Category Archives: Sustainability

GoGreen Seattle Conference 2014 Presentation

On April 30th I joined a panel of business leaders at the GoGreen Seattle Conference to talk about what sustainability means to them. With businesses like Boeing and CenturyLink Field represented, trust me when I say Duna Fisheries, LLC with only two employees was the smallest in the pack! Crazy, huh? Anyway, here’s what I had to say:

Coho and Amy

Coho and Amy

My name is Amy Grondin. Part of the year I make my living as a commercial salmon fisherman. When not on the water, my work is in Commercial Fisheries Outreach with a focus on sustainable food systems. I rely on salmon to make a living and see them as a very important business partners.

F/V Duna, our 40’ wooden fishing boat, was built in 1936 in Tacoma. My husband Greg and I fish together. Sometimes we’ll hire a deckhand for a few weeks if the fishing is predicted to be particularly good and a third set of hands would be helpful.

Greg and I fish in Washington and Alaska. Our salmon fishing season begins off the coast of Washington on May 1st. Towards the end of June we’ll stop fishing Washington waters and start the trip to Southeast Alaska where we’ll fish for the rest of the summer. Come September the fishing slows down and the crew of two is getting tired. This time of year each day starts and ends wondering if the autumn storms are coming and if it’s time to stack the fishing gear and head south with the geese that are flying overhead. It is a good life for us and we look forward to working on the water.

F/V Duna trolling for salmon

F/V Duna trolling for salmon

We catch salmon by trolling, which is often called hook and line fishing. Trolling is a very sustainable fishing technique as each fish is caught one at a time. If the fish caught on a hook is too small to keep or not of the right species it can be released alive to swim away. Often trolling is confused with trawling as the names of these two fishing techniques roll of your tongue in a similar way but the similarity stops there. Trawling involves catching fish with a net that is dragged behind a fishing boat in deep water very near the sea floor. Fish caught by trawling are not alive when they are landed on the boat so there is no chance to release fish that are not your target species. In the jargon of fisheries, trolling is a selective gear type while trawling is nonselective.

When we are fishing our boat is our world. We take care of our boat as if our live depended upon it, because they do. Each year before we go fishing Duna is hauled out in the boatyard where we clean and inspect the hull, make necessary repairs, apply fresh paint and back in the water she goes. The engine is tuned; the wiring and hoses all checked; and safety gear inspected.

F/V Duna hauled out in the boatyard

F/V Duna hauled out in the boatyard

We trust our boat is safe because we know that we have done all we can to make it that way. Once fishing begins we want our time to be spent fishing, not trying to make repairs at sea or worrying about breaking down. That is not to say that boat maintenance ceases once fishing begins. It just becomes part of our daily routine, which is something like this:

Morning comes. First thing turn on the computer, GPS and navigation program. If they don’t launch on the screen nothing else happens until the system is up and running. Next down to the engine room to start the engine but first check the oil level. All day long while fishing watch the engine gages for temperature and oil pressure. Look in the bilge many times a day to see if any seawater is gathering. Water should be outside of the hull, not in it. Also, look in the bilge for oil. An oil leak is bad for both the engine and the environment. Watch your fuel level to make sure there is enough to get you back to port after six days of fishing.

Engine started, up the ladder and out on deck. When the anchor is hauled check the chain for wear. Look up to see how the rigging above the boat is holding up. Any chaffing of lines or burrs on the stainless cable that tension the mast and poles to the deck? While at it check the sky, it will be obvious if it’s raining. Take note which of side of your face is the wind hitting. Scan the horizon for clouds or clearing, white caps or any other changes that might be coming your way. Sniff the air. All should be briny sweet since the deck was scrubbed after fishing yesterday. Smell fuel, other chemicals or a ‘hot’ smell? You shouldn’t and if you do drop everything until the source is found as it could signal a problem. Now make coffee and run out to the fishing grounds.

Maintaining the boat is only part of the equation. It is equally important to maintain the crew. Get sleep when possible, eat when hungry and drink if thirsty. Check the level of the fresh water tank, as drinking water is a precious commodity, maybe even more so than fuel. Keep dry if possible as it makes it easier to stay warm. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses or safety glasses when fishing. A hook in the eye is nothing you want and it happens to people every year.

Greg catching coho

Greg catching coho

Be safe on deck and don’t do stupid things. Think it through, look where you step, put things back where they belong, especially knives. Secure loose lines, tie down things on deck, wash slippery fish guts off the deck. Watch out for the other people on the boat and lend a hand if one is needed. Do everything you can to stay on the boat.

What does any of this have to do with sustainability or sustainable business practices? On the water Greg and I are very tuned into our fishing world. We monitor the boat, weather, sea conditions, fish and ourselves for changes. We conserve water, fuel, cook only what we will eat and in general try to keep all in balance because we only have what is on board the boat. The goal is to create as little waste as possible because there is nowhere for it to go but on the boat with you. This is the sea going equivalent of ‘pack it in, pack it out.’ We fish responsibly while trying to catch what fishing regulations allow us. If we take care of the fish the fish will take care of us by providing us with an income and food. When we do all these things the quality of life while fishing is very good. We make a living with a hard working crew while acting as stewards to salmon and the ocean. This is how our small floating business achieves triple bottom line results – a balance of people, profit and planet.

When fishing season is over and we are back on land, civilization at first overwhelming. Our home on land doesn’t roll around while we are sleeping. There is a seemingly endless supply of water from the tap. The garbage and recycling magically go away each week. The flick of a switch provides light and power that is not from a battery bank that is constantly in need of charging. Should the car run out of fuel you don’t need to worry about drifting onto the rocks like you do on the boat. Just call a friend, a tow truck or Triple A. No need to ration food, the grocery store is minutes away but why cook when you can go out to eat? Slowly, all the convenience dulls our survival instincts. It can be very easy to take for granted the resources that are just there for the taking. We become disconnected from the natural world and our role in it. How do we remember to live deliberately?

This is when lessons learned on a fishing boat about the stewardship of nature need to be recalled. Don’t get me wrong, civilization rocks! I love my warm, dry home; going out to dinner; the mixed blessing of constant connectivity through my smart phone; and knowing I can sleep through the night without getting up to check the weather.

Greg taking a look around

Greg taking a look around

The difference is that when Greg and I are on the boat, at sea and away from land we are very cognizant how our survival is directly tied to the quality and amount of resources we have access to, both natural and man-made. We don’t take any of it for granted or get casual about the value of fuel, shelter, water, or food. We are constantly aware of our connection to nature and the need to observe and respond to ever changing conditions.

At sea we share the ocean with the salmon we catch. We are part of the marine food web in the role of top predator. Back on land we are still connected to salmon but in ways not always tangible or as obvious as sea spray in your face. Fishermen return to land after fishing season closes. Likewise salmon leave the ocean to swim inland and up streams to spawn after their life at sea. Now the water connection to salmon is fresh, not salty. We need fresh water for drinking, washing, irrigating crops and creating hydropower while salmon need the water simply to spawn and complete their lifecycle.

No matter how you make a living – fisherman, computer programmer, construction worker, lawyer or [fill in the blank here with your own profession] – the fact that you live in the Pacific Northwest connects you to salmon. Streams and rivers thread from land to sea, stitching the two together inseparably. Choices and actions made daily have impacts beyond the four walls of our homes or four wheels of our cars. We may live in ‘rain city’ but water can’t be taken for granted. We need to protect it; keep it clean and remember that the less we use the more there will be for salmon. Living deliberately doesn’t have to mean a life of less. It means more for later.

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When Oysters and Seawater Don’t Mix

Two weeks ago the Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, CA hosted a tour of their shellfish farm. The goal of the tour was to raise awareness of ocean acidification. Coordinated by co-owners Terry Sawyer and John Finger; Dr. Tessa Hill from the UC Davis Bodega Bay Labs; the Ocean Conservancy and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the tour would also showcase how the Hog Island Oyster Company has responded to ocean acidification. The collaborative research project to monitor the seawater pH of Tomales Bay that is conducted on site at the shellfish farm with Dr. Tessa Hill is one such response and a major part of Hog Island’s plan to stay in business in times of uncertain ocean pH.

Those looking on at our group gathered on the edge of Tomales Bay would have thought we were enjoying a leisurely day in the late autumn sun. And we were. What they might not have thought was that we were addressing a serious topic. That day ocean acidification was discussed and many questions asked as we slurped oysters, a briny sweet reminder of what we stand to lose if we don’t get a handle on carbon emissions that cause the pH of seawater to drop.

Why is a drop in the pH of seawater an issue to be concerned about? When the pH of anything drops, it becomes more acidic. For many people it helps to consider their own backyard to better understand why pH levels matter. Even if you aren’t a master gardener you have probably heard about acid loving plants and plants that like ‘sweeter soil’ or soil with a more alkaline pH. Maybe you have asked a salesperson at your local garden center if a particular plant will be happy in your yard and heard in response, “Is your soil acid?” Perhaps like me you took home a tempting plant only to have it fail and wither as it didn’t like the acid soil on offer in your garden beds. When you were digging in the acid soil filled corner of your yard did your hands get burned by the soil with an acid pH? No, but the plants that died in the same soil sure had a different response. Substitute you in a swimsuit splashing unaffected in an acid ocean amongst struggling oyster larvae and a mix of other microscopic members of the marine food web and you’ve got it.

A drop in the pH of seawater affects the ability of juvenile shellfish and other zooplankton to form their first protective layers of shell. Without protection these microscopic animals can’t survive and mature to the stage at which we identify them as seafood. This is also a problem for the larger members of the marine food web like salmon and tuna as small fish are eaten by big fish and really small fish eat zooplankton.

For some people on the tour of Hog Island Oyster Company this was their first introduction to ocean acidification. Others in the group could and do lecture on the implications of changes in seawater chemistry. Regardless of how much was known going into the tour, all left well fed, more informed on ocean acidification and inspired to cut carbon. But if you were like me, you still had questions about what could be done.

Later that same week and up the coast to Washington State, a similar tour was hosted at Taylor Shellfish Farms Quilcene Hatchery on Dabob Bay. Again the goal was to raise awareness of ocean acidification and to learn how Taylor Shellfish Farms are responding to the threat ocean acidification poses to their business and the more than 3,200 jobs the Washington shellfish industry supports. This time the tour guests sported raingear and wool hats, not sunscreen and sunglasses. In spite of the howling wind and threatening rain and because we expect this in the Pacific Northwest, there was a great turn out.

The tour groups at both the Hog Island and Taylor Shellfish sites were diverse and included journalists from media sources covering topics ranging from the seafood industry, environment and policy to food and sustainability. Chefs, shellfish farmers, and nonprofit organizations rounded out the tour groups for truly diverse sets of individuals who came together to learn more about ocean acidification. In addition, the Taylor Shellfish tour group brought out University of Washington faculty and students and members of Washington State’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification.

The Washington State Department of Ecology website offers this description of the role of the Blue Ribbon Panel. “In December 2011, Governor Gregoire convened a Blue Ribbon Panel of leading tribal, state, federal and local policy makers; scientific experts; public opinion leaders; and industry representatives.”

“The Blue Ribbon Panel has focused on documenting the current state of scientific knowledge, ways to advance our scientific understanding of the effects of ocean acidification, and recommend actions to respond to increasing ocean acidification, reduce harmful effects on Washington’s shellfish and other marine resources, and adapt to the impacts of acidified waters.”

After a year’s work, on Tuesday, November 27th  the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification will release their recommendations to Governor Christine Gregoire. Along with Dr. Jane Lubchenco from NOAA and other guests, the 28 members of the Blue Ribbon Panel, will gather at the Seattle Aquarium for the morning event and press conference.

The release of these recommendations marks an important milestone in the recent history of ocean acidification. The actions of Washington State in response to the recommendation made by the Blue Ribbon Panel will be watched by the whole world. The attention is definitely not the Oscars type of hype. The proceedings will be followed by a smaller, more specialized sector. Some might suggest it is a somewhat geeky population of the world but they/we/me are people who are concerned for the future of our oceans. I have to admit I am strangely hopeful and anxious to hear what is recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel. We need some direction and leadership to pull us out of the ‘nothing can be done’ funk that a problem as big as ocean acidification can bring on. We are watching you, Washington.

Note: follow this link for more information on Washington State’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification: