DMF director looks back at a tough fishing year and ahead to whale protections
Last year, when the pandemic sent fishery revenues crashing and had the industry on the rocks, Dan McKiernan, then acting director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, got a call from John Pappalardo.
“We have a big problem and we have got to do something about it,” Pappalardo, the chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, told McKiernan.
One of the things the state did right away was issue free retail permits, launching a dockside sales movement that caught on better than most imagined.
“I think John was real helpful in seeing the problems on the waterfront,” said McKiernan, who has since become director of DMF.
McKiernan told that story to a group of industry and community members gathered, via Zoom, for the annual meeting of the Fishermen’s Alliance February 3.
Building broader, institutional support for the local seafood movement
February is heart health month and well-known sustainable fish foodie and chef Barton Seaver has a friend who is a doctor and dean of the Tufts School of Nutrition. He passed along three top wellness tips:
“Wear your seatbelt, don’t smoke,eat more seafood.”
Seaver repeated that advice to a virtual crowd gathered for the “Farm to Institution of New England Seafood Summit” earlier this month.
The purpose of the summit, which featured Seaver and others who preach the gospel of seafood, was to showcase the importance of institutions in supporting local seafood producers, kelp and underutilized species.
The event highlighted the importance of local food initiatives, and emphasized the need for restaurants, hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities to help the region produce at least 50 percent of its food by 2060.
Fresh fish still coming in during freezing weather
We have gotten a lot of questions lately about whether fishermen fish in the winter. Absolutely they do. If the weather conditions are alright, which means not too windy (snow and bitter cold are no barrier) they’ll go. There is beauty on Cape, and off the shores of the Cape, at every given moment, but many of us are hunkered down and don’t get to experience it. That is why this gallery, full of photos all taken by fishermen, is a rare gift and a glimpse of the workaday world in winter of those who choose the sea over an office. We also hope it is another reminder to buy local fish.
“Ropeless” fishing is the hot new rallying cry when it comes to efforts to save the North Atlantic Right Whale from extinction.
The idea is to get rid of all vertical lines and buoys used to mark fishing gear like lobster pots, and replace them with remote, wireless, electronic equipment that signals underwater locations and releases a pop-up tag on command so gear can get retrieved.
It’s an appealing idea, high-tech, sophisticated, worthy of research. But before we go down this path, we need to be clear about a number of things:
No fisherman I know believes this will work in our environment.
Understand that these are fishermen ready to make serious sacrifices to protect whales; many have already done so. These are fishermen who understand conditions at sea, natural and manmade, better than anyone. These are practical, serious people. Anyone who ignores their wisdom is foolish. Anyone who believes fishermen don’t want to use ropeless gear out of stubbornness, or backwardness, or cheapness, is dead wrong -- not to mention insulting.
Know also that this technology is a long, very expensive way from being ready for primetime. Manufacturers of remote gear will no doubt welcome major grants and investments, public interest non-profits might well target well-intentioned funds for such work, and scientific researchers will pursue well-funded projects to explore the possibility. But real-life applications are years and millions of dollars away at best, with nothing resembling a guarantee of success.
In the meantime, whales remain endangered. Practical innovations and protections that help right here, right now, should be front and center in discussions and funding, not in danger of being forced to a back seat.
Everyone from local lobstermen to the New England Aquarium’s scientific team agrees that using “breakaway” line that parts at 1700 pounds of pressure is real, feasible, and protects whales from entanglements – they can swim right through it. Everyone agrees that we can continue to dramatically reduce the total number of vertical lines in the water to reduce risk. Everyone agrees that ship strikes are a major cause of whale injury and death; ropeless technology would not affect that in the least. Everyone agrees that climate change is shifting the habits of right whales, bringing them into new areas, leading to dangerous encounters that our local fishermen and regulators have learned to avoid.
Meanwhile, our historic fishing grounds are not a simplistic, single-minded place. Tens of thousands of men and women pursue a living there in different ways. Some drop pots on the bottom, some drag nets behind their boats, some play out lines with hooks, some line up gillnets. Strong currents and varied bottom create amazing dynamics. Without lines and buoys to serve notice where gear is set, what fishermen call “gear conflict” will become much more serious, leading to many more dangerous moments from running into and over different types of gear. “Conflict” is a polite term for the inevitable life-threatening and economically catastrophic confrontations.
The only way around this would be to zone and subdivide pretty much every fertile part of the ocean, and allow only one kind of fishing in one rectangle; the few places where experiments with ropeless technology have worked see only one kind of fishing in a broad area, like sequestered crab pots in deep water down South. No one believes that’s feasible in our waters, where fish move so fishermen must, where there is historic and vital varieties of effort.
The goal here is to save a species, not destroy a fishery and all the livelihoods it represents, nor subsidize experiments in cutting-edge technology. Given that, shouldn’t our efforts be much more focused on the whales themselves? We have spent millions of dollars and many years learning how to tag and track great white sharks; we can now say with certainty where hundreds of them are located at any one moment. There are fewer than 400 North Atlantic Right Whales left. Could we not use our amazing scientific and technological skill to track them, further hone our protection on them?
We have been doing that for years now, and we have had success. The tragic loss of more than a dozen of these whales a few years ago is what led to this crisis; those deaths took place because of entanglement with very thick Canadian fishing gear in locations that had never before seen right whales. In response, Canadians moved quickly to change their fishing practices to align with what we already do, which makes great sense: For at least a decade, we do not know of a single right whale entanglement with local lobster gear.
Ropeless technology is just one of a score of approaches. It may be the most appealing to people looking for a sleek new solution, but it’s not the best or most practical alternative, and here’s a guarantee: It won’t save any whale anytime soon, and we don’t have the luxury of decades of trial and error.
If people want to think about this and study it for the long term, great. Just don’t substitute this unproven, expensive technology for the wisdom and sacrifice of fishermen who know better, and want to be part of the solution rather than becoming, like the whales, another casualty.
What’s Meet the Fleet? A unique event that brings together fishermen and chefs to share their passion for what they catch, and what they cook. We have been hosting these fun and informative events for more than ten years now. Guests are invited to join via Zoom to be part of an intimate discussion with our guest speakers and to cook along with the chefs. Time and again we hear from attendees how in awe they are of the fishermen and their work, their vast knowledge that extends to various fisheries as well as emerging technologies and markets. Last year we added a cooking component and guests are able to pick up fresh ingredients prior to the event. We have planned four of these for 2021 and hope you will join us to brush up on seafood cooking skills, while learning more about the fishing industry from men and women who know it first-hand. The next Meet the Fleet is set for the end of March and details on how you can register are posted here.
Going virtual has some benefits. Like being able to play Bingo on a Wednesday night in February with 45 people -- finding new ways to connect and share our work has been challenging and rewarding. Thank you to everyone who played February 10 and who are committed to supporting our work throughout the year, while also having some fun. Congratulations to three winners of virtual Bingo - Mike B. of Cape Cod, Anna D. of Western Massachusetts and Carolyn S. of California. We are grateful to you all.
It may be cold today, but August is less than six months away. Hookers Ball XX plans are moving along and we are prepared to create another memorable celebration. What started as a backyard fish fry 20 years ago grew to become one of the most beloved summer events on Cape Cod, complete with 700 guests under the big white tent. Determined to find ways to keep the tradition going, we are excited to unveil this year’s theme soon. In the meantime, mark your calendar for Saturday, August 7.
Ready for some fitness fun? We have 15 bibs as part of the “Numbers for Nonprofits” Program with the Asics Falmouth Road Race scheduled for August 15. Now is the perfect time to start some training if you want to run for a good cause! Stay tuned for details or contact Brigidif you are interested.
On the Water
Ever wonder how a boat, or a fish, got its name? Want the word on what people are catching --- or how to cook it?
After nearly a decade on the board of the Fishermen’s Alliance, more than half of that time as chair, Captain Nick Muto stepped down this month.
“It’s been great to work with Nick. He has put nine, long, hard years into digging deep on the details with me and supporting the organization and the staff, going above and beyond,” said Chief Executive Officer John Pappalardo. Muto found time to promote the work and mission of the Fishermen's Alliance while running two successful fishing businesses and supporting the next generation. He is always willing to talk about the work of the nonprofit and the industry as a whole, whether it be in national organizations or local schools. He will continue to serve as a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Large Whale Take Reduction Team, stepping back into a seat held by Captain Rob Martin, who did a tremendous amount of work during a time of crisis. We appreciate Martin’s time and energy, profit from his leadership and value his ongoing research.
Term limits require board members to step off; Pappalardo said he is hoping to make use of Nick’s experience, energy and commitment going forward.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
Anyone who harvests, grows or eats shellfish (isn’t that everyone?) should be thankful to the Massachusetts Shellfish Initiative (MSI) Task Force. The task force, among other accomplishments, has developed a draft strategic plan now out for public comment. The draft plan is meant to enhance the economic, environmental, and social benefits of shellfish resources to the state’s residents. Clickhere for the public notice. Comments are due by March 5.
Thanks to Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr, Representative Dylan Fernandes from Falmouth and the islands, and others on the state Commission on Ocean Acidification, which released a report earlier this month on how to fight back against a rapidly acidifying ocean, which threatens a $400 million a year shellfish industry and the coastal economy. Read the report.
Although delayed a year because of COVID, Dan McKiernan, director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, was the guest speaker at our annual meeting this month. McKiernan and his staff have done much to support the fisheries, especially during COVID. To read about the meeting check out the story in our emagazine.
On the Hook
We do a lot of reading, searching through the wide world of fisheries, and often find intriguing pieces to share. In the old days, you might call this your clipping service.
There has been some confusion over whether Vineyard Wind’s letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management withdrawing its construction plan meant the project is dead in the water. It doesn’t. Read more here.
According to this story, ropeless technology, which some argue is key to protecting the endangered right whales, could cost upwards of $70,000 per fishermen and be at least five years away. So even the most optimistic assessments of this experimental technology suggest no immediate help. Fortunately it isn’t an either/or situation; breakaway lines have been scientifically proven, mandated by the state and lobstermen are using them now. To read about our CEO John Pappalardo's position on ropeless technology check out John's Over the Bar.
Good news on scup! People in this office have always felt that scup aren’t getting enough love and attention. This may be the moment. We will have to get more recipes together. Here is one from Eating With the Ecosystem.