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.