Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Revisiting the “Sea Grant Extension Exchange Program” with an Exchange between New Hampshire & Louisiana Sea Grant

One of the greatest things about being part of Sea Grant is that we are instantaneously a part of a nation-wide network where colleagues from all of the 33 Sea Grant programs can function as resources for one another.  But here is the reality- it is rare that we DO use each other as resources, mostly because we are focused on our work in our own states and regions and it is counter-intuitive to reach out to colleagues from across the country. It is also rare that we get to interact with each other in person on a regular basis- oh we have Sea Grant Week and Regional Sea Grant meetings and some of us have been lucky enough to go through Sea Grant Academy but how often do we really connect after these events are over?  The Sea Grant network in theory is a valuable resource IF we can tap into it and if we KNOW what is happening in each of our programs. 

With this in mind and as an example of what can happen when we get together at events such as Sea Grant Academy, a few of us newly minted Academy 2013 grads realized that we were doing similar programming and that it might be worthwhile to visit each other to learn more. Thus, over dinners and drinks Twyla Herrington, Alan Matherne  (both from Louisiana Sea Grant) and myself, thought the idea of a “Sea Grant Exchange” where Sea Grant agents from other programs would host each other for several days and have them see and participate in what they do in their daily Sea Grant jobs and in so doing see if any programming can be adaptable and implemented in their home programs.

Of course such ideas also need some financial backing which got us thinking about what it would entail to get it up and running which is still a big question and a hurdle.  However, as we continued to talk about other things such as direct marketing of seafood and our work with the fishing industry an idea came to mind that could make the first “exchange” plausible. Alan and others from Louisiana Sea Grant were putting together the second annual Louisiana Fisheries Summit in the Spring of 2014 and Twyla was organizing a Crab Workshop series around the same time. Both of these events were similar to things that I was thinking about in some form or other for New Hampshire (instead of crabs, lobsters) and I really thought it would be beneficial- even if I paid for it myself- to attend one or both of these events.  When I returned back to work, I spoke to my supervisor and other colleagues about this “exchange” and all said it would be a great opportunity but I would need to figure out a way to make it happen because there was no money for that sort of thing.

In November, Alan sent me a draft agenda of the Summit and suggested that perhaps I could contribute to the agenda by giving a talk or a poster to not only justify the trip but also to be an active participant.  We decided that some of my work dove-tailed nicely with the Direct Marketing of Seafood portions of the agenda and Alan invited me to give a presentation on “Professional Fisheries and Direct Marketing of Seafood- the East Coast Experience” and then invited Pete Granger from Washington Sea Grant to give a similar talk from the West Coast.

Now the only thing to do was to solve the question of how to fund this trip.  I would like to say that Sea Grant and UNH threw money at me and paid my way, but that is not what happened. Rather, I was lucky enough to have a little reserve fund that my supervisor said I could tap into if I thought this “exchange” was worth it and Twyla and I figured out places to stay that were free (read- family and friends and other colleagues). 

The entrance to Stella Plantation, Plaquemines Parish, LA
Fast forward to March 10th, 2014 and I am on a plane to New Orleans.  Twyla Herrington went above and beyond (in my opinion) as my LA SG guide and kept true to the spirit of the exchange.  Thanks to Twyla and her husband’s truck, I spent 5 amazing and truly valuable days as an honorary LA SG marine agent!  Twyla took me on all her daily duties, which included listening to some of her phone calls and requests from her stakeholders and fishermen. For example, I did not know that as Sea Grant agents, we could be called upon to find out information on bait types and prices, or that speaking to insurance providers was on our list of services. In addition, I got to tour her office at the LA AgCenter building in Belle Chasse, LA. Twyla covers Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes, two of the parishes that were greatly affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and that have a large shrimping and crawfish fishing industry. I tagged along with Twyla and met some of her “clients” including an owner of an incredibly beautiful Plantation, Stella Plantation, which she works with because of her ecotourism programming. She took me to the shrimp docks and onto a boat that was being refitted into a charter boat and I got to hear plans about a lake being built on a farm so that crawfishing (as a venture into ecotourism) could occur. I also learned that her “people” really trust her and depend on her. They have her cell phone number (which pinged constantly with emails or texts) and they really do use her as the great resource that she is!

Crayfish pots 
Shrimp boat docks, Plaquemines Parish, LA
The Peruga- a shrimp boat being retro-fitted for ecotourism usage.

G. Bradt speaking at the Louisiana Fisheries Summit
 On Wednesday, March 12, we left New Orleans and drove a few hours southwest to Houma, LA to the convention center where the Fisheries Summit was being held for the next two days. What struck me the most about this event was the number of LA fishermen that attended, over 300 over the course of the two days and the number of Sea Grant agents as well as representative of LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).  Granted, I am comparing this to my small NH fisheries, but I was still impressed at the participation, especially from fishermen. The Summit itself was a wealth of information, a lot, obviously, was centered around LA specific  issues such as the state of the crab and shrimp industries and much was centered on direct marketing of Louisiana seafood. But there were also sessions about seafood safety and handling, vessel safety, gear and refrigeration just to name a few. In addition, there was a small trade show featuring the US Coast Guard, Banks, LDWF and direct marketing efforts such as Louisiana Seafood. 

The Summit for me was a great learning experience especially with regard to direct marketing and ecotourism  but more importantly it was a chance to talk  and meet other members of the Gulf seafood industry and fellow Sea Grant colleagues such as Julie Anderson whom I have worked with on marine debris issues, Pete Granger (WA SG), John Bell, John Supan (aka “Sup”), Julie Falgout, Thu Bui, Carol Franze, Lauren Land and Thomas Hymel. It was great hearing about their work and how they have tackled similar issues in Louisiana as my colleagues and I are encountering here in New Hampshire. It was really exciting to know that our network, really truly is a rich resource for all of us. I can now say, that I am comfortable picking up the telephone and calling these fellow Sea Grant agents if I have questions or just referring them to other people, because I now have an idea of what they can offer both in knowledge and experience.  

Fellow Sea Granters, Lauren Land and Twyla Herrington
After the Summit, Twyla and I headed south to Grand Isle to visit John Supan who is the director of the Sea Grant Oyster Hatchery and got a full tour of the operation down there –although it was shut down for the season and hadn’t started back up.  It was a beautiful location and talking with “Sup” made me start thinking about another version of the “exchange” which would involve spending a week on Grand Isle learning the tools of the oyster culture trade from one of the best in the field and would be “Professional Development Camp” for Sea Grant!

Entrance to Grand Isle, LA
John Supan, Director of the LASG Oyster Hatchery and Twyla Herrington

Oyster grow out cages
The LASG Oyster Hatchery residence, Grand Isle, LA.

All in all, I came back to New Hampshire with a head full of ideas and resources and potential additions to our program, new friends, contacts and potential collaborators in the future. This was exactly what we hoped this exchange would do and I am looking forward to hosting LA Sea Grant as the next leg of the “exchange”. It is our hope that this will garner some well-deserved publicity and backing from Sea Grant and that it becomes a formalized opportunity for other Sea Grant agents to take advantage of.

You can read a story about this exchange program. 

- Dr. Gabby Bradt
Fisheries Extension Specialist, NH Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Planning for the 2014 fishing season: marketing efforts for local seafood

Seacoast fishermen and individuals connected with local seafood sales recently convened to discuss ways to integrate their local marketing efforts in the coming year.

2013 was a year of transition for many associated with the commercial fishing industry, yet the year also offered some hope for those willing to strategize new marketing methods and diversify their fishing efforts. N.H. Sea Grant produced a video summarizing the 2013 marketing effortsand another video about the lobster band project and its connection with marinedebris removal.

The most recent fisheries meeting, facilitated by Erik Chapman, NHSG/UNHCE commercial fisheries specialist, took place on Monday, March 10th from 6-8 p.m. at the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth, N.H. The attendees began by discussing the latest news regarding dogfish. Despite their abundance in the Gulf of Maine waters, dogfish are not a sought-after species in the U.S., and thus fishermen do not receive much money for catching them. The lack of a domestic market coupled with the difficulty of processing dogfish — there is currently only one processor in New England that will take dogfish, and most fishermen say it’s not worth their time to process dogfish themselves aboard their boats — means that it will likely continue to be a challenge to capitalize on this resource.

Charlie French, UNHCE associate professor of social science, presented information from his N.H. Sea Grant-funded research regarding alternative seafood marketing to the meeting attendees, including more information about dogfish marketing. You can read more about this research.

Next, attendees provided updates about their fisheries-related efforts and initiatives:

·         Although farmer’s markets do not provide much additional income for fishermen who bring their seafood there, farmer’s markets do provide an educational opportunity to help build consumer awareness about their products and this may ultimately translate into word-of-mouth advertising. Most of the attendees agreed that selling their products at farmer’s markets were therefore worthwhile.

·         The N.H. Community Seafood CSF will operate once again this year, and they are hoping to deliver fresh seafood further inland in the Granite State. The CSF would like to deliver to more restaurants this year.

·         There is a demand, particularly in the summer months, for clear and concise information about what fish to buy, where to buy it and what restaurants carry local seafood.

·         Amanda Parks, a UNH senior, is developing a SmartPhone app called the “Seacoast Seafood Locator” as part of a capstone class project. The app would provide information including seafood retail markets, the types of local fish that are available, and when different species are available throughout the year. Amanda hopes to include other features, including cooking tips, recipes, nutrition information, and a GPS locator to guide app users to the nearest market. She hopes to have the app completed sometime this year.

·         Spencer Montgomery, also a UNH senior, asked UNH Dining Services if they would be willing to offer local seafood on their dining hall menus regularly. The university is interested in doing so and will begin a 6-8 week pilot to test the long-term feasibility of this decision in the near future.

·         Local lobstermen are interested in changing the laws that make frozen lobster tail meat illegal in N.H.—it’s legal to sell it in Maine and Massachusetts. They would also like to be able to sell the knuckle and claw meat.

·         Yankee Fishermen’s Co-Op employees are trying to develop a breaded pollock fillet to sell in frozen form to Seacoast pubs and restaurants.

In addition to these updates, the group agreed to host another Seafood Kickoff in 2014 similar to what was held last year. Stay tuned as plans for the 2014 commercial fishing season unfold over the coming months.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NH Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension Helping Fishermen Adapt Through Innovative GEARNET Program

A floating cod pot serves as a backdrop for a reflection on the 'GEARNET experience'

Erik Chapman and Gabby Bradt, Fisheries Extension Specialists at NH Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension are working with regional fishermen, fisheries scientists, net manufacturers and managers to help fishermen develop gear that improves their bottom-line and protects the marine ecosystem.  Surrounded by gear and project results posters from GEARNET projects, around 30 attendees gathered last weekend with GEARNET project leaders at the Maine Fishermen's Forum to hear an overview of results from the 35 GEARNET projects that have been developed since 2010.   Details on gillnet results were also presented followed by a discussion on lessons-learned and overall contribution of the project more broadly to efforts to improve and support the fishing industry's capacity to adapt to a changing world.....read more at:  http://www.gearnet.org/blog.html

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Helping shellfish growers succeed: A workshop on best management practices

The nascent Great Bay oyster farm industry has been picking up speed in recent years, growing to eight current farms and garnering the interest of local foodies. Many of these farmers are entirely new to the process, trying to navigate the complexities of starting a new business without a lot of background knowledge that might help streamline some of their operations.

Following on the heels of last autumn’s roundtable discussion about opportunities and challenges for Great Bay oyster farmers, shellfish growers from Maine and N.H. attended a recent discussion about best management practices on shellfish farms. The workshop was held at the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth, N.H., on Jan. 28th and was sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension, N.H. Sea Grant, the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, the N.H. Farm Service Agency and Extension Risk Management Education — Northeast Center. Researchers, extension specialists and industry experts presented information to the workshop attendees about methods to guide their business plan, minimize their risks and possibly improve their revenues.

Marketing local seafood and telling the story

Charlie French, UNH Cooperative Extension professor, shared the results from his NHSG-funded research on alternative seafood marketing. His research indicated that although consumers place importance on local seafood, simply being local isn’t enough, he said. People are only willing to pay a premium if the seafood is of high quality. That means taking utmost care to keep the shellfish cold from harvest to point of sale.

Some of the shellfish growers in the audience noted that they sell their product at farmer’s markets. French said that while they might not sell a lot of volume at that venue, farmer’s markets are great places to generate a buzz about their product and learning who grows their food. He encouraged the growers to tell their story, let the public get to know the farmers and their food, and collaborate with other people and organizations who want to promote that story.

Shellfish growers forming a united front

The last time these shellfish growers met, there was discussion about the potential to form a co-op. Michael Chambers, NHSG/UNHCE  marine aquaculture specialist, asked if the growers had discussed this any further in the time since that meeting. A few of the growers spoke up, saying they felt that a co-op was unnecessary, but that a loosely formed organization would be beneficial to help promote Great Bay oysters, present a unified front, work together to lobby for change in shellfish management decisions, but yet retain individual control over each of their companies and products.

Crop Disaster Assistance

One major decision the shellfish growers face is whether or not to apply for crop insurance. Linda Grames, program specialist from the N.H. Farm Service Agency spoke to the group about the USDA noninsured crop disaster assistance program. Although oysters aren’t technically covered under regular crop insurance, this program would provide financial assistance to shellfish growers who experience a significant loss of their crop due to weather-related events, including long spells of bitter cold weather and ice that wreak havoc on oyster farms. Disease outbreaks like Dermo and MSX would have to be linked to a weather event, such as drought, in order for oyster farmers to receive reimbursement for crop loss.

Insurance for crop revenues

Michael Sciabarrasi, UNHCE agricultural business management specialist, discussed adjusted gross revenue policies — a type of insurance that protects against variability in crop revenues due to natural disasters or market fluctuations. Because this program requires five years of production, most of the nascent Great Bay oyster farms do not currently qualify. However, Sciabarrassi noted that this type of insurance might be a worthwhile investment in the future. Managing risks will lessen the impact of catastrophic losses and reduce income variability, he said.

Farm management plans and best management practices

Three representatives from the East Coast ShellfishGrowers Association spoke to the workshop attendees about the importance of developing farm management plans and adhering to best management practices (BMPs). Gef Flimlin, Kathy Rhodes and Sandy MacFarlane of ECSGA explained that BMPs are a basic code of conduct — in the case of shellfish growers, BMPs could include items such as check your gear often, clean up any fuel spills you cause, use appropriate methods to control biofouling on the gear, help educate the public, and be good neighbors to other growers and nearby landowners. The ECSGA has already established a list of BMPs that local growers can adopt. These BMPs offer another advantage: they indicate the appropriate steps to take if a grower runs into trouble with a Vibrio outbreak or predator issues on their farms. If a grower is following the BMPs for the entire East Coast shellfish industry, it will demonstrate that they are operating their business in a responsible manner, Rhodes said.

MacFarlane spoke to the attendees about developing a farm management plan — an operating manual that documents how growers run their farm practices. A farm plan includes BMPs in its operations manual and helps minimize growers risks, placing them in a better position to receive funds through loans or crop insurance. It will also demonstrate to consumers that the shellfish grower is committed to environmental stewardship and a healthy product.

Thorough record-keeping is imperative

Throughout their presentation, the ECSGA representatives stressed the importance of good record-keeping. Flimlin suggested that the growers should purchase a temperature logger to place on their equipment so they can keep track of the water temperatures throughout the year. Using a secchi disk can help determine water clarity, he said, and it’s a good idea to record, either in written format or voice recording on a smartphone, the general conditions of their gear, how many juvenile oysters they stocked and anything else the growers notice while on their site and checking their crop. 

For more information about these topics, please contact Michael Chambers at michael.chambers@unh.edu.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A focus on local, sustainable food at Rogues Experience

The Rogues Experience at Redhook Brewery on Jan. 11th provided an evening of seafood tastings and a screening of a new television show dedicated to local food.

Above: Local lobstermen, oyster farmers, and representatives from N.H. Fresh and Local Seafood and Taylor Lobster were at the Rogues Experience event to help educate the public about local seafood.

The upcoming culinary adventure travel show, Rogues on the Road, features locally produced/caught/foraged food and drinks. The two hosts of the show, Matt Frohman and Rich Marshall, introduced their pilot episode that was filmed in Banff, Alberta, Canada, followed by footage featuring N.H. lobstermen and oyster farmers that may become a future episode.

The event provided an opportunity for attendees to sample food and drinks featuring a Seacoast ingredient: softshell lobster. Redhook Brewery provided their Black Lobstah Lager, made from locally sourced softshell lobsters and oysters. Chefs from nine restaurants prepared lobster BLTs, risotto, tarts and many other creations to showcase the sweet flavor of softshell lobsters caught near the Seacoast.

Softshell lobsters tend to be easier to prepare for menu items because they lack a hard shell, and many chefs and consumers have indicated that softshell lobsters are more flavorful and succulent than hardshell lobsters.

Softshells are also more abundant than hardshells, particularly in warmer months, but lobstermen receive lower prices for them. Many lobstermen have expressed concern about this, noting that the high costs of fuel and bait coupled with low prices for softshells mean they are barely breaking even financially.

Representatives from Taylor Lobster Company, N.H. Fresh and Local Seafood, Fat Dog Oyster Company and the Seacoast Science Center attended the event to help educate the public about local seafood and healthy marine ecosystems.
For more information about local seafood, please visit www.nhseafood.com.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Growing blue mussels and reducing nutrients in N.H. waters

N.H. fishermen have been actively involved in raising steelhead trout just off the coast from Fort Constitution at the mouth of the Piscataqua River for the past two years. But the trout aren't the only living organism growing in the pens -- sugar kelp and blue mussels, both species that occur naturally in the Gulf of Maine, have been growing on the mooring lines for the trout nets. N.H. Sea Grant marine aquaculture specialist Michael Chambers said the kelp and mussels both help extract nutrients from the river and from the trout in the underwater nets. 

Tiny blue mussels, called “spat,” were collected from the wild and seeded on 4 m lines suspended around the trout cages. As filter feeders, they remove particulate matter and nutrients from the water surrounding the cages and coming in from the river. The mussels were raised to 40-60 mm before they were stocked in modified lobster pots by the seven N.H. fishermen that assist with the daily care and maintenance of the steelhead trout and their cages.


Last October, the fishermen placed the mussels in the lobster pots and moved them to deeper offshore waters to grow during the winter. After six months at sea, the mussels can be harvested and sold to local markets, providing additional revenue to the fishermen who are helping out with this project.