However, if they are feeding on shrimp, they are less successful and in some cases will not spawn at all.

I am not a scientist, and I am sure there are nuances I may not be getting right. But, the first example of Cod returning to their natal grounds is a "spatial" relationship. This connection argues that the animals are related more closely to a particular spot in the ocean than was previously thought. Fisheries managers largely manage fish as though they are a single uniform stock. We now know that is not true. Management will have to change to acknowledge this "spatial" relationship.

The example of the Cod being interdependent on Capelin to successfully breed is an example of an "Eco-system" dependency. In the past fisheries managers have managed fish stocks as if there are no eco-system dependencies. Specifically, managers are by law required to manage commercial species to attain a maximum sustainable catch of all species. However species do not exist in a vacuum, they exist in an eco-system where fish eat other fish.

Now these emerging scientific ideas are forcing an new understanding that not only must we look at the ocean spatially, but temporaly (fluctuations over time) in a much more detailed way if we want to be successful at managing the ocean.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Freezing fish

Despite my grandest plans to film a short video about my week with my CAFC seafood, life intervened and my fish sat in the fridge for two days before I even got a chance to get it out. I also knew I would be busy in the coming few days so I faced that dillemma that everyone that gets CAFC shares eventually faces: what to do with fish you wont be able to eat fresh.

The most obvious answer is to freeze your fish. If you plan to use the fish in the near future, freezing fish is pretty straight forward. Get as much air out of the bag as you can, make sure any water is drained out and throw the fish in the freezer.

If you plan to keep your seafood longer, freezer burn can become an issue. Freezer burn is when things dry out in the freezer. Seafood is particularly vulnerable to freezer burn as it has a high water content. One way to avoid freezer burn and prolong the life of your seafood then is to freeze your fish in a block of salted water.

Basically you make a solution of salted water, about 1/4 cup of salt per two pints of water and fill the bag you are freezing the fish in with the solution. This technique can extend the life of your filets and keep a much nicer texture than just plain freezing.

Back when there were no CSF's around I used to catch a bunch of Cod just before I took my boat out and freeze a bunch in a brine and we enjoyed cod filets all winter.

There are some other ideas about freezing fish here if you want to try some more elaborate techniques.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A friend was recently asking me for some seafood cooking tips. Of course that gave me the opportunity to talk about freshness as perhaps the biggest factor in cooking really good seafood. And, of course the freshest fish you can get anywhere is right here from Cape Anne Fresh Catch (or one of the other CSF's that might be in your area).

If you are a CAFC member, you know about fresh seafood. But did you know that 84% of the seafood eaten in this country is imported? How fresh can that possibly be? Let's take the Pacific Cod as an example. These fish by the way are given the highest marks on the seafood buyer cards such as Monterey Bay Aquarium's seafood buyers guide.

The Pacific Cod is the less good looking sister to the Altantic Cod, with a slightly less firm texture, it is sometimes also called the Grey Goo. The Pacific Cod fishery catches and processes large numbers of Cod and freezes them and ships 30% of the catch to China to be re-processed into fillets or fish sticks, then re-imported to the U.S. or another country. If you see "Previously Frozen" Cod at the supermarket and it is not listed as being Atlantic Cod, chances are that fish has been to Alaska and China before arriving at your market. That's a well traveled fish!

In contrast, CAFC's fish is usually landed the same day it is caught, often in the morning. It is weighed and sorted, then delivered to Turner's Seafood - all of this happens before 9AM, where it is either filleted or bagged whole, then put on the truck for delivery. It really doesn't get much fresher than that.

But, I began talking about cooking tips. Here are some I use. Let me know what your secrets are!
  • When in doubt, 1 tblsp butter per person
  • The fresher the fish, the less you should do, as fish get older spice up the recipe.
  • Fish spoil being in water, ideally your fish should be on ice free to drain
  • 10 minutes per inch of thickness
I am off to fry up my share from last week for fish tacos! What did you do with your share?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A meal so good I cant stop thinking about it...

Welcome to Cape Ann Fresh Catch's (CAFC) summer season. As an introduction, or re-introduction for those of you who may have read the blog before or are here for the first time, my name is Sean Sullivan. I work for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), which is one of the partner organizations that helped start CAFC and continues to support and encourage the CSF movement any way we can.

I am also a CAFC shareholder and I pick up my seafood in Marblehead. I've had some truly incredible meals from the seafood I've had from CAFC. Several stand out in my head because it was the first time I tried that species. I'd never had Acadian Redfish before, also know as Ocean Perch and just Redfish. Not only are these fish beautiful to look at, but they have a unique texture that makes them one of the few fishes we get you can throw right on the grill.

Another one of the memorable meals was the time I sauteed some whiting, whole, for my kids. I figured there was a 60/40 chance they would eat a whole fish where they had to pull out the bones. They loved it.

Still though, as a lifelong seafood lover, having worked in restaurants that specialize in seafood, and being something of a fresh/local/healthy food dork, I was unprepared for yet another meal that would leave such a lasting impression upon me that I continue to savor it now almost three weeks later.

The recipe was grilled monkfish kebabs. I served it with sauteed fiddleheads and asparagus. My mouth is watering as I type this. My daughter, the arbiter of all things good and evil, declared it the best seafood she's ever had. We eat fish at least twice a week.

That is why I am a CAFC member.....

.......ok, well thats only partly why. The other reason is that I care about the ocean, and I want my kids to grow up with a local ecology that is healthy and provides us with healthy protein. You can't get much more organic, fresh, healthy and local than CAFC fish.

I'll be talking more in the coming weeks about more fisheries issues as there is a lot going on, and there are ways you can get involved if you do care about the ocean. You can start reading here. Or you can read through previous blog posts.

Here is a blog from a Gloucester fisherman. It can get a little spicy over there, so if you can't handle dock talk be forewarned.

And here is another blog that you might find interesting and relevant to the issues of seafood and sustainability.

And lastly, feel free to get in touch to share recipe experiences, write a guest blog, or tell me what you want me to write about.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What will the future of fishing look like?

Our fearless leader Angela Sanfilippo made an interesting point at our weekly meeting last week. We were discussing some of the issues Gloucester faces as a fishing port. One of them is the loss of infrstructure (and this applies to most if not all fishing communities).

We all know that along with the decline of the value and size of our fisheries over the last 50 years, there has been a commensurate decline in the shoreside infrastructure that is necessary to land and process fish. Along with the decline we have also seen coastal real estate values skyrocket and commercial lands converted to residential.

Angela's point was made in the form of a question, "If we rebuild this fishery, according to NOAA'a projections, but 2014 we will be catching twice as much fish as we are today. Where are all those fish going to go?"

The value of the fish landed in Gloucester last year is somewhere around $5o million with around 122 million pounds of fish landed. If catches do indeed double, are we doomed for a repeat of the great fish glut that followed the imposition of the 200 mile limit? (You can see the entire landings totals and values since 1980 here.)

Back when the US imposed a 200 mile exclusive economic zone and forced the factory ships offshore, Gloucester fishermen were suddenly landing so many fish there were not enough places to land them. Apparently at times fishermen were getting so little for their fish that they were dumped or left to rot on the docks.

Hopefully that will not be the case in the coming years as hopefully restrictions are eased and catches go up commesurate with increasing fish populations. It is sometimes hard to remember that for the hundreds of years that people have been fishing, and for thousands of years before that, our waters were one of, if not the most productive fishing ecosystems on the planet. If we manage it correctly, there should not only be a healthy fishing industry, healthy stocks of fish, and healthy fishing communities.

But, we do have to remember to save some shore front.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last week, we discussed the amazingly Orwellian life of a commercial fisherman. When people hear how regulated and heavy-handed regulations are for commercial fishermen they often ask, "What I can do to help change things?"

The first and easiest (and admittedly something that most of you who may be reading this blog are already doing by buying shares at Cape Ann Fresh Catch or another CSF) is to stop buying seafood from the great international fish conspiracy. Here is the easiest and best thing you can do for your health and the health of the oceans and fishermen everywhere:

Stop buying imported farmed shrimp.

Farmed shrimp have a terrible track record.

They are often pumped full of antibiotic's, live in crowded conditions and are farmed in sensitive environments like mangrove swamps.

Also, the testing of imported seafood for contaminants is questionable enough that states have taken it upon themselves to test seafood with less than stellar results.

Not only that but at least to me, they taste awful, a bit like rubber mixed with cardboard and ammonia.

So that's easy right? Just eat local Maine shrimp, fresh in season or frozen out of season. Or support Gulf of Mexico fishermen and buy shrimp from the gulf. (No time here to go into the health and safety aspects of whether Gulf of Mexico shrimp are OK to eat or not. Some reading on that here and here if you care to delve into it.)

And, feel free to lecture your buddies on this subject, you'll be doing them favor!

Another way to get involved is to submit comments to the government on policy issues. This week you can weigh in on state operated permit banks. Its a bit of a complicated issue, but you can find all you need to know here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Commercial Fishermen

Imagine a world where you have to call the government 48 hours before you go to work and get permission to go to work. No permission, no work.

If you do get permission, you might be assigned an observer. This is a governemnt employee who's job it is to check to make sure you are following all the regulations and rules of your job. If they catch you doing something wrong you can be fined. For now, the government is paying the observer, but in the future you will have to pay to be monitored.

As you head to work, you must turn on your electronic monitoring device which tracks your position by satellite. If for some reason you electronic monitoring device, which you have to pay for and costs a couple thousand dollars stops working you must stop working and return home. If not you will be fined.

But you've made it this far, time to make some money! You start working. The tools you use are all regulated, where you can work is regulated, the size and type of product you make is regulated. If you do any of these things wrong, you can be fined.

But its a good day, you get your work done and head home. Now you have to call in and report that you are returning from work. The government tells you you will be met by yet another observer of your work who will weigh and scale your work, and of course they will fine you if they find anything that does not comply with the regulations. Oh, and in the coming years you will also have to pay for this observer. $75/hr to monitor your work.

Wouldnt it be great if you could bring home some of your hard earned work to share with your family. After all, your work is providing food. But you can't. It is illegal for you to bring home a single fish to put on your family's table. In fact, before you leave the observer(s) they will search your vessel to make sure you are not hiding anything.

When nothing is found and you somehow make it through the day of work, you now have to fill out the paperwork. Pages and pages of paperwork. And if any of your paperwork is out of line, well don't even bother to call in to ask permission to go to work.

But, at least the information from your paperwork is helping to develop a better picture of what is going on in the environment in which you work, right? Wrong. The data is not used for anything.

Last night I had dinner with fisherman Steve Walsh from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He's been fishing for 33 years. Also at the table were two friends of mine who enjoy seafood, but were relatively unaware of what is involved in commercial fishing. As Steve described the above scenario, they became incredulous. Then they became angry, then depressed.

"How can this be happening in America?" They asked.

"What can we do?" They asked.

The latter question stunned me. In all the years I've been around fishing, boats and involved in fishing regulations no has ever asked what they can do. CAFC members are already doing a small part by supporting local community based fishermen. But can we do more?

In the coming weeks, I will be focusing on finding effective ways for folks who do care to get involved. By it's own admission NOAA has admitted the regulatory process is deeply flawed. We'll delve into that in a couple weeks, and in the following weeks I'll present opportunities for those of you who think fisheries can be managed in a way that:
  • doesn't treat fishermen like criminals
  • still save our oceans
  • improve the safety of fishing
  • reward fishermen who fish clean
  • improve the overall quality of our local seafood to be a global leader
  • support coastal communities

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The impact of CSFs

Just in case you missed it, CAFC just announced the summer season. Accompanying the announcement was a note from Gloucester Fishermen's Wives association President, Angela Sanfillipo:

It's unbelievable to think we're starting our third year...

Remembering back when the program was just an idea, before our first season, and how apprehensive we were as to whether it'd be our first season... or last.

Things are different now, and we're grateful...

Because of you, CAFC members, it is with great pride and tremendous gratitude we're announcing our 8th new season and that CAFC is starting its third year.

Your support and encouragement has meant so much to us and the fishing community of Cape Ann. It's as if through the seasons of CAFC, Gloucester has gained an extended family.

Through your support of CAFC and in turn the fishermen and shoreside operations, Gloucester and Eastern Massachusetts has helped us all by lowering the carbon footprint to put dinner on your table, by keeping your food dollars in our community by supporting local businesses, and by supplying you with the freshest, locally-caught sustainable seafood possible...

Together, we've built a community, an extended family if you will, greater than the sum of its parts.

To that, our gratitude knows no bounds.

We hope that you have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the great seafood that the Cape Ann fishing fleet has provided to you. We remain committed to providing the freshest and best seafood that our local corner of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Maine, has to offer.

Thank you for your support and we look forward to another great season.
As one of those who was there in the beginning of the program, to see where we are now is truly humbling. While Port Clyde Fresh Catch is the the first CSF, Cape Ann Fresh Catch is a close second and is certainly the largest CSF. In many ways these two CSF's are the birth of a movement. Today there are almost 20 CSF's in the US and Canada.

Beyond providing people with fresh seafood and establishing a connection for seafood lovers to those who harvest seafood, the CSF movement has started a conversation around seafood that did not exist before CSFs. Most foodies and locavores are accustomed to knowing where their meat and produce come from, but seafood was conspicuously absent from the conversation.

All of that is changing as people start to see that the connections fostered by CSFs highlight the fact that we go fishing for food. Being a part of CAFC and watching the CSF movement grow has indeed been humbling and gratifying. So, when you are enjoying your shares this week, take a minute to give yourself a pat on the back for supporting something that is good for your health, good for the local economy, good for the oceans and good for our community.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Variety and the seasonality of seafood

Seafood like most things we eat has seasons of abundance and scarcity. Most things in life in temperate climates grow in abundance over the course of the summer and use an abundance of stored energy to survive over the winter. Spring typically is not a great fishing season in New England. The fish are often "thin". Fish that migrate long distances such a Striped Bass often arrive with an elongated starving look. Also, many groundfish spawn in the spring. Those of you with whole fish shares have seen the glands and eggs in the flounders.

The weather in spring is also pretty miserable on the water, which means that many fishermen haul their boats for repairs and painting in the spring. And finally, fishing regulations discourage fishing in the typical "day boat" locations closer to shore. The fishing calender, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, begins on May 1. Under the new sector system, fishermen have to face the question of how and when to fish their quota. If they fish all of their quota, they are done for the year. So, many fishermen, knowing they will get a new allocation of quota in May have fished out their quota.

All of these factors mean that it can be hard to find fish in the spring as fewer boats go out and there are fewer fish to catch according to the seasons and the government. In a way, its a natural time in the eco-system for everyone to rest, recuperate, take care of business (spawning for fish, fixing vessels for fishermen) before the abundance of summer arrives.

Part of being part of a program like CAFC is to understand the fishermen and the seasonality of seafood. No one would expect a local farmer to have fresh corn in April. A few folks have asked CAFC when "non white fish" will be available. Mackeral and herring start to show up in our waters soon. Usually just behind the right whales. And the herring and the mackeral are the favorite prey of just about everything in the ocean humans like to eat.

One old salt told me once to look for the apple trees to bloom. "You wont catch a striper out there until the day the apple trees bloom." In my experience chasing fish around, I've found that to be some sage advice. As I write this, the forsythia are blooming, which means the fish are on their way, as are the new quota allocations and the warmer weather and greater diversity of seafood in our local corner of the planet's ocean.

Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Draggers are they sustainable?

Continuing from last week's series on the types of gear that local fishermen use to catch fish for CAFC, this week I will discuss draggers. Draggers are the predominate type of gear used to catch groundfish in New England. Draggers tow nets along the ocean floor (and sometimes in the mid-water column for fish such as herring). The nets are held open by metal 'doors' that help spread the mouth of the net open. A chain runs along the bottom often lined with 'scrubers' or 'rollers' which help the net to bounce over rocks and other impediments. The fish cannot outswim the net and are forced into it, ending up in the 'codend'.

By the criteria we discussed last week: selectivity and ocean impact, draggers score low on both counts. They are indiscriminate fishers, however many modern draggers use large mesh, and sophisticaed electronics to reduce by-catch. And, they have arguably the greatest impact on the ocean bottom.

Some dragger fishermen argue that in some cases dragging is much like tilling the soil and may actually result in increased fecundity. There is some evidence for this in species like scallops and flounders.

Many CAFC folks ask whether dragging (sometimes also called trawling, which is not the same as trolling) is sustainable, andthe answer like most things in the fish business is a little yes and a little no. Small scale draggers are incredibly efficient fishers. When the fish are in close to Gloucester, a dragger can go out and back in less than twenty-four hours with a full hold of fish.

Further, Captains like Joe Orlando argue that he has been fishing the same grounds for thirty years and that if draggers were wiping out the habitat, they would not be abl to continue to fish over and over in the same spots. As with most things in life, it is really a question of moderation vs. excess. Small scale day-boat draggers while not the ideal gear type are relatively benign. The problem is when you have large vessels with nets the size of football fields systematically towing patterns over the bottom that large scale habitat destruction occurs.

Another huge problem is when draggers target spawning aggregations. As we've come to learn many of our local groundfish are a lot more like salmon than we ever thought in that they return to the same breeding grounds over and over. When a dragger (or a gillnetter) wipes out a spawning mass, that sub-population could be wiped out for decades or even as they are seeing in Atlantic Canada and Downeast Maine, populations just cannot rebuild despite the absence of fishing.

I am loathe to incite gear conflict issues. There really is a place out there in the ocean for all the types of fishing. Some areas/fisheries are better suited for dragging, others work well as hook and line fisheries. The answer is a diverse fleet and a better understanding of ocean eco-systems to help protect sensitive areas and spawning biomass's.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sustainability and gear

In the last couple blogs I've been talking about sustainability. One of the questions we always get at events is about whether the fish CAFC gets is from boats that are fishing sustainably. And invariably within that discussion is a question of whether we get fish from draggers. There is a widespread perception that draggers harm the ocean bottom by destroying habitat. There no doubt that some types of gear have more of an impact than others. However within that discussion you have to consider the question of scale. But before we get to scale, lets take a look at the some other common gear types and the positives and negatives of each in the context of sustainability. In next weeks blog I'll tackle the dragger/sustainability question.

Hook and Line/Long line
Hook and line gear can range from using a fishing pole with one or more hooks to a tub-trawl (the traditional "long line" of the northeast which uses baited hooks and is laid on the ocean bottom) to a long-line which is typically a suspended line which can be several miles long and is most often used for pelagic species such a swordfish and tuna (pelagic fish are fish that do not live on the ocean bottom).

Hook and line gear arguably has the least impact on the ocean floor, but as anyone who has fished in our local waters can tell you, a baited hook is indiscriminate. When I used to fish tub trawls we'd often pull up our trawl full of short cod. Some of these fish were very small. In my case, we took care to remove the fish from the hooks alive and return them to the ocean. We also used a hook called a "circle hook" which is more likely to catch a fish in the corner of it's mouth than in its gut.

However, hook and line gear besides being indiscriminate is also the source of many of the issues related to turtle and dolphin by-catch problems. And, unlike the trawls we used to set and retrieve in the same day, many long-lines are left to soak in the ocean long enough that much of the by-catch is dead by the time the line is hauled.

So, small scale hook and line is arguably the "cleanest" most sustainable way to catch fish. "Hook and line" caught though, while evoking a Hemingwayesque Old Man and the Sea vibe, more often than not refers to some sort of long-line, which is not necessarily the most discriminate means of fishing.

In the New England groundfish fishery there are very few hook and line fishermen left. Regulations have passively discouraged this type of fishing in the past where "days at sea" were the regulatory currency. Essentially fishermen were given 24 hours to catch a certain amount of fish. Dragging is the most reliable way to catch more fish quickly, so most fishermen converted to dragging or gillnets.

Currently, as far as I am aware, there are less than six fishermen actively fishing hook and line gear out of Gloucester. There may even be less than that. It should also be noted that some species of our local fish cannot be caught commercially solely by hook and line.

Gill Nets
Gill nets are large nets hung vertically in the water column, weighted on the bottom with buoys on the top. They are very common in our local fleet. They have very little impact on the ocean bottom. They are somewhat indiscriminate fishers, essentially sorting fish by size and catching fish that are not large enough to pass through the mesh. In terms of sustainability, as long as by-catch is limited, Gill nets are a decent choice. However by-catch can also be a big issue for gill nets.

The other knock on gill nets is that the fish quality of net caught fish is the least desirable. If fish are left too long in the net, say more than 24 hours, they start to get eaten by small ocean creatures and they lose their scales. They are known as "scalers" and typically fetch a low price at market. One local fish processor told me that he hates getting net caught flounders because the quality of the meat is poor.

Many of the fishermen who are hook and line fishing also fish gillnets as they can both be fished fairly easily from a small boat. In particular you'll find that many fishermen who lobster and fish will fish nets as the conversion is fairly easy. And typically, fishermen who fish multiple gear types from small boats are some of the most sustainable fishermen around as they will suit the gear to the species they are after in the seasons in which those fish are plentiful.
Coming next week, the great trawler debate...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Seafood sustainability is such a difficult topic because ultimately it boils down to the idea that we humans have the ability to determine the exact right level of seafood we can take from a complex and not always well understood ocean that will allow seafood populations to not only maintain, but to function more or less as if we were not harvesting seafood.

Wait, does that make sense at all? Is there really some magical line in the ocean that allows us to have our cake and eat it too? What about complex highly interdependent ecosystems? What do we use as a baseline? Do we use historical abundance or recent abundance? How does the harvesting of one species like herring impact the health and abundance of other species that depend on it?

The "truth" if there is one is that sustainability is a "best guess" when it comes to seafood. If you Google "Sustainable Seafood" you'll find a number of species specific seafood buying guides. There is some value to these guides. Most folks that want to do the right thing don't necessarily want to spend their time reading some random blog about seafood sustainability and these guides can be a decent starting point for folks that want to do the right thing.

We think a better way to approach seafood is to have a set of principles.

But, to understand how seafood cards can get things wrong, we have to gain an understanding of how fisheries are determined to be sustainable. Usually this has to do with many sceintific assesments, but the two biggies are TAC (Total Allowable Catch) and MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield).

TAC is a hard number that defines how much fish fishermen can catch. It is based on fish population assessments and is supposed to be scientifically vetted. MSY is a bit harder to understand, but it is essentially the amount of fish that can consitstently be taken from a population of a single species that will allow the population to maintain over the long term. In simple terms, it is usually around 30% of a "healthy" population of fish.

In some ways they define the same thing, however MSY is more like the speed limit, while the TAC is the actual speed that can get you a ticket. In other words, the numbers are not always the same and are subject to the discretion of the managers.

So, let's get back to sustainable. In effect the TAC defines what fisheries managers think is sustainable. Fishermen have little to no impact on this number. It is defined, determined and vetted by the Science and Statistical Comittee (SSC) of the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) and accepted or rejected by the NEFMC. So in effect, how much fishermen will catch - whether or not that fishing is sustainable - is determined by managers not fishermen.

So, how can sustainable seafood cards put things like Atlantic Cod on a list of sea foods to avoid when managers, vetted by the best available science, are saying that Cod are no longer overfished? This article is a great exploration of the complexities in particular concerning our local codfish.

So, in sum, managers/regulators are defining sustainable ideally based on science that determines a level of seafood that can be caught indefinitely. As a principle, its a good place to begin to approach sustainability. But if you are like me, you have a healthy skepticism of the ability of scientists and managers to know the ocean well enough to consistently and impartially determine the magical number of fish we can eat without any impact. It just sounds silly to me and reminds me of one of my old friends' skepticism of another magical animal.

Monday, March 28, 2011

CAFC Meet and Greet and Sustainability

It was great to see folks come out for the CAFC Meet and Greet at the MIT last Thursday. The folks I was able to talk to had some very interesting questions and observations of the program. It seemed pretty consistent that everyone loved the seafood.

There were several god questions raised about sustainability, and I've had a few emails about that as well. Seafood sustainability, in my view, is not a black and white issue for the very simple reason that we do not and cannot control all the variables that determine if our harvest of a given species will result in the long term decline or health of that species.

For wild seafood in particular, we are dealing with some many unknowns that scientific population plotting has been spotty at best. That is not to say that the science of fishing is not improving and that it is not a valuable part of the sustainability debate. Rather, ocean currents, global warming, eco-system imbalances, ocean acidification and hosts of other complex issues intertwine making it hard to predict seafood abundance. It is a bit like predicting the weather.

A good recent example of this is that National Marine Fisheries scientists said that pollack abundance was low last year. Well it turns out they were wrong. 600% wrong.

So, before we talk about sustainability, I hope we can agree that we are talking about a moving target. In many ways I find it more useful to ask if we are moving towards sustainability or away from it. In the coming weeks, I'll talk about how and why we feel that CAFC (and other CSFs) is moving the catching of seafood toward greater sustainability.

Feel free to chime in in the comments and air out your thoughts/concerns about sustainability. Next week I'll tackle the issue of sustainability in terms of the seafood cards that treat seafood like a traffic light.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Is "Rationalizing" rational?...and Blackback Flounder talk...

Imagine for a minute that on St Patty’s Day a Leprechaun came up to you and offered you this choice: You can have a job which pays you a decent if unspectacular wage, but that job is among the most dangerous in the country, will require constant hard work and is among the most heavily regulated industries in the country. Or you can make 75% of the wage of the previous job but you don’t have to do anything, you are free to take up other jobs and there is little to no risk you will ever lose the job.

Most sane folks would choose the second job. The first job is of course being a commercial fisherman. The second job is also being a commercial fisherman – except you don’t fish. It may seem absurd but that is quite literally the choice regulators have crafted – intentionally or unintentionally – under the sector management system.

Under sectors, permit holders are allocated quota – whether they fish or not – which they can then lease to other fishermen. So in effect fishermen are being given life annuities when they are allocated quota.

The surprising thing is that most of the fishermen who have been given this choice have chosen to continue fishing. It is not surprising since most of them have been through the lean years and have stuck with it despite years of increasing regulations, onerous enforcement, not to mention lean fishing.

The fact remains however that in every single fishery that has been "rationalized" there ha been considerable consolidation. (I have no idea how the word "rationalized" applies here, but it is the common lingo for a fishery that is converted to an individual quota system with a fixed catch - e.g. you catch the fish you are allocated then you are shut down for the year. Rational?) Consolidation in other fisheries has followed the same path with an accumulation of permits and leased allocations among a few large players who can reap profits from economies of scale.

Economically, it all seems to make sense - until you see the loss of jobs, loss of communities, impact to the environment that goes along with "rationalization". As fisherman Mike Love of Portland, ME testified last week at the groundfish subcommittee hearing of the NEFMC, "Once the fleet is consolidated, there wont be any more fishermen at these meetings, you'll have lobbyists."


I'd also like to share some food talk/seafood love in this space. Last week I received Blackback Flounder, also known as Winter Flounder in my share. The fish was so fresh it was still in rigor mortise, which usually means it is less than 24 hours dead, usually quite a bit less than that. The fish smelled very clean with the scent of the ocean and no "fishiness" whatsoever.

I mentioned this to Steve T at CAFC and he told me that one of the flounder from that batch started flopping around when they went to bag it at Turner's so they threw it into the lobster tank. I guess that didn't last too long or well for the flounder, but it attests to the freshness of the fish we get.

My first standby recipe for thin fillets is usually just to saute the fillets in browned butter, a la Sole Meunier. I find this works great on our local Sole (aka Witch Flounder) as well as Yellowtail Flounder (which are my favorite CAFC seafood.) I served the flounder over a bed of Kale sauteed with garlic, onions and olive oil with some flavored salt
someone brought back from France for me, which says something like "Vianses Poissons" which according to my high school French means "Meat Fish". Its an amazing salt blend that makes any seafood sparkle.

I've never been a huge fan of Blackbacks for two reasons. One is that they sometimes taste dirty or muddy, especially in the spring. The other is that they can sometimes have a mushy texture. In the case of the browned butter the fillets were tasty, but the texture was not great.

So for my second attempt I made Baked Flounder with Tomato Caper Sauce. Its not unlike the recipe that was sent out in the reminder email. It came out great and is super easy to do. I skipped the anise/fennel because you either like fennel or you hate it. I hate it. I also laid the fillets flat so they would cook more quickly.

They cool thing about this recipe is that the texture problem was solved. The flounder blended so well with the tomato and the bread crumbs gave it just a touch of crunch. Sorry forgot to take pics as I was starving.

What have you been doing with your fish? Take some pics and we'll post your recipe/story/adventure.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The more things change...

There is a decent chance that some things will change in the coming year for fisheries management. At the very least we know that there will be some turnover in the NEFMC (New England Fisheries Mnagement Council) as several positions on the council including Chairman John Popallardo's hit their term limits. We also know that the lawsuit filed by the citites of Gloucester and New Bedford and joined by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts against the federal government and the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association will be heard this week.

Both of these things could shake up the current state of management...or they could just be more of the same.

Commercial fishing is one of the most heavily regulated industries in America. And, in my opinion one of the best examples of bad management leading to bad outcomes. One can make the case that the overfishing that is the crux of the problem for fishers and regulators is the direct result of management decisions to encourage fishing after the introduction of the EEZ. Low cost loans were given to fishermen to encourage them to replace the international factory boat fleet that was decimating our local waters. So they bought bigger better boats and caught all the fish.

Are we bound for a repeat? Current regulations have created an essentially unregulated commodities market for fish quota. In effect, an investor could come in and buy up all of the rights to fish. In fact this may be happening already. Since there is no regulation, it is impossible to know. Its a bit ironic given that fishermen face a web of regulations on a day to day basis in order to go fishing. Here is one firsthand account of what fishermen face. (There is some spicy language in that blog, so fair warning.)

There is an alternative, and there is a growing chorus from fishermen up and down the coast that the fundamental composition of the fleet is at stake. I've heard from fishermen from Maine to New York who were given such low allocations of fish that they cannot make a living. Leasing quota is possible, but also means that you make very little to no money.

For example, the current price for Cod quota is around $1.50 per pound. The ex-vessel prices for cod (the price fishermen get at the dock for their catch) varies between $2-$3. So fishermen who lease quota receive roughly half of what they do if they fish un-leased quota.

Meanwhile, the lessor of quota gets $1.50 a pound to do nothing, and benefits from a quota constrained market that has kept fish and quota prices high. The only vessels that can actually make money on leased quota are the larger vessels as their leasing costs are a smaller portion of their overall costs. In effect, yet another perverse regulatory incentive that favors the large vessels and the well capitalized at the expense of the smaller vessels.

There is a place for large vessels, but there should also be a place for the smaller vessels as well. Are we seeing the last of the dayboat fleet? Could be...unless something changes...

Monday, March 7, 2011

A new season dawns...

Welcome to yet another season of Cape Ann Fresh Catch. Part of our mission at Cape Ann Fresh Catch is to make sure that you are not only getting the freshest possible sustainable seafood, but also that we try to help explain some of the complex issues that make seafood, sustainability etc., such difficult topics.

This year has been a challenging one for fishermen in many ways. An entirely new system of rules was put in place last May called "catch shares". The system has, as expected, resulted in consolidation among the fleet. The unfortunate part of consolidation is that it is tending to favor the larger boats at the expense of the smaller day boats and the community based fishermen. In other words, the big boats are buying up all the quota and the little guys are still struggling. All this despite news that most of the stocks of groundfish are rebuilt.

Once again this May quota's will be given out, and fishermen will begin a new "fishing year." As if fishing were not hard enough, many fishermen are nearly out of quota, while it seems that others are holding on to quota to get a better price at the end of the fishing year. This has led to variability in landings, which some days very nearly no fish is landed in Gloucester.

So, it will be an interesting year as fishermen anticipate new higher quotas. Meanwhile, we'll be doing our best to continue to bring you the freshest seafood anywhere!

If you've been following this blog and are interested in more about some new thinking in fish science, there is a great interview with Ted Ames of the Penobscot East Resource Center about the connection between alewife runs in Maine rivers and the lack of ground fish in coastal Maine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The tide is always rising for NOAA press release

If you hang around fisheries long enough, you'll hear some pretty absurd things. One of the more absurd and obtuse things I've read recently is this press release from NOAA. Take the following quote as an example:
“Rebuilding economically valuable fisheries goes hand-in-hand with protecting fishing jobs and supporting coastal communities,” Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said.


“This is another instance of our continuing effort to use whatever flexibility is available to us to protect fishing jobs and the long-term vitality of local fishing communities as we continue rebuilding the valuable groundfish stocks in the Northeast,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
Sorry, but NOAA has done little to nothing to protect fishery jobs and they have had ample opportunity to do so. In fact they have publicly said they want to consolidate the fishery.

In this case they are allowing an increase in the Yellowtail Flounder Catch and saying they are doing it to preserve fishing communities. The sheer hypocrisy of these statements leads me to believe that they actually think people are stupid. When they talk amongst themselves, they are saying quite a different thing.

It would in fact be nice if NOAA could get behind efforts to ensure a diverse fleet and sustainable fisheries. One might think it would be an obvious choice to help create more jobs rather than eliminate them. One might think it would make sense to have a fleet that can provide higher quality product (like the fish we get at CAFC) while preserving and even creating fishing industry jobs.

But what if your aim is not really to protect fishing communities and a diverse fleet, but rather to create investment opportunities for the big wigs?

I can say however that there are folks working hard to actually preserve a diverse fleet and fishing communities. CAFC's Angela Sanfilippo has worked tirelessly for decades to support, protect and ensure the safety of the New England fleet.

Currently, NAMA (Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance) is pushing hard for new rules that will place restrictions on the rapid consolidation of fishing rights. It is an uphill battle. Those who have much to gain from a consolidated fleet are working around the clock to stave off any restrictions on their ability to buy up fishing rights.

If you have any interest at all in preserving a diverse fleet, now is a great time to speak up. You can let the decision makers at NOAA/NMFS/NEFMC acronymville that you care about a diverse fleet by doing a video testimony, submitting a written testimony or testifying in person at the next NEFMC meeting. If you would like to testify, please contact me and I will help you through the sometimes confusing process of getting NOAA to listen to real people.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Marine Spatial Planning

Last week, I mentioned that the idea of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is becoming the next big thing in fisheries management. At the most basic level the idea is akin to zoning laws on land.

The ocean, of course exists in three dimensions and many of the creatures in the ocean migrate from and through zones. However, the idea is that by taking what we know about the ocean we can make plans that will balance the desires to maintain and improve the ocean environment, extract resources from the ocean etc.

A frequent example used to explain how the concept works is the recent change to the shipping lanes approaching Boston Harbor to protect marine mammals, specifically whales, and in this case even more specifically, the North Atlantic Right Whale which is an endangered species. You can see from the image below how moving the channel can reduce the likelihood of a ship striking a whale.

In the image above (Example of the Potential Benefits of CMSP: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Photo Courtesy NOAA)) the dots represent Right Whales and the colors represent baleen whale densities.

Another example that can help explain MSP is how the Lobster Fishery is managed in Maine, where regional councils of fishermen set the rules for their "area". In this case they are managing a single species in a specific area as opposed to an entire eco-system, but the idea is the similar. In the case of the Maine lobster fishery, it is and has been one of the few examples of a prolific fishery that fishermen voluntarily chose restrictions to their catch to ensure the species would be around for future generations.

Some people argue that catch shares serve the same purpose in that giving fishermen a share of the fishery will encourage stewardship over the resource. However, the reality is that fishermen become stewards of the economic value of their share rather than stewards of the resource itself. They only have incentive to care about the resource when it would negatively affect the value of their share. Think of it like the difference between leasing a car and owning a car.

In general MSP does have a lot of potential as a means to deal with the ocean resources and competing interests, and the science to effectively do it is improving all the time. I always suggest reading some of Ted Ames' work on gaddiform populations in the Eastern Gulf of Maine as a way to understand how fish can fit into manageable areas.

Other News and Notes
I think it is about time to blow the lid off the cooking pot here at Cape Ann Fresh Catch blog. We started this blog because we want our members to be informed. Initially we felt that there were so many critical things happening in fisheries issues that we had a responsibility to inform and maybe educate a bit along the way.

However, most every time I talk to CAFCatchers (thats the new name I am giving to members, ) all we ever talk about is cooking fish and fish recipes. To that end, I would like to offer that anyone who would like to contribute an article, recipe, fish experience with the blog should please get in touch.

I am also in the process of trying to line up some guest columnists who can provide different takes on all things seafood.

Last but not least, remember to sign up for the spring season, and make sure to tell folks about CAFC!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Last week a reader asked me what I thought about the Obama administrations Ocean Policy Task Force. The task force was created to:
"strengthen(s) ocean governance and coordination, establishes guiding principles for ocean management, and adopts a flexible framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes."
Sounds good in principle. One of the common themes of failed regulation and management is that it tends to be reactive. We've seen this time and again with the NEFMC, which only tends to deal with issues after they are already a problem. And even then it can be argued that the NEFMC has failed to do much of anything that includes any kind of vision for how the coastal fishery can and should operate. For example, they could strive to become a model fishery that is sustainable, delivers the highest quality product and preserves jobs and coastal communities. But they dont.

So, on the heels of Massachusetts own spatial planning effort, it looks like the federal government is endorsing the concept of "marine spatial planning". Marine spatial planning is somewhat similar to zoning laws on land. The idea is to manage competing or in some cases conflicting interests. Well done, zoning can enhance the utility of a given space. And of course, there are often problems with bad zoning.

So, to start with, it seems that any attempt to get out in front of these issues with a long term plan and vision for our oceans is a step in the right direction. And, it seems that the first and foremost concern is protecting the environment, which as an oceans objective is certainly admirable. However it remains to be seen what this means specifically for fisheries. NAMA has long advocated for eco-system based management/marine spatial planning and area based management, which are all essentially different flavors of ice cream in the same cone.

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a big topic however and one that cannot be covered in one single blog post, however it is an important topic and so next week I'll delve into more detail about and what effect it might have on ocean management.

Dont forget to sign up for the spring season!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Day in the Life

Saving me the effort of typing it all up myself, South Coast today has an article on the recent history of fisheries management. It's a decent summary of what has happened and what has not happened, but I do think it fails to capture exactly what is going on on the docks. There is still a high degree of uncertainty for fishermen as the fishing year draws to a close. Recently several large quota holders expressed support for Catch Shares, while small owner-operators continue to struggle. Additionally smaller ports are losing out. According to data assembled by Aaron Dority from the Penobscot East Resource Center,
"...between 2009 and 2010, we’ve seen a shift in the types of vessels landing fish, and where those fish are landed. While we all acknowledge that new ACL’s needed to reduce catch across the board, small boats (under 50’) have experienced a far greater catch reduction (47% reduction of landings compared to 2009, as of Nov 30), while landings for boats over 50’ have increased 8%. Similarly, where those fish are being landed has changed. Maine (outside of Portland) is down 50% - I’m sure that much of that reduction is reflected in Port Clyde. New Hampshire landings are similarly down 50%."
This article, by Richard Gaines of the Gloucester Daily Times, talks in more detail about the lawsuit by the cities of New Bedford and Gloucester against NOAA, which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is trying to join. Curiously, a side note of this lawsuit is the Conservation Law Foundation's opposition to the Commonwealth joining the suit as well as opposing 'discovery' of emails between CLF and NOAA/NMFS. If one were a conspiracy theorist, one might wonder what they have to hide?

Well, some people think wind power is the driving force behind the desire to consolidate the fishing industry. One might think that fishing and wind turbines could co-exist. In Ireland there is a wind farm and you can walk and bike right around and between the turbines and listen to the sounds much like reams of paper being ripped apart as the blades slice through the air well overhead. Are we really the kind of country that can't find a way to balance competing needs?

Lastly, as the Coast Guard issues a frost warning this morning, one might keep in mind that fishing in New England in the winter is a hard way to make a living. I've been on boats in icing conditions, and its really amazing just how quickly a vessel can get covered in ice. One night returning from the North River in Scituate around this time of year on a small tugboat, an unexpected shift in the wind brought heavy increasing seas and heavy icing. The vessel quickly lost its smooth running style and started fighting the waves. We lost visibillity completely to the ice, and going up front to clear ice was out of the question as the seas mounted to 8-10 feet.

The vessel, a Duffy 31
quickly lost its smooth running characteristics and started heaving and lumbering through the waves. My mate on board and I struggled to make it to the lee of Nahant where the seas calmed enough that we could properly assess the icing. We were able to clear some ice, but with the wind NNE shifting to N then NNW, we were soon in calm seas on our way back to Salem Harbor. We'd taken such a beating it took several strong drinks to get the chill out of our bones. Nearly a month later my mate was still complaining that his knees hurt from the pounding we took that night.

As you enjoy your fish this week, spare a thought for the men and women who put their lives at risk to do the job they love to bring us the seafood we love. Enjoy and stay warm!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A recent spate of news about the state of our fisheries left me feeling genuinely conflicted. At first reading the headline:

Has overfishing ended? Top US scientist says yes

I was ecstatic. Finally the mainstream press is reporting what we have been hearing on the docks for a while now from fishermen. As our friend, Gloucester fisherman Joe Orlando says, "The story here is one of a success. We've rebuilt the stocks. But no one wants to hear about it." Now it would seem that the story is starting to emerge.

Yet as I read further I began to have mixed feelings. If the stocks are coming back, why are we still eliminating fishing jobs? If the stocks are healthy, why are the people that fish them still suffering? In the article there is a quote from Pete Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation,

Peter Shelley, senior counsel of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group, said the industry's problems are rooted in years of overfishing, especially during the 1980s, not regulation.

"It was a bubble," he said. "Fishermen were living in a bit of a fantasy world at that point, and it wasn't something you could sustain."

I could not disagree more with Mr. Shelley. Yes fishermen caught too many fish, that much we all know. But to suggest that it was fishermen living in a fantasy land of greed and plenty denies the real world economic and regulatory issues that led to the overfishing. It is a fact that regulations encouraged the growth of the fleet that resulted in overfishing.

The sad part is that now that there are supposed to be healthy stocks of fish, regulators are forcing policies designed to consolidate the fleet and eliminate jobs. The reality is that the shape and size of the fleet is a direct result of regulations and for some reason fisheries regulators are trying to consolidate the fleet at the expense of coastal communities and community based fishermen.

A second spate of news covered the rejection by the federal government of a request for emergency action to increase fishing quotas. It is not surprising that the request for emergency action was turned down. It would have in effect been admitting that the new regulatory scheme of catch shares is not working and that the science it is based on is not valid.

I am sorry to say that in all of this news, there is the conspicuous absence of any kind of discussion for a better, safer, greener, more sustainable fleet. The pieces are in place, you have recovered stocks, a still fairly diverse fleet (though that is changing rapidly) and an opportunity to build a success story in a fishery that many have left for dead ten years ago. The hard work is done, but perhaps the most difficult work remains.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Understanding Ecosystems from a Fisherman's Perspective

One of the great things about a Community Supported Fishery is how it connects people to the local eco-system. For most of us that live along or near the coast our connection to the ocean is going to the beach in the summer, or maybe boating. But these activities can only give us a glimpse of the ocean eco-system. Fishermen have a unique perspective of the ocean from their constant presence on it and their working in it.

One of the things you often hear from fishermen is about imbalances in the ecosystem. A recent article in my hometown newspaper is a great example of a fisherman's perspective.

“Twenty years ago, it was hard to find and catch a striped bass,” Michaud said. “Now, thanks to regulations, we have seen a massive explosion of these predators who arrive when the new crop of lobsters start to arrive in July.”

In the summer, the lobstermen used to be able to provide lovely soft-shell lobsters, but now the striped bass get them all. The bass, which can reach 4 feet in length, can eat their weight in lobsters every day and travel under the lobster boats, so when the shorts get thrown back into the water, they never make it to the bottom.

The other protected predators are dogfish or small sharks, a good-tasting fish, but now there are billions of them, leading Michaud to believe they are the predominant species in Massachusetts Bay. The problem with dogfish is that they eat everything: cod, lobster, even themselves.

Predation is a problem out of control, Michaud claimed.

“You will hear people talk about over fishing, but I have always felt it’s under fishing,” he said. “We are not allowed to catch the predators."

In this case, there is a direct connection between regulations and an eco-system imbalance. This is directly the result of single species management without consideration for how fish really behave as part of an integrated system. It sounds beyond obvious to say it, but fisheries regulators are reluctant to acknowledge that fish eat other fish, in addition to people eating fish!

Another point that strikes me from reading this article is that if we lose the fishermen who are part of our communities, we lose the connection to the eco-sysytem that fishermen provide. If a factory trawler comes and fishes an area, they have no connection to the community and consequently we lose our connection to the ocean. If we lose our communities connection to the ocean, will we care more or less about the health of the ocean? I suspect we will care less simply because we will know less.

One fisherman turned researcher is finding out some amazing truths about how ecosystems work. Ted Ames' research is painting a very clear picture of how we got to where we are, and more importantly how we can go forward with eco-system management to restore and enhance an enduring marine environment.

In the meantime, your support of a community supported Fishery is a great way to make sure there is support for small scale community based fishermen. Please encourage friends and seafood lovers to give it a try. We are always working hard to come up with more creative share plans, such as the Neptune's Choice share and the bi-weekly share. Let us know what works for you so we can better serve our seafood loving customers!