Out of the Blue Mackerel Recap and a Little-known Fishing Practice
Written by Sam Gimley,
Sustainable Seafood Project Manager
Last Sunday concluded the Out of the Blue Atlantic mackerel promotion. When the project’s Steering Team originally selected mackerel for promotion, the sentiment was that it would provide the greatest challenge to promote, despite having the largest Total Allowable Catch of the five selected Out of the Blue species. Mackerel are migratory fish that prefer cooler water, and it is unclear what impact the abnormally warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are having on the seasonal distribution of mackerel. In addition, mackerel has one of the lowest ex-vessel values in the region, which provides little incentive for fishermen to harvest it. The combination of these two factors can result in an inconsistent mackerel supply, unlike the previously promoted redfish. Despite concerns around supply, participating restaurants were able to communicate their demand for mackerel and fishermen responded in time to secure mackerel for the promotional period and beyond.
One of those fishermen was Dan Harriman, who fishes out of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Dan is a diverse harvester who mixes lobstering, with lesser-known fishing practices such as tub trawling and weir fishing. Weirs are stationary or fixed nets placed in areas where fish congregate, typically near a river or shallow water. The lead part of the weir net guides the fish (or squid) through a “V” shaped opening and into an enclosed pen. The narrow end of the “V” makes it difficult for fish to escape and the fish remain in the enclosure until they are harvested. Weirs are one of the oldest forms of fishing, but are no longer commonly used in the region. Dan’s weir has been in his family since the 1950s and he has been fishing it for the last 10 years.
During GMRI’s Trawl to Table event, when Dan’s weir-caught squid was served at lunch, Dan explained that he also harvested mackerel from his the weir and suggested I come see how it was fished. Given that I had never seen a weir in action before, I promptly accepted. Two weeks later, I spent the morning with Dan and his crew as they emptied the weir of 400 pounds of squid and 40 pounds of bluefish. Dan explained that it requires two skiffs and his larger lobster boat to school the catch into a small area, where it is then hauled out of the water and iced down in totes. It was a remarkably quick process and only took a few hours, allowing Dan and his son to spend the rest of the day lobstering. Although the weir produced no mackerel the morning I visited (they harvested 7,000 pounds the day before of course), it was still a fascinating glimpse into a unique fishing practice. Pictures of my visit can be seen here, along with a brief video.