Brokering Lane Agreements Between Crabbers and Towboat Operators

Kevin Decker, Coastal Economist, and Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist

In the late 1970s, conflicts between oceangoing tugs and commercial crabbers became a major problem in Washington, Oregon and California. Crab pots fouled tugs as they moved between coastal ports, and the loss of gear created severe hardships for commercial crabbers. Sea Grant programs on the West Coast helped broker an agreement that provided navigable towboat and barge lanes through the crabbing grounds between Cape Flattery, Washington, and San Francisco.

Since the late 1990s, WSG has led this process, maintaining the industries’ cooperation and saving them more than $1 million annually. WSG will continue to hold several negotiations each year, improve electronic towlane charts and evaluate the project’s economic impacts.

Towards that, in summer 2016 a new set of visually enhanced charts (“chartlets”) was published, and a Google map webpage that will reflect the same detail as the chartlets is currently under development. In addition, WSG is facilitating discussions between industry and the National Weather Service and U.S. Coast Guard to improve marine weather forecasting and coastal bar-closure policies, and will highlight discussion outcomes.


Commercial Fisheries Marketing Initiative

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and WSG are partnering with commercial fishermen to increase awareness of Washington State’s sustainably harvested seafood products, which has become particularly critical in the face of the current COVID-19 outbreak. This initiative addresses a gap in consumer information about fisheries management and the measures taken by WDFW to ensure that seafood delivered to Washington consumers is sustainably caught, while raising consumer awareness of fishing techniques, business practices, and economic impact.

An advisory group representing all fisheries niches in Washington was established and now meeting monthly, a web page providing COVID-19 resources to fishers and a consumer COVID-19 resource page were created and a social media campaign was launched spring 2020.

In addition to this project, WSG created COVID-19 resource pages for Washington State families and educators and for the shellfish industry.

Marine Safety and First Aid Training

Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist


WSG helps Washington fishermen reduce risks with port-based, U.S. Coast Guard-certified training in emergency preparedness, fire response, cold-water rescue, first aid and other safety measures, using the latest equipment and procedures. Staff specialists also train recreational boaters in first aid and at-sea safety and survival. Since the mid-1990s, WSG safety training classes on Puget Sound, Washington’s outer coast and the Columbia River have markedly reduced fatalities in several fisheries.Topics covered in First Aid at Sea courses include patient assessment, hypothermia, cold water, near-drowning, shock, trauma, burns, fractures, choking, immobilization and important contents for first aid kits.


WSG experts also train commercial fishermen and charter boat operators in how to conduct safety drills at sea. These courses meet the training requirements of the Commercial Fishing Safety Act. The course work combines lectures and hands-on experience with the safety and survival equipment required on commercial fishing vessels. Fishermen and boaters learn about emergency procedures and develop appropriate drills for their own vessels.

Contact Sarah Fisken at

Pollock Stock Assessment Preview

Edward F. Melvin, Marine Fisheries Scientist

Pollock and salmon are among the most important fishery resources in Alaska. The pollock fishery in the Eastern Bering Sea is based in Seattle and is one of the largest fisheries in the world. It is also closely monitored for its incidental catch of salmon, which can close the fishery if bycatch limits are exceeded. For these reasons, the status of the pollock stock and the level of salmon bycatch are of keen interest to many who live in Seattle.

Each year Washington Sea Grant co-hosts a forum at which scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center of NOAA fisheries preview the most recent assessment of the Eastern Bering Sea pollock population, which is the basis for setting the catch levels for this fishery.

The forum, presented in partnership with the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and the College of the Environment, is held prior to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process that sets catch limits for the coming year. It provides fishermen, local marine businesses, environmental groups, students and faculty an opportunity to learn about the science underpinning the stock assessment and discuss trends in data.

In 2014 the scope of the meeting expanded to include industry presentations on new developments in gear modifications that exclude salmon from pollock trawls. These new trawl nets have the potential to forestall closures of the fishery and conserve the salmon resource for native Alaskan coastal communities.

In 2015, the program included a presentation on the newly announced Bering Sea Climate Change Study — a collaboration of NOAA and UW scientists to assess the possible biological and ecological consequences of climate change on Bering Sea fish and fisheries. The 3-year study will focus on five key species including pollock.

For 2016, the program presented a new, multispecies trophic interaction model that links three key Bering Sea species — walleye pollock, Pacific cod and arrowtooth flounder.


Seabird Bycatch Prevention in Fisheries

Edward F. Melvin, Marine Fisheries Scientist

Hundreds of thousands of seabirds, including protected albatrosses and petrels, are trapped and drowned in longline and trawl fisheries worldwide each year. Seabird avoidance measures developed and promoted by WSG have dramatically reduced the number of birds, particularly the endangered short-tailed albatross, caught in the fishing lines off Alaska and the West Coast, and also have reduced bait loss and improved fishing efficiency.

These measures, which use strategically deployed bird-repelling streamer lines, have been adopted by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and are used by tuna fisheries worldwide. WSG and its Oregon and California partners have tested and refined prevention measures in the West Coast sablefish fishery, the regional fishery with the greatest potential for reducing or eliminating losses of the endangered albatrosses.

WSG scientist Ed Melvin and his collaborators won the 2015 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award for their work implementing the Seabird Bycatch program along the West Coast and for their outstanding achievements in bird conservation.

WSG shares the 2015 Presidential Award with NOAA’s West Coast Region and Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Oregon State University, California Sea Grant, Oregon Sea Grant, the Makah, Quinault, and Quileute tribes, and other agencies and industry groups.


West Coast Fisheries Participation Study

Melissa Poe, Social Scientist

The livelihoods of fishermen and women who work along the West Coast are heavily influenced by the inherent variations in the ocean, intrinsic economic uncertainty, and the effects of management. In collaboration with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, investigators are conducting a survey of the West Coast fleets and interviewing fisheries participants to improve understanding of how they respond to these changes. Community and individual responses may vary significantly, depending on diverse social and economic factors.

Washington Sea Grant is leading a study of West Coast fisheries to better understand the various social factors that explain the motivations and benefits of commercial fishing and changes in fishing-based livelihoods.


Who brings your seafood to you? An interview with Thomas Foster-Kibbler and Heather Auld of Foster Fisheries

January 24, 2024

By Alison Lorenz, WSG Science Writer

Thomas Foster-Kibbler. Photo courtesy of Heather Auld.

Before Thomas Foster-Kibbler got into commercial fishing, he wanted to be an EMT on a firefighting crew. He was living in sunny Los Angeles County, training to help others. The problem? He was spending all his spare time and cash sport fishing on charter boats and spending, as he says, “too much money to go fishing all the time.”

That’s when something clicked. Foster-Kibbler decided to try a career in fishing commercially, and found a new way to care for his community – through providing high quality, nutritious, locally caught seafood.

In one way or another, Foster-Kibbler has been fishing all his life. Growing up, he fished at every opportunity – with his grandfather and on family vacations early on, and sport fishing and working on charter boats as he grew older. Eventually, he began working on other commercial fishers’ boats. Asked what he likes so much about fishing, Foster-Kibbler’s answer was simple: “The freedom it offers. Being outside, seeing the sunrise and the sunset…mentally, it just felt good.”

He started out albacore fishing up and down the West Coast, eventually adding crab into the mix. Meeting and marrying his wife, Heather Auld, added her background in marine behavioral ecology and conservation to the pair’s expertise. When Foster-Kibbler’s Falcon Fishing Company bought a boat, the Falcon, in 2021, it allowed them to take things to the next level – and start bringing to life a vision they had for a fishing operation that was not only successful, but sustainable. The goal was to put in the time, care and attention to bring their customers the highest quality catch possible.

The Falcon, owned by Foster-Kibbler’s Falcon Fishing Company. Photo courtesy of Heather Auld.

Now, Foster-Kibbler catches juvenile albacore tuna and groundfish – including black cod, rockfish, sole, and lingcod. The cod, sole, and lingcod are caught using pots, while the albacore and rockfish are caught hook and line. This means that Foster-Kibbler and deckhands handle each fish individually. After they’re caught, the fish are bled, individually hung and blast frozen to super cold temperatures right on the boat. While Foster-Kibbler acknowledges there are “definitely more efficient” ways to catch and handle fish, this level of care ensures the final product is preserved at its optimal quality and freshness.

Quality and freshness aren’t traits customers always associate with frozen fish, something Foster Fisheries is working to change. “We definitely like to educate our customers – and generally, when they show up to the boat, they have a lot of questions,” Foster-Kibbler says of selling his frozen catch. Record-low tuna prices this past summer led he and Auld to begin directly marketing and selling to customers right off the Falcon. A big part of their job now is making sure people understand that fish frozen with today’s “quick-freezing” technology is just as good, if not better, than fresh fish put on ice. It’s just one of the challenges of direct marketing – but when all is said and done, Foster-Kibbler enjoys selling off the boat best: “I really like the customer engagement, educating people on our methods…It’s nice to have their questions get answered.”

In this new chapter, Foster-Kibbler and Auld are focused on reaching more people and growing their client base. Foster-Kibbler posts regular updates on Foster Fisheries’ Instagram, where customers can learn where the Falcon is docked and which fish are available to buy. He and Auld also want to advocate for resources that would help fishers just like them market and sell seafood directly to customers. For example, currently, due to food safety regulations, operations like Foster Fisheries aren’t able to process fish in ways that make it easier to sell on their boat; instead, they sell only whole fish. A public processing and storage facility where they could bring catch to cut into portions, vacuum pack and freeze, notes Auld, “would help customers buy fish off the dock [more easily]. It’s a cool experience…but it’s hard for a customer to buy a [whole] ten pound fish.”

It’s clear, however, that customers appreciate the extra care Foster Fisheries puts into their catch. Once, a customer sent a video of herself fileting a whole tuna fish she had bought. She used a spoon to scrape every last piece of meat from the bone, assuring Foster-Kibbler and Auld that none of it would go to waste. Another time, a customer dry-aged an albacore tuna, treating it like a fine steak. “Customers contacting Thomas directly and telling him how great the fish was or what they did with it,” Auld says, “[that’s] one of the things that’s really rewarding.”

While they most often sell in Westport, Foster Fisheries is planning their second trip to Seattle this February or March. Their Instagram is the best place to go for details. Wherever the Falcon takes them in the future, they’re excited to offer what they do best: high-quality, locally caught fish.


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Wild Seafood Connection to bring fishers and buyers to Bellingham in February

January 18, 2024

On February 29, members of the commercial fishing industry will have a chance to speak directly to their buyers – restaurants, retailers, brokers, and other seafood businesses  – at the Wild Seafood Connection conference, presented by the Port of Bellingham and produced by Colibri Northwest.  

Photo courtesy of Duna Fisheries, LLC

Formerly known as the Wild Seafood Exchange, the one-day conference aims to help independent fishing businesses directly market and sell their catch. Washington Sea Grant (WSG) was a sponsor for the previous incarnation for over 10 years. In addition to panel discussions, attendees will have the opportunity to take part in one-on-one roundtables on topics ranging from funding sources to small business case studies.

“It’s a unique opportunity for commercial fishers and seafood buyers to come together and learn from one another,” says Jenna Keeton, fisheries specialist at WSG and a speaker at the conference. “Whether you’re interested in simplifying your seafood supply chain, learning about different markets, seeking tips for better processing and distribution, or just want to know what technical resources are out there, that information will be available.”

Marketing and selling seafood products directly to buyers and customers can have many benefits, like increasing the price fishers receive for their seafood or ensuring a top quality product for customers. But in a complex regulatory environment, it can be difficult for independent fishers to get started, or to ramp up ongoing operations. Conferences like Wild Seafood Connection are one way to not only share knowledge and resources, but also to build community – and support local fishing economies in the process.

Wild Seafood Connection will take place Thursday, February 29 at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Bellingham, Washington. Washington, Oregon and California Sea Grants are gold sponsors for the event through a NOAA grant with Washington Sea Grant assisting in the concept and coordination of the panel program and program publicity. Registration is required; tickets and more information are available here.


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Join the conversation: and