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National Fisherman: Off the hook

June 14, 2015

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While serving as a deckhand on a longliner in the western Gulf of Alaska in 2013, my boat couldn’t shake a pod of sperm whales who gobbled up most of our catch. After working 20 hours a day for a week in a blustery March, I owed the boat money. As we moved east toward West Yakutat over the course of the spring, sperm whales were an on-again, off-again problem. We worked longer and harder to catch the same amount of fish. But the main casualty in the game of cat and mouse between our boat and the agile behemoths was our shared target—blackcod.

A move to allow pots in the Gulf of Alaska fishery is in response to sperm whales, as well as orcas, increasingly eating fish from longlines. Negative interactions between longliners and whales in the Gulf of Alaska have steadily increased for decades. Depredation—the act of whales eating from fishermen’s hooks—has caused fishermen much frustration and has cost them a lot of time and money. The phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the Gulf of Alaska. From Norway to the South Pacific, the Falkland Islands to Chile, fishermen increasingly find themselves competing with whales in hook and line fisheries.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council moved in April to allow the use of pots in the Gulf of Alaska to harvest blackcod. The decision comes after years of review and strong support from various fishermen and industry associations. The motion was not without contention, however, with the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association opposing the change in gear type, asserting that it would hurt fishermen with small boats that couldn’t carry the large pots, thereby creating a new gear conflict.

Read more at National Fisherman…

Salon: “Deadliest catch”? Not even in the top three

May 16, 2015

deadliest_catchIn the 11th season of Discovery Channel’s flagship show “The Deadliest Catch,” the title’s fallacy still goes largely unnoted. Crab fishing on the Bering Sea isn’t the deadliest fishery in the United States, and it hasn’t been for the entire run of the show; it’s not even in the top three. Two East Coast fisheries are the ones where fishermen are most likely to become fish food.

 Groundfish—including cod and flounder—on the East Coast was the deadliest fishery in the U.S. from 2000 to 2009, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, followed by Atlantic scallops. The third, with which I have personal experience, is Dungeness crab fishing on the Oregon and Washington coasts. Data from 2010 to 2014 shows the trend continuing through this decade. The rankings are based on workforce estimates and their full-time equivalents.

Aside from an inaccurate title for a “reality” program, we should cheer the fact that fishing in an inhospitable environment is becoming safer by the year. Far fewer people are dying so vacationers in Las Vegas and affluent businessmen and bureaucrats in China can gorge themselves on what appear to be overgrown spiders. Commercial fishing is becoming safer. From 1990 to 2014 there was a 74 percent drop in commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska, according to NIOSH. Furthermore, in 2013 commercial fishing dropped to No. 2 — behind logging — in the list of deadliest occupations, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Read more at Salon…

East Bay Express: East Bay Lawyer Makes Domestic Abusers Pay

May 13, 2015

news2When Tia Katrina Taruc Canlas studied at UC Berkeley School of Law, she learned from one of her professors, Nancy Lemon, that many survivors of domestic abuse aren’t told of all their legal options. Lemon insisted that some enterprising young lawyer should use the civil code some day to seek justice for domestic violence victims. The seed was planted.

Today, Canlas, a Berkeley lawyer, has taken her professor’s advice to heart, and is employing a surprisingly underused, survivor-based approach to tackle domestic violence — holding batterers financially accountable in court for their actions. “Since our criminal laws are applied so unevenly and unfairly across races, it’s not really good to have imprisonment as the goal for justice,” said Canlas, as we sat in a worker-owned cafe below the architecture firm where she rents space. “I wanted to find better ways to deal with domestic violence and rape, and I think taking [abusers’] money is one of the best.”

Canlas’ childhood was shaped by domestic abuse. She said her father punched her mother Tina Taruc in the stomach while she was pregnant with Tia. After more abuse, Taruc threatened to leave. Canlas’ father then hired an attorney and divorced her mom. Lacking funds to take recourse of her own, Taruc was left with nothing.

Read more at East Bay Express…

Farms, Forests and Old Mills: A photo essay of my hometown

May 4, 2015

Cargill Falls of the Quinebaug River in downtown Putnam.

2015 San Francisco International Film Festival program notes

April 25, 2015

sfiff58_logo_238x301Here are two program notes I wrote for the San Francisco Film Society’s 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7).

Time Out of Mind (2014)

How to pass the time when you have nowhere to go? How to get identification when you have none to start with? Disheveled and red-faced, George Hammond (Richard Gere) wanders New York’s cold streets, facing these questions and, slowly, his past. In a finely nuanced, tour-de-force performance, Gere plays this lost, ragged man movingly against type, bringing a haunted humanity to a man estranged from the world. With gritty minimalism and a plot driven more by character and setting than narrative, writer/director Oren Moverman offers a sympathetic yet unsentimental look at homelessness in the city that never sleeps. Read more…

Ride (2015)

In her sophomore directorial effort, Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt plays Jackie, a high-strung New Yorker editor who must learn to let go, and in the process, learn to surf. With strong support from Luke Wilson, Brenton Thwaites and David Zayas, Ride is an effervescent coming-of-age surf movie with no shortage of hijinks. In this film that oscillates between taut drama and screwball comedy, Jackie follows her son Angelo (Thwaites, The Giver) to Venice Beach after he drops out of college to find his own path in the waves of Southern California. Read more…

Salon: Workers at Whole Foods demand better wages

December 8, 2014

whole_foods-620x412After years of organizing in secret, building bonds over beer and supporting co-workers when issues have arisen with management, team members at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco disrupted the normal workday and demanded a $5 an hour pay increase last month. More than 20 employees beckoned store management to the floor and presented a petition signed by more than 50 of the store’s workers calling for more paid time off, better health and retirement benefits as well as steady, consistent schedules.

I worked at Whole Foods in the spring of 2012. As is the typical way of getting to know co-workers, I went out for drinks with a tight-knit group of employees. Conversations went quickly from the getting-to-know-you banter to politics, and it was at the time the Occupy Movement was running out of steam. We exchanged battle stories of political engagement and mused about how best to carry the momentum from Occupy in new directions. I asked about organizing at Whole Foods; a few of my co-workers smirked while others played dumb. A week later I was brought into the fold, and found people had been organizing for more than two years. I was feisty for action, but the others knew better; they were in it for the long haul.

Since workers came out after plotting in the shadows for nearly five years, store managers have reportedly attempted to kill them with kindness, while saying nothing of their demands. On the corporate side, Whole Foods Market announced a pay increase in its San Francisco stores effective Jan. 1, shortly after the Whole Foods Union went public.  The $1.25 increase in the starting wage, from $11.50 to $12.75, sits 50 cents above San Francisco increase in minimum wage that will take effect in May of 2015. Outside of that, both the store and corporate management have refused to publicly address the situation. Workers organizing at Whole Foods claim the announced wage increase four months ahead of schedule was likely in response to their demands.

Read more at Salon…

Teton Gravity Research takes on Olympic aftermath

November 20, 2014

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Every fall dozens of ski movies with high-production values are released as foreplay to the oncoming winter. Most these movies are largely ignored by or totally obscured from those who don’t get their kicks in the snow. Most of the movies also shy away from being political—viewers tend not to like mixing politics with their porn.

But one ski movie released this fall, “Almost Ablaze” by Teton Gravity Research, stands out for peeking behind the Olympic curtain. Amidst the normal jaw-dropping fare of heli-skiing in Alaska, waist-deep powder in Wyoming’s Tetons and elsewhere, TGR takes cameras and a gold medalist to an Olympic wasteland.

A few weeks after the $51 billion Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, slopestyle gold medalist Joss Christensen went to the Balkans. The juxtaposition between Sochi and the ruins of the Sarajevo 1984 games is striking. After Putin and his oligarchs spent lavishly to show the world Russia’s ideal self, 30-year-old vacant buildings covered in graffiti and speckled with bullet holes make up a large part of the forlorn Olympic infrastructure in Sarajevo.

Read more…

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