November 18, 2015

MIT Sea Grant introduces fishermen from Ghana to the New Bedford fishing community

MIT Sea Grant anthropologist, Madeleine Hall-Arber, who has been working with fishing communities for over 25 years, helped coordinate a waterfront tour of New Bedford for members of the Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association. The association funded six representatives and a fisheries scientist to participate in a two-week study tour of New England fisheries developed by the University of Rhode Island (URI), Fisheries Center and Coastal Resources Center. The tour started with a week’s worth of presentations and workshops at URI followed by field trips to Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Maine; Northeast Seafood Coalition in Gloucester; and New England Fisheries Management Council in Newburyport. The goal of the New Bedford tour was to introduce the Ghanaian fishermen to a broad range of fishermen’s perspectives.

By tapping the expertise of the executive director and board members of the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center, Madeleine was able to assemble a unique and deeply insightful trip, allowing the visiting fishermen an intimate glimpse into the fishing industry. The visiting fishermen were able to speak with the personnel at the fish auction, the manager of a private fish processing business, boat captains, fleet owners, shore captains, and several crew members to compare fishing tactics and techniques.

The tour started with sunrise at 6:00 AM when the New Bedford fishing auction opened. Cassie Canastra of Buyers and Sellers Exchange or BASE led a tour of the live auction area, explained their remote bidding system and how the Whaling City Display Auction functions day to day. The group toured the cold rooms where the fish are offloaded from the vessels and stored until sale after which they are transfered to trucks en route to restaurants or fish processing plants. The visiting fishermen learned about the local catch and about some of the measures the New Bedford fishing auction takes to ensure the auction is conducted fairly.

Next, the group walked a short way down the street to Bergies Seafood. Bergies is a privately owned fish processing plant that started in 1984. Manager Phil Mello gave the visiting fishermen a tour, showcasing the seafood processing plant’s filleting line and machinery. Phil demonstrated the filleting machine by processing some Alaskan cod. He noted that the plant imports some frozen seafood for processing when local landings are low. He also discussed the processing procedures for different products, as well as packaging and shipping. Having worked his way up through diverse jobs in the industry, including fishing, Phil offered the group a unique perspective.

Piling into two vans, the visitors went down to one of the fishing piers in order to tour two vessels in Carlos Rafael's fleet. Captain Shawn Machie, Shore Captain Anthony DeMello, and Sector Manager Stephanie Rafael DeMello each gave their perspectives on fisheries management and their own roles in managing a successful fleet.

Shawn captains F/V Apollo, a combination vessel that harvests scallops and groundfish, switching gears between seasons. Shawn comes from a fishing family, learning to fish at the young age of 14 from his father. He showed off the technology on board, saying “There is some amazing new technology out there. I have sensors on the doors for my trawl that tell me whether they are functioning properly, saving me from trawling for long periods of time with my net essentially closed.” He discussed some of the collaborative research with scientists that he has been working on, including new net designs to limit his catch to specific species of fish, and other advances in technology.

Anthony showcased several recently purchased vessels that are in various stages of construction and talked about the challenges of fleet maintenance. Stephanie manages the fleet’s permits and spoke to the visiting fishermen about the regulations from the fleet’s perspective. Fleet owner, Carlos Rafael, an outspoken critic of some of today’s regulations, drew laughter and hand slaps from some of the Ghanaian fishermen who face similar regulatory challenges at home. His guided tour of the herring vessel, F/V Voyager, was an eye-opener for the visitors with its advanced electronics and large scale.

The final stop was Reidar’s Trawl-Scallop Gear and Marine Supply. Reidar’s is a family owned business and the founder’s sons Thor and Hans walked the visiting fishermen through their design and maintenance of custom trawling gear. Reidar’s is committed to designing and building innovative fishing gear so that fishermen may continue to operate successfully despite increasingly restrictive regulations. For example, unique variations on separator trawl designs use differences in fish behavior to allow abundant species such as haddock to be caught while less plentiful species such as cod and flounders escape. The visiting fishermen were also interested in new mid-water trawl designs for species like herring, which allow for trawling in areas with bottom restrictions. This stop was a perfect ending to the Ghanaians’ introduction to New England’s fishing industry.

The tour of New Bedford gave the visiting fishermen insight into the practical application of fisheries management and how decisions impact everyone from fleet owners, captains and crew, to seafood processing plants and other shoreside businesses.

Check out more photos from the trip!