Sunday, December 9, 2012

Steelhead Splash!

NH grown steelhead trout are now available at Seaport Fish and Sanders in Portsmouth, NH. The trout were grown as part of a NH Sea Grant project teaching fishermen how to culture trout and mussels together on floating rafts in the Piscataqua River. The mussels grow naturally onto fuzzy rope suspended around the rafts and take a year until harvest size (about 55mm).
They are bio filters and absorb nutrients from the river and the trout. Fishermen can conduct aquaculture while fishing to supplement their income. This sort of ‘diversification’ of business by fishermen is critical given unpredictable markets, ecosystems and management associated with today’s fisheries. Currently, eight fishermen are participating in daily feeding and weekly harvesting of the fish.
The trout were transferred into the sea cages from Sumner Brook Trout Farm in Ossipee, NH in June. They were 150g then and are now between 1.5-2kg. Customers purchasing the trout like the quality, taste and fact that they are raised locally. Trout will be available until January with the hopes of continued production next spring. For more information, contact Michael Chambers @

Thursday, October 25, 2012

From the trawl to the table

What does it take to get fish from the trawl net to the dinner table? Hint: a whole lot more than simple transit logistics these days.

The Trawl to Table event held Oct. 23rd at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H. offered the chance for chefs, restaurant owners, fishermen and scientists to interact with one another while learning about commercial fishing, the transport of seafood, and the seafood needs of increasingly discerning marketplaces.

The day-long forum, hosted by N.H. Sea Grant and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), included interactive fishing gear displays, presentations and discussions on quality handling, sustainability and seafood market access.

Using innovative fishing gear to maintain healthy fish stocks

Steve Eayrs, research scientist at GMRI, spoke first about methods to improve the selectivity of trawl and gill nets. After conducting experiments using different sizes of mesh in the trawl codends, Eayrs found that 6.5” diamond-shaped mesh allowed 2/3 of the fish caught to escape—most notably, the smaller species that might not have reproduced yet. 

Taking into account the differences in swimming behavior among species, gillnets were retrofitted with panels on the bottom made of very large mesh to allow bottom-swimming cod to pass through while capturing pollock further up in the water column. In light of new regulations that will significantly decrease the cod quota, this type of gear could prove quite useful to improve selectivity. 

Offsetting some costs by improving fuel consumption: better for the environment, better for the bottom line.

Erik Chapman, commercial fisheries specialist for N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension, discussed the Green-Fit Project, an effort to retrofit fishing vessels with devices designed to decrease the boat’s fuel consumption. Chapman worked closely with commercial fishermen David Goethel (F/V Ellen Diane, Hampton, N.H.) and Jim Ford (F/V Lisa Anne II, Newburyport, Mass.) to determine what devices and systems might help offset some of their fuel costs.

Based on their experiments, switching to LED deck lighting (that uses fuel from the vessel’s generator to run) required an initial investment of $6,000 in Ford’s vessel, but the return on that investment came within two years of installation, Chapman said. Extrapolated out to the average lifespan of LED lights — 11 years — the cost savings would reach approximately $30,000. 

Making sure the seafood remains high quality from trawl to point of sale

Ken La Valley, associate director for N.H. Sea Grant, offered some simple tips to ensure seafood quality. The bottom line: temperature is the biggest factor affecting the freshness of the seafood. The temperature needs to be between 32-38 degrees F from trawl to table to slow the growth of microorganisms that will spoil the seafood more quickly.

Fishermen can keep their fish cold by gutting the fish as quickly as possible and then running cold seawater over them to cool the flesh as quickly as possible. They should layer the fish in plastic totes like a lasagna: fish, ice, fish, ice, and make sure the totes have holes in them for proper drainage. 

New innovations, including a carbon dioxide pad used to preserve seafood longer in packaging and an ozone generator used to sterilize the boat deck could be useful tools for food service industry members and fishermen, La Valley added.

Learning what the gear actually looks like

GMRI research scientist Adam Baukus and David Goethel used full-sized gillnets, codend and a scaled-down trawl net to demonstrate how the gear works.

Getting the food service perspective

Many chefs, restaurant owners and wholesale/retail operators understand the importance of preserving the fishing culture in New England — particularly the small boat fleets that are vital to coastal communities, said Jared Auerbach from Red’s Best Network. Red’s Best is trying to help facilitate transactions between fishermen and buyers that includes traceability and transparency. By telling the story behind the seafood and providing information about the fisherman, there is value added to the product, he said.

Rich Pettigrew from Seaport Fish in Rye, N.H. said consumers want more information about the products to make sure they’re choosing seafood that supports good fishing practices. The N.H. Fresh and Local seafood brand is a good choice for consumers who want that local seafood connection. He added that the website lists the availability of different New England fish species throughout the year so consumers know when a fish is “in season.”

Chefs, restaurant owners and wholesale/retail operations have the opportunity to educate the public about seafood choices, said Mollie Sanders from Maine Shellfish Company. By offering seafood that is harvested locally and offered seasonally rather than year-round, chefs have the ability to lead by example by offering menu choices that are flexible and based on what’s fresh and available at that time.  

Concerning sustainability and carbon footprints

The term “sustainability” is a hot topic right now. Consumers want to do the right thing and purchase seafood that is harvested in a manner that ensures healthy future populations of the species. But many consumers fail to consider another aspect of sustainability: the carbon footprint of shipping food from far away — sometimes as far as halfway around the world. And some packaging can be misleading, said Evan Mallet, chef at the Black Trumpet restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. Squid harvested in New England might be sent to China for packaging and then sent back to New England for market distribution because it’s cheaper to package it that way. Other audience members noted that sustainability should take place at every step in the process — from harvest to processing, packaging and sales, making sure to consider the fuel costs associated with everything consumers eat. 

The day provided an important opportunity for fishermen and chefs to learn from each other about their very different and uniquely challenging professions. As consumers and chefs become more educated about seafood sourcing and sustainability, and as fishermen continue to look for ways to increase the value of their catch in the face of catch reductions, this education could translate into meaningful changes in our coastal communities. Specifically, finding ways to increase the amount of locally harvested seafood in restaurants could be a win-win-win situation—winning for fishermen and related businesses, restaurants and consumers. To learn more about where you can get locally sourced seafood, please visit

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Steelhead trout aquaculture: N.H. fishermen now in charge

NHSG recently transferred its day-to-day steelhead trout aquaculture responsibilities over to eight local fishermen.

Every week, one of eight Portsmouth fishermen take responsibility to feed and maintain two sea cages filled with steelhead trout and blue mussels. The boat loads up with a bag of fish meal at the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex in New Castle and motors less than five minutes away. The fisherman will stop by the cage either on the way out or in from their commercial fishing grounds to feed the trout that are being raised in two 20' x 20' floating pens located just south of Fort Constitution at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

It's a different kind of work for traditional fishermen, but it's helping to supplement their income when times get tight. In early December when the fish reach market weight of 3-4 lbs., the fish will be sold to restaurants and markets in Portsmouth, N.H. and Portland, ME., providing profits that go directly to the fishermen during an otherwise slow period of time for them. 

NHSG aquaculture specialist Michael Chambers and UNH professor of zoology Hunt Howell recently organized a two-day program, funded by NHSG and a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant, to teach fishermen the basics of feeding the fish, harvesting techniques, and maintaining the nets.

Howell taught the group how to purse the nets to gather the fish for harvest and store them on ice to make sure the quality remained top-notch for delivery to restaurants and markets in Portsmouth and Portland.

After harvesting the trout in those pens, Chambers taught the fishermen how to clean the net of the biofouling that occurs: in this case, juvenile blue mussels had naturally settled onto the net, adding weight to the net and constricting water flow. 

However, filter feeders like blue mussels can provide a valuable ecological service by removing excess nutrients from the surrounding water, providing the ability to completely offset any nutrients added by the trout living in the pens. So rather than discard these mussels that had settled on the nets, Chambers and aquaculture technician Jessica Cranney showed the fishermen how to remove them from the net and "re-seed" them onto spat line or into a tube sock made of polypropylene to allow them to continue growing. The lines and socks were suspended around the pen platform to allow the mussels to continue to do their very important work. 

Additional research trout that were held in pens under the pier were then transferred to the sea cages in large insulated bins filled sea with water and pumped full of oxygen. 

The fish-filled bins were then transferred via boat and the trout were carefully moved into their new pens at the mouth of the river. 

After this round of fish is harvested, the nets will be pulled out of the water for the winter and work will start back up in the spring. In the meantime, the public will be able to enjoy locally raised steelhead trout in a couple of months, knowing they are also supporting fishermen that live in their community.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Acoustic Sensors are Helping to Save Fuel and Increase Fishing Efficiency

With the current resource problems facing the fishing industry, fishermen are often seeking way to improve their efficiency.  One method that is gaining popularity among trawl fishermen is the use of acoustic gear sensors.  Typically, fishermen rely on their knowledge of how their boat works and feels to know how their net is behaving under water.  With the use of acoustic sensors placed on the trawl gear fishermen can have a much better understanding of what is happening under water to maximize their productivity and increase overall efficiency.

Captain Jim Ford is a fisherman out of Newburyport, MA and has been using sensors on his trawl gears for the past four years.  He has sensors on the doors of his trawl gear, which are used to spread the net.  While fishermen generally know by feel how much they are spreading their net, Ford’s sensors provide him with real time information, displayed on a computer screen, of how his doors are passing through the water column.  Ford also has a catch sensor, sometimes two, in the codend of his net, the section of the net that holds the fish that are caught.  The idea behind the catch sensor is to notify Ford when his codend is filled with fish so that he can haul in the net, empty out the fish, and start a new tow.  Depending on what species of fish Ford is fishing for, he sets the catch sensor to a maximum weight, say 2,000 lbs.  When the codend is filled with 2,000 lbs of fish, a light goes off on his computer screen notifying Ford that his net is full and that he can haul it in. 

Sensors provide fishermen with a better viewpoint of what is happening under water.  Without a sensor a fishermen will pick a tow time, say two hours, and only deviate from that time if they feel a large change in the feel of their boat.  Besides feel, they have no way of knowing how full their net truly is.  They may catch all of their fish in the first thirty minutes of their tow yet they will keep going for another hour and a half to complete the two hours.  During this time they are decreasing fuel efficiency, reducing the amount of fish they can catch, and decreasing their fishing efficiency.  By having a sensor that notifies the fishermen that their net is full they can know exactly where they caught the fish so they can stay in that area and reach their desired total catch in a shorter period of time.  Fishermen already know the ocean; sensors just give them a little added information that improves the way they fish.       

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Finding solutions in trout aquaculture

The NHSG Fisheries and Aquaculture team is always seeking ways to improve fishing operations while maintaining a healthy marine environment and sustainable fish stocks for the future. One of their recent endeavors is to develop a methodology for rainbow trout aquaculture. Trout grow much more quickly than cod or haddock in offshore pens--the trout can grow to market size of 3 or 4 lbs. within six months, while cod and haddock take up to two years to reach market size. However, trout need to gulp air occasionally to regulate their air bladder for buoyancy and swimming ability. This limits how long the offshore pens can remain fully underwater, so Michael is conducting experiments to determine the optimum length of time to keep the pens submerged while preventing the trout from being negatively impacted by it.

Dick Prunier, owner/operator for the Sumner Brook Trout farm in Ossipee, N.H., delivered 800 rainbow trout to the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex in New Castle. With help from NHSG Doyle Fellow James Quadrino, Dick transferred the trout into buckets at the top of the pier.

NHSG marine aquaculture specialist Michael Chambers lowered the trout to technician Jess Cranney below. The trout were divided up into a few different pens beneath the pier. 

These trout will be used in short-term experiments to determine the impacts of salinity and fish density on the species.

After transferring the trout to the pens beneath the pier, James and Michael headed out by boat to the fish pens moored just south of the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. There are 140 additional trout in these offshore pens that need to be fed. Later in the summer, Michael will transfer the feeding and pen maintenance duties to a handful of local fishermen who will be in charge of growing the trout until they are ready for market. The fishermen will be able to keep the profits. The goal is to teach local fishermen about aquaculture as a way to supplement their income and provide another local, healthy and sustainable seafood choice to consumers.

The mooring lines for this pen also act as a suitable spot for mussels to grow and filter the water near the fish. The mussels that grow in these offshore waters are delicious and tender, too.

Michael checked out the various seaweed species and mussels growing alongside the wooden platform surrounding the pens. Although he hasn't yet run the calculations, he said it would be possible to estimate how much nitrogen and other nutrients the seaweeds remove from the water.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Challenge of Linking Fisheries Science and Management

June 12, 2012 marked the beginning of a three-day workshop that brought together fishermen and scientists to review and discuss the known information on the Atlantic cod stock structure, both past and present.  This workshop was Phase I of a three-phase approach to evaluate the present Atlantic cod stocks and determine if adjustments need to be made.  Hosted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute at the Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, NH, this workshop focused on the stock evaluation, including: a general overview of stock structure boundaries, how current management of the stocks was developed, broad and fine scale population structure, a comparison of historical vs. present distributions, implications for stock assessment, and possibility of future stock changes.  Phase II will focus on how potential changes to the cod stock structure will influence science and management as well as the advantages and disadvantages of changes to the stock structure.a ility of future stock changes,ed during the workshop? This is confusing to me. ted and whomever hosted it), this workshop focu

Over the course of the three days, a variety of information was presented to the attending group.  In addition to presentations on the current science being done on cod stock structures, fishermen expressed their shared concern for the depleting cod stocks.  From the fishermen’s point of view there is both an economic concern as well as a concern for the preservation of the fishery.  They expressed a strong willingness to help develop a method for allowing the stocks to rebuild, but emphasized the importance of including sustainability of their own businesses into the planning.  For example, fishermen often target areas that support spawning fish because they support larger fish that fetch a higher sale price.  If these areas are closed for portions of the year to protect cod, fishermen feel that it is important that somehow they are allowed to offset this loss later in the season. 

Many of the attending scientists felt that there was not sufficient information available to justify strong management response to a revised understanding of cod stock structure.  However, towards the end of the third day it became clear that no solid recommendations backed by both scientists and fishermen would be found.   So the challenge remains:  how do we use incomplete scientific information to inform management in ways that ensure continued viability of both fish and fishermen?

For additional information about this topic, please visit:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A new potential equipment option for Great Bay oyster farmers

A team of three Australians representing the company SEAPA visited the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex last Friday as part of their efforts to expand sales and offer expertise to existing users of their equipment. The team - Garry Thompson, Leon Stott and his wife Chris - talked with local oyster farmers about high quality basket developed by SEAPA to improve oyster quality and decrease labor costs for farms in Australia, France, Prince Edward Island and Cape Cod. N.H. Sea Grant marine aquaculture specialist Michael Chambers arranged for the presentation to provide new equipment options that might help oyster farmers improve their operations. 

There are currently seven individuals and partners that have permits for oyster farms in Great Bay, although some are in the early stages of setup. Those that have been established for a few years typically use “oyster condos” to grow the shellfish, made out of heavyweight mesh bags that slide horizontally into a PVC tower that remains underwater. However, a lot of biofouling — a term used to describe a build-up of barnacles, algae and other aquatic organisms on hard structures under the water — grows on the equipment, requiring the oyster farmers to power spray the equipment regularly. In addition to the increased labor costs, it can be a physically demanding part of the job because the biofouling adds a lot of weight to the equipment. 

Above: Ray Grizzle, professor of zoology at UNH, scrubs a bag full of young oysters with a sturdy brush to remove biofouling. These bags are part of the oyster condo setup typically used in Great Bay oyster farms. 

The SEAPA company, based out of Adelaide in South Australia, partnered with Garon Plastic to design oyster baskets made of sturdy injection molded plastic mesh. The baskets have clips that allow them to hang from line anchored to wooden posts in the intertidal zone of a bay. The lines can be pulled up and attached at various heights on the posts, allowing the oysters to be out of the water for part of the day. This reduces biofouling, slows down the oyster shell growth and enables the oyster meat to grow bigger. 

In many areas of the world, including Prince Edward Island, these lines and posts do not interfere with most people’s ability to enjoy the beauty of the water. But in Great Bay, oyster farmers face the challenge of balancing the need to farm effectively with the desire of the waterfront homeowners to have an unobstructed view of the water. 

Unlike New England, the areas outside of the metropolitan regions of South Australia are sparsely populated. The residents accept views of the oyster farms as a reminder that there are jobs available that help grow clean, healthy oysters to supply market demand, the team explained. That said, the SEAPA containers are versatile and could be stacked in a similar manner as the current oyster condos used in Great Bay or set up in a different manner altogether to meet everyone’s needs. 

Above: Great Bay oyster farmers Chris Phillips, Jon Bunker and Jess Cranney took a closer look at the SEAPA baskets to determine if that gear might work for their operations. 

Below: Garry Thompson demonstrates how the liner sock goes into the baskets to keep the tiny oysters from escaping. 

For more information on SEAPA, please visit