Edible New Hampshire Jul/Aug 2015 : Page 30
30 July/August 2015 edible SEACOAST
And So We Fish On
Words Christine Burns Rudalevige • Photos John Benford
Preserving the tenacious legacy of the New Hampshire fisherman
It doesn't really bother David Goethel that farmers, not fishermen, have been elevated to rock star status across the Seacoast's local food movement.
He just keeps fishing.
Goethel has weathered the vicissitudes of fortune as a New Hampshire fisherman from the helm of the Ellen Diane, the 44-foot dragger he's captained since he had her built in 1982. He's ridden the waves of ground fishery regulation; from the flow of past daily allowable catch rates to the ebb of current sector management schemes that apportion quotas to New England fisherman.
He keeps fishing.
Goethel engages in the physics of gear alteration allowing fishermen to catch what's legally allowed, and works to understand the confounding science of warming seas and stock replenishment patterns. He's managed the opposing rip tides of rising business costs and historical consumer disdain for any fish that's not cod, haddock, or flounder.
And still, he keeps fishing.
When asked why he continues, when so many other local fishermen have opted out in the wake of these mounting adversities, Goethel brings up Howard Blackburn. Blackburn was a Gloucesterian who, in 1883, was trawling for halibut in an open dory, when a sudden blizzard separated him from his mother ship miles off the Newfoundland coast. Blackburn did the only thing he could; he rowed for five days to mainland, without food or water, his hands frozen to the oars.
"You're always working against the elements," says Goethel. "You buy into that fact when you choose this life. The constant struggle breeds a fierce independence and an even fiercer will to live on doing what you love."
The fishing stocks of Isles of Shoals in the mid-1600s create a stark comparison to the current state of affairs. One finds accounts of codfish jumping into boats of their own accord, live lobsters left at low tide for the taking, and seriously gigantic sturgeon. As recent as the 1980s, New Hampshire fishermen landed between 10 and 12 million pounds of groundfish (cod, haddock, flounder) annually.
However, times have changed. In 2012, New Hampshire fisherman landed only 2.5 million pounds of groundfish, due in part to new quotas placed on cod. The cod quota was cut by 33% in 2013, by another 75% in 2014, and for 2015, the total limit comprises only a couple hundred pounds per permit. This is mainly in place to allow for some cod bycatch; ultimately, it gets pulled up in the nets set out to nab haddock and flounder.
"For most guys, surviving means diversifying what they fish for and how they sell it," says Erik Anderson, a 40 year veteran captaining the Kris'n'Kev, who himself turned away from netting groundfish to laying lobster traps about 15 years ago. Anderson says those who manage to stay in the business here have had to adapt.
Kurtis Lang, in his thirties, the youngest fishermen in the New Hampshire fleet, has been fishing since the age of seven. He captains the Alanna Renee, a 33-foot Novi out of Portsmouth Harbor. He and his crew went scalloping four days a week in late winter and early spring this year, switching over to lobsters for the summer, and hope to do some monk fishing in the fall. He sells his fish via conventional dealers and regional auctions but also participates in the New Hampshire Community Seafood (NHCS) program (www.nhcommunityseafood.com), a cooperative of fishermen that offers both a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) and a Restaurant Supported Fishery (RSF) program in which consumers or chefs pre-pay a set fee for a weekly, often mysterious, share of local catch between May and December.
"None of the outlets [we sell fish into] are keeping our heads above water by themselves, but collectively, they do help us keep putting one foot in front of the other," says Lang.
Ingenuity has played its part in the survival of the NH Fisherman. Portsmouth-based lobsterman Damon Frampton has developed a value-added product with Terra Cotta Pasta, lobster ravioli, to help pull in more revenue with the bugs he lands in his traps.
Padi Anderson is a mainstay of the fishing scene, running the land-based logistics of her Rye Harbor business, F/V Rimrack. Her husband, Mike, captains their boats: the Rimrack, Parental Guidance, and Madrigan. Anderson says selling scallops and formerly northern shrimp (which regulators have closed for two years now) directly from the boat have proven helpful in keeping the business afloat. Additionally, the family is pursuing squid and fluke on Cape Cod until mid-summer, after which they hope to return to Rye Harbor to resume fishing for herring, groundfish, and more scallops.
"We'll continue to fish for what we can for as long as we can because we fear, more than anything, that the fishing heritage of New Hampshire will soon be completely gone," says Anderson.
Slow Fish, an international campaign championed by the Slow Food movement since 2008, aims to support artisanal fishermen, the small day boat fishermen who stream in and out of New Hampshire harbors, promote "under-loved" species of fish such as mackerel, dogfish, herring, and cusk locally, and build community around good, clean, and fairly priced seafood.
Spencer Montgomery, Dover resident and Slow Food Seacoast board member, believes Seacoast consumers can help turn the tide for local fishermen. Montgomery suggests consumers should focus on local, underused, and more abundant species alternatives in the NH waters. He sees hope in the growing demographic happily making due with the limited bounty of the winter farmers' market season, and reserving fresh strawberries for when they can be purchased directly from their neighborhood farmer. Educating consumers is key, says Montgomery; local scallops aren't available in August, however there are a number of great NH-caught July and August fish alternatives. He encourages eaters to explore a "bio-diverse seafood plate" which includes all layers of the trophic scale from lower level seaweeds, to filter feeders such as clams, mussels, and oysters, herbivores like lobster, primary carnivores such as herring and mackerel, and lastly and sparingly, tertiary carnivores, like tuna and dogfish.
Knowing what is considered locally available seafood is admittedly not an easy prospect for consumers, acknowledges Montgomery. Most published charts meant to outline local species availability rarely reflect any regulations limiting local catch rates.
For example, the seasonality chart published by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension (nhseafood.com) states that cod is available between June and December. However, due to rigid catch limits, the cod in the grocery store fish case is much more likely to have been caught in Iceland. Eaters need to rely more on the personal connection with their fisherman or fishmonger.
"Look at the charts, yes. But talk to the person selling you the fish," advises Rimrack's Padi Anderson. "Push really hard on getting to know where it was caught and who caught it."
Rich Pettigrew, owner of Seaport Fish, a retail and wholesale company based in Rye, buys seafood directly from five local boats, the remainder of his stock from the regional auction in Boston. Pettigrew says the technology of seafood traceability, the gear and processes that fishermen use to record their catch, has made answering Anderson's proposed questions much easier. "Your retailer should be able to tell you the vessel the fish came off of and where that fisherman caught it," says Pettigrew.
An addiction to life on the water, despite the elements, just a boat, one's gear, and the gut to make a living wage, are the heart of this 400 year old fishing culture along the New Hampshire Seacoast. Currently, nearly every aspect of the New Hampshire commercial fishermen's livelihood, stock levels, technology and market pressures, are in flux, yet the mentality stays the same. Montgomery ponders as to whether the fiercely independent psyche of the fishermen or their general preference for the open sea versus a crowded marketplace will preclude their rise to rock star status. Given the long history of New Hampshire fishermen, it's safe to say, those that adapt, survive.
And they'll just keep fishing.
Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.sheridan.com/article/And+So+We+Fish+On/2037817/263277/article.html.