Captain Steve Fitz of the F/V Mr Morgan and The Scottish Seine

Our featured fishing vessel this week is the Mr. Morgan, the only vessel left in the United States still using the Scottish seine fishing method. Captained by Steve Fitz, the Mr. Morgan is a 66-foot steel boat built in 1979, having started life as a shrimper in Louisiana before making the trip via the Panama Canal to California, where it has been ever since.

Captain Steve Fitz and his family are leaders in the local eco-friendly fishing industry. Captain Fitz has been active in the industry for over 25 years and took over as captain of the Mr. Morgan in 2000. Captain Fitz and his crew specialize in the Scottish Seine fishing method pictured below and harvest within strict quotas set by the West Coast Catch-Share Program which protects our west coast groundfish fishery from overfishing. Like the other participants in this program, the Mr. Morgan receives an individual fishing quota for all of the species that may be harvested throughout the year. Species that are threatended have very small quotas that once reached force the boat to stop fishing for the year or purchase more quota from another boat.

The Mr. Morgan is outfitted with cameras that allow fisheries scientist to monitor their catch and insure that stocks remain healthy. According to a New York Times article, the results of the catch share program are promising: the average amount of bycatch has decreased from 15-20 percent of the total haul to less than 1 percent since its implementation in 2010.

Scottish seine employs lightweight nets connected to long lengths of rope that are laid on the seabed; the boat then backs down on the net as the line gently scuffs the ocean bottom just enough to create a light sand cloud to herd the fish into the net before it is hoisted up. Standard trawling techniques use heavy steel cables and trawl doors that necessitate continuous contact with the ocean floor, causing a large degree of ground disturbance and habitat disruption. Bycatch, although still minimally present with Scottish seine, is a major ongoing issue with typical trawling techniques; bycatch of non-target fish can contribute to overfishing and slow efforts to rebuild fish stocks, and bycatch of other species such as corals, sponges, and turtles harms both the habitat and the species’ repopulation efforts.

The Scottish seine, on the other hand, is far more environmentally friendly than traditional trawling and is also more energy-efficient. The efficiency of using the seine technique depends on the skipper’s experience and ability to manage the gear and hauling speed correctly at the various stages of operation, while taking into account the weather, tidal conditions, behavior of target species, and water depth. The fact that Scottish seine uses lighter gear and nets, coupled with the short time the nets are actually in the water, means that far less energy is used during the entire process than with typical trawlers.

Ocean2table was conceived while Ian Cole was aboard the Mr. Morgan working as a fisheries observer and the Mr. Morgan continues as one of our most valued fishing partners. Captain Fitz and the Mr. Morgan supply Ocean2Table with fresh, high-quality petrale sole, rockfish, sanddabs and dungeness crab (when each species is in season). The transparency of the fishing methods embraced by Captain Fitz and our other partners makes it possible for us to supply ecologically mindful seafood, support local fisheries, and allow you to know exactly where your food comes from and how it was caught.

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