Category Archives: September 14

It’s been bluefin tuna for 35 years, but oysters and seaweed are the future

Port Clyde resident John Cotton caught his first bluefin tuna off Gloucester when he was still in high school. “That was 35 years ago. I remember bringing it in to the dock and the buyer asked me, ‘Is this the first fish you ever caught?’ And when I said yes, he said, ‘Now you’re history, you’ve got the bug now.’”

By his own account, Cotton has always been obsessed with fishing, even from an early age, when he would come to St. George in the summer with his family. He’s been a full-time resident here—and fisherman—since 1991.

“Like anything, commercial fishing is up and down, but the last five to seven years have been very successful for me,” Cotton says. “Mainly this is because of my experience, but the government has also helped a lot by banning mid-water trawlers, keeping them 50 miles out and further. So the herring are allowed to come in and spawn and proliferate without getting beaten up and harassed, so that has really changed the fishery.”

Cotton acknowledges that most bluefin tuna stocks worldwide have been overfished, but changes such as this are having a positive impact. “The whole key to bringing back the tuna is the herring.”

Cotton explains that each area of the ocean has a specific bluefin tuna population. “The eastern Atlantic population runs from Iceland down to Africa. Ours is called the western population, running from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. We’re at 70 percent of the target level of what it was in the 1960s.”

Cotton notes that it is the Pacific bluefin stock that is most severely depleted by overfishing. Just recently, however, a National Public Radio report announced that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission have agreed to take steps to rebuild the population to 20 percent of historic levels by 2034, a sevenfold increase from current levels.

Regulations designed to help prevent overfishing in the Atlantic have been in place for several years. “The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Council, made up of fishermen, and the National Marine Fisheries Service come up with the quota. Currently we have 500 or so metric tons of quota from June until the quota is caught, usually by November. The quota applies to the entire catch of all the boats fishing for tuna. I have to report my catch and the buyer has to report my catch within 24 hours.”

With the advent of air freight, Atlantic bluefin tuna could be sold to Japan, where the demand for sushi-quality tuna is great. Today, Cotton says, the market is now half Japanese and half domestic. “On average we’re making about $5 a pound. Five years ago it was $7 to $10 a pound, but now, since there are so many people fishing and the stocks are coming back, the price has gone down.”

If selling to the sushi market is your goal, Cotton explains, “the way you catch the fish is the most important thing.” Cotton and the man who crews for him each use a rod and reel. “Now that there are more tuna it is easier to catch them because there are more competing for food so they will bite your hooks sooner.”

In the spring, when the tuna first show up, Cotton says they have no fat in them—what is called “red meat” fish. These are less valuable to sushi buyers. But as the summer progresses they fatten up, depending on how much food is available. “If you catch one and it is full of fat you have to be very careful how you catch it because if you fight the fish it fills up with adrenalin so the meat is full of lactic acid. They call it ‘burnt,’ so that is not good meat. So you need to ‘swim’ them to allow the lactic acid to dissipate before you kill them. That is the meat that our customers—and chefs—want. You get a reputation—oh that’s Gulf Traveler’s fish, we want that.”

Cotton’s boat, Gulf Traveler, is a 1979, 43-foot Canadian boat with an old, very loud, diesel engine. “A lot of tuna fishermen are in million-dollar boats,” Cotton says with a laugh. “They see us coming in with fish and scratch their heads. There are probably 10 guys at the most in New England who make a living from bluefin tuna and I’m one of them. Most who fish for them do it for fun—it’s a big thrill, it’s on their bucket list. But everything they catch takes away from the quota. You hear about these ‘million-dollar’ fish, but that is just a once-a-year stunt.”

While Cotton has relished the challenges of bluefin tuna fishing, now that he is in his mid-fifties he has begun exploring alternative options for creating a livelihood. He’s already been line catching ground fish, which he sells to Port Clyde Fresh Catch and to a handful of local restaurants. But a path he and his wife, photographer and yoga instructor Antonia [Toni] Small, have begun pursuing together is raising oysters.

“Our lease is in Ice House Cove,” Cotton says. “We are farming in colder water than most. We have 40,000 oysters that are a year old and 40,000 more that we got this year. It takes 18-24 months to get a mature, sellable oyster. We are growing half in the traditional way of floating them in summer and fall then submerging them to protect them from the cold and the ice. The other half we’re growing in the intertidal zone, so they are out of the water two to three hours a day—some people think they grow faster that way.” He says the next step will be to transition from one-year leases to a 10-year lease and “to ramp up the number of oysters.”

Cotton notes that he and Toni were fortunate to have help setting up their aquaculture venture from a friend of Toni’s who is heavily involved in the industry. “She helped us with all the paperwork. Otherwise we would have needed a lawyer, it’s that complicated.”

Cotton says that Maine is becoming big in aquaculture because of climate change. “The water further south is too hot. Seaweed is also big. We’d like to grow nori, which is in great demand. Also kelp, which we can grow with the oysters. We’re just kind of going along here seeing what will work.”—JW

PHOTOS: Antonia Small


To the editor:
We wish to thank all those who attended the 21st Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading on August 17, 2017. It is gratifying to know that poetry is alive and well based on the over 100 who filled the Odd Fellow’s Hall. We are so very grateful for the generous donations which will be used to purchase new poetry books for both the adult and the children’s poetry collections at the Jackson Memorial Library.
The Tenants Harbor Poets

All that the rain promises—I’m an Amanita man

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Destroying Angel

Compared to the wet and fruitful month of July, August was pretty dry mushroom-wise for most of midcoast Maine. August hikes and bike rides alike turned up few to zero mushrooms (and yes, mushroom watching is a reason why we bike ride!). A couple of recent, decent rains gives the feeling (and hope) that we are turning a corner, fungally speaking that is, and soon our woods and trails will be lined with mushrooms. All that the rain promises.

With this potential in mind, looking for mushrooms in the woods a few days after a good downpour can be very rewarding, especially if the rains are sizable (greater than 1 inch). Recently I have found myself on the nature trail by the Jackson Memorial Library, looking to see what mushrooms had popped up after the scattered rains mentioned above. I have not been disappointed.

Not 100 steps into my first mushroom exploration of the season did I cross paths with one of my favorite mushrooms—the Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa).  Without thinking, I exclaimed “Yes! Yes Yes!” because finding these angels is always a cause for celebration. Yes, Destroying Angels are a perfect mushroom in several ways.

First off, they are esthetically pleasing in a ghostly sort of way.  A tall, pure white mushroom with a smooth cap and a delicate veil around its stalk (stipe) calls for attention along any trail.

Secondly, they are the deadliest mushroom in the northeast. Destroying Angels are the pride and joy of the famously poisonous Amanita family (Amanitacae) and between them and their western cousin, the Death Cap, they account for 80 percent of all mushroom fatalities in North America. So, when kids find an Angel and ask, “Will this mushroom kill me if I eat it?” (my favorite question on a mushroom hike by the way) I give them a big smile and answer with a hearty, “Yes.” Then I delve into the four-day Amatoxin poisoning process that results in liver and kidney failure. I won’t bore you with the gory details, but I will say that most 5th graders like hearing about the poisoning while being disgusted at the same time. These Angels, and mushrooms in general, demand respect.  It can be a matter of life and death.

Scaber-stalk Bolete

For all my excitement at finding this Angel it was not a surprise at all—I was looking for one there.  Last fall I went on a mushroom hike with the 3rd graders (this year’s 4th graders) from the school and a student named Russell found one in almost the exact spot. All Amanitas have a symbiotic relationship, known as “mycorrhizal,” with trees. To oversimply things, in a mycorrhizal relationship a fungus in the ground gives a tree phosphorus, nitrogen and other essential micronutrients while the tree gives the fungus sugars they create during photosynthesis. Without each other the tree and the fungus won’t grow well and often don’t grow at all. This relationship starts from the sprouting of a tree and is so tight-knit that it’s impossible to tell where the tree roots end and the fungus begins. As for the nature trail Destroying Angels, if the trees in that spot are alive the fungi in the ground will keep pumping out mushrooms to spread their spores. In other words, we can count on Destroying Angels for years to come along that stretch of trail.

The Angel was the big fungal find that day. On my visits to the nature trail since, more mycorrhizal mushrooms such as Boletes and Russulas have been popping up, including a Scaber-stalk Bolete (Leccinum insigne) which my son, Leif, appreciated in a different way (with his belly). Mycorrhizal mushrooms can be deadly, delicious and the entire spectrum between.

With the forecast for more rain this is only the beginning of a (hopefully) bountiful fall mushroom season. If this kind of thing interests you, then please join me at the Jackson Memorial Library on Saturday, September 16th at 10am for a talk on mushrooms followed by a mushroom stroll along the nature trail. Kids of all ages are welcome! See you there!

(Tenants Harbor resident Kirk Gentalen is a regional steward for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.)

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

When marriage influences art

In 2008, the Islip Art Museum in East Islip, N.Y., featured an exhibition of the works of six longtime artist couples. The purpose was to see if viewers could identify by their works which artists were a couple, implying that similarities would appear due to mutual influence. In some cases, the influences was obvious and positive, while in others, it resulted in unsatisfactory compromise. For Port Clyde artists Marianne and Bill Swittlinger, who have been married for over 40 years, there exists a more subtle influence and similarity. Both create colorful works of art that are design-driven. However, the inspiration for their creativity stems from completely different interests and backgrounds.

Born in Meriden, Conn., Marianne was influenced at an early age by her aunt, who was an accomplished painter. When it was time to attend college, Marianne had a strong desire to study art, but her father felt it was an impractical decision. So, she attended the University of Hartford as an education major in French and English. She spent her junior year in France, and then returned to the United States to complete her degree. She taught in public schools in Connecticut for a number of years, and in 1975 met and married Bill, who was a math teacher at the same school that year.  Five years later, in 1980, Marianne took a sabbatical leave from teaching to complete a masters degree in art education. Eventually she landed a job teaching art at a high school and continued doing that until her retirement in 1999.

During those years of teaching high school, Marianne became involved in the Farmington Art Guild, which was known for attracting important artists from all over the country to exhibit and teach. It was there that Marianne exhibited her first solo show of paintings themed with Native American symbols on teepees influenced by the couple’s frequent travels to the Southwest. After the Swittlingers moved full-time into their summer home in Martinsville in 1999, Marianne was approached by Port Clyde artist Kim Libby to exhibit their work jointly. From this collaboration, they opened “The Girl Ain’t Right Gallery” which eventually became the Port Clyde Art Gallery.

By contrast, Bill Swittlinger, who was born in New Britain, Conn., had no real interest in art as a child. He earned a degree in math education from Central Connecticut State University in 1968 and taught math in the junior high school where he met Marianne. He eventually joined the high school faculty in Farmington, where he served as chair of the math department until his retirement.

During their travels to the Southwest and other locations, and while summering in Maine, Bill began to assemble found objects into sculptures and then paint them. “Walking the dog along the seashore, I would find things and thought that they looked like other things,” he explains. Like mathematics, Bill could see the spatial relationship between forms and reassemble them. Applying colorful paint to his assemblages makes them come alive.

While Marianne’s most important influence on Bill was to raise his interest and awareness in fine art, it would seem that Bill’s focus on inventive assemblages is now, in turn, influencing Marianne. “Presently, I am reinventing myself into a mixed-media paper artist,” she states. “I’ve backed away from straight painting to experimentation, which for me is more authentic.”

This latest evidence of artistic synergy between the two may be a result of a recent change in working style. Over the years, the Swittlingers have worked in separate areas of their home: Bill in the garage and Marianne in her studio. However, this past winter they expanded their creative space to encompass the entire house, one that fosters mutual influence even more strongly.

Marianne  and Bill  Swittlinger are represented by the Port Clyde Art Gallery, where she is gallery manager and he is the financial manager.
  —Katharine A. Cartwright

PHOTOS: Katharine Cartwright

Window ‘build’ event

The Window Dressers Community Build will occur during the last week of October. It is the culmination of a summer of measuring applicants’ windows for the energy-saving inserts we will complete at the St. George Grange at Wiley’s Corner in October. It is not too late to sign up for this service at

We will have to stop measuring in mid September so the wood for this build (one of about 25 around Maine) can be ordered and cut to size. Frames for the St. George Build will be delivered to the grange October 24, when grange members and Window Dressers applicant volunteers will set up shop to finish these wonderful insulating inserts with tape, crystal clear polyolefin sheeting, more tape and finally insulating foam around the outside edges of each insert.

Fun and lunch will be had by all as long as we have enough orders and volunteers to allow it to run smoothly. Please call Barbara at 372-6242 or 975-5967 for information.

—Barbara Anderson,
Window Dressers volunteer and local coordinator, St. George Grange Community Build