Thursday, July 24, 2014

Helping aquaculture grow in N.H.

It may not be as historically prevalent as groundfishing, but aquaculture is quickly becoming an important part of the local seafood scene in New Hampshire. This relatively new venture for many fishermen who are seeking ways to supplement their income or transition to a new job comes with its own set of challenges, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking ways to help fishermen overcome those challenges and advance aquaculture initiatives in New England.

Two dozen N.H. fishermen, shellfish farmers, UNH researchers and others involved in fisheries and aquaculture efforts attended a discussion on July 17 at the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex in New Castle, N.H., that focused on challenges and opportunities related to aquaculture. David Alves, Northeast Regional Coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Aquaculture and John Bullard, Northeast Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, were also in attendance to find out about N.H. aquaculture first-hand and offer guidance where possible.

“Aquaculture allows us to create food and jobs, both of which are very worthwhile goals,” Bullard said. “Aquaculture holds a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s people thinking outside the box and engaging in new ways of doing things.”

Bullard and Alves began the discussion by first asking the group, “What limits the growth and development of aquaculture right now?”

“You’re the ones living it every day, and you know what makes your job harder,” Bullard said. “I need to know what those are so I can help make your job easier.”

Attendees spoke at length about their challenges. Sourcing the aquaculture equipment is a challenge for some of the shellfish farmers, particularly those working in offshore environments where the gear needs to withstand deep water and large waves while remaining economical to purchase. Many of the shellfish farmers and aquaculturists said their gear is made in other countries as far away as New Zealand, making it harder to acquire and return if it does not meet their needs.

Pete Flanagan, co-operator of a mussel farm near the Isles of Shoals, said the permitting process is a big hurdle for aquaculturists working in federal waters.

Alves posed a question to the group: “If the permitting process was more transparent, if you know you’ll get a permit in a year, would that help?” Richard Langan, director for the UNH Coastal and Ocean Technology Programs, said transparency in the permitting process could help ease some of the burden, but aquaculturists would need to see some “success stories” to be able to buy into it.

Michael Chambers, NHSG/UNHCE marine aquaculture specialist, added that demonstration projects have tremendous potential to help by testing the gear technology and vetting the permitting process.

Following this discussion, Erik Chapman, NHSG/UNHCE commercial fisheries specialist, spoke to the group about the myriad community collaborations involved in local seafood marketing. The N.H. Fresh and Local Seafood brand, the community supported fishery, off-the-boat sales, and new value-added seafood products are all efforts that help to bring awareness of and access to N.H. seafood and provide fishermen with a fair, stable price for their products.

Alves asked if those seafood marketing efforts could be scaled up for N.H. seafood to reach markets further away, perhaps in the Midwest. Chapman said it’s possible and cited Alaska seafood products as an example of locally branded seafood that is sold all over the world.

N.H. fisherman Erik Anderson asked Bullard and Alves how NOAA and NMFS might be able to help with local aquaculture efforts in more tangible ways. Bullard provided some suggestions for possible grant funding sources that fishermen could tap into. The Economic Development Administration offers loans and grants to communities and private businesses; this might be a good place to start when searching for funding to establish or retrofit a processing facility that can handle more N.H. seafood, he said. Money from the federal disaster declaration of the Northeast U.S. groundfish stocks could be tapped into to help out-of-work ground fishermen transition over to aquaculture, he added.

Some of the challenges faced by Great Bay oyster farmers, mussel longline aquaculturists andt he fishermen raising trout and kelp in pens in the Piscataqua River involve permitting issues in state-regulated waters. Bullard and Alves offered some suggestions and noted that they can help in the consultation process with permits in state waters, and have been working to streamline the federal side of this process. NOAA is also concentrating on the permitting process in federal waters - areas beyond three miles off the coast.

Bullard closed the discussion by noting the fiscal climate does not allow for funding of all the aquaculture needs in New England, but if fishermen think creatively, they can find opportunities for growth in aquaculture endeavors.

“We’re trying to build a case for aquaculture in an environment where aquaculture is sort of new,” Bullard said. “This is how we’re going to meet our goals.”

Above: Meeting attendees take a look at the steelhead trout aquaculture pens at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Local seafood makes a splash at Sustainable Seafood dinner at UNH

Last night, Wednesday April 16th, we had the pleasure of participating in UNH Dining's Sustainable Seafood dinner event. We had our outreach and educational materials on display and were right in the midst of the action (Check out our new Instagram to see some of the pictures of the event!) The event was part of UNH's 6-week pilot project to bring locally harvested seafood into their dining halls and exposing the students to several seasonally available species that they may not be familiar with.  David Hill, UNH Dining Assistant Director, Culinary Operations has stated that making more local seafood available to the students is a natural next step as part of UNH Dining's commitment to locally sourced foods*. Additionally, Hill says that bringing education to the students about our local fisheries is in keeping with the overarching education mission of UNH*.

UNH Dining in collaboration with NH Sea Grant, The Sustainability Institute and Slow Fish UNH, held the dinner at Holloway Commons and featured new and different menu items such as skate wing tacos, fried redfish, seafood ceviche, locally grown kelp, local scallops, oysters and lobster dishes.  Deb Scanlon, an Area Manager at Holloway Commons said that around 3100 students were served last night and that the feedback has been very positive.   

As part of the event, the Holloway Commons staff, NH Sea Grant and Slow Fish UNH helped to create, gather, and set up the "decor". One of the most popular decorations was the " Catch a Redfish" photo "set" which consisted of a giant cardboard cut-out of a redfish and fishing pole on a dock and students lined up to have their picture taken. NH Fresh and Local Seafood T-shirts were also featured throughout the dining hall; many of the servers and other staff members wore them and they looked great! It was a great way to spread the word about the NH Fresh and Local Seafood Brand. One of our local lobstermen, Damon Frampton out of Portsmouth, lent UNH Dining some lobster traps and buoys and even though we tried to get a real dinghy, the Holloway staff was creative and decided to just build their own! 

Several representatives from the fishing industry were also available for the event including fisherman David Goethel from the F/V Ellen Diane, Jared Auerbach from Red's Best- a Boston-based seafood processor , Padi Anderson from F/V Rimrack, NH Community Seafood and Ocean Approved Kelp. 

Finally, one of the most rewarding and significant moments of the event came when UNH President Mark Huddleston,  Jon Plodziak, Director of Dining-UNH Dining Services, and Executive Chef Chris Kaschak signed onto committing to the Slow Fish International Principles.

This is significant because UNH Dining has agreed to actively support the local fishing community by sourcing and serving local seafood to its students and guest as well as purchasing seasonally available local seafood. Even more significant, however, is the commitment that UNH Dining has made to negotiate prices that are mutually beneficial to our local fishing community and to UNH dining. This commitment could have significant consequences to our local fishing community as UNH is one of the largest food purchasers in the state. In fact, on a weekly basis in Holloway Commons alone- an average of 500 lbs of fish are purchased and served to students. If you combine that with the other two dining halls, you are looking at a potentially consistent, higher-value market for NH Fresh and Local Seafood for our local fishermen. Additionally, UNH Dining has also committed to providing education and awareness of local seafood to its guests which supports NH Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension's efforts in this area. Reaching this demographic can have far reaching effects on the the future of NH fisheries especially if they begin to demand more and more local seafood.

** All photos courtesy of G. Bradt, NH Sea Grant

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 more at:

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