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.