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.