Remarkable People: Janice Plante, Commercial Fisheries News

First published in Landings, July, 2013.

Most young people just out of college stumble through several jobs before they find one that matches both their skills and personal interests. Not so for Janice Plante. As a college graduate with a B.S. in fisheries science from Oregon State University, she approached the publisher of Commercial Fisheries News (CFN), Robin Alden, in 1985 and asked for a job. “It’s not a normal job, working for Commercial Fisheries News,” said Alden, who left the paper in 1995 to become commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “It’s 24 hours. You have to have a great commitment to accuracy.” Alden saw the qualities she was looking for in Plante and promptly hired her. Janice has remained a reporter for the paper for 28 years.

Janice Plante has written about every aspect of New England fisheries during her tenure at Commercial Fisheries News. Occasionally she Relaxes! Photo by Rod Getchell.

Janice Plante has written about every aspect of New England fisheries during her tenure at Commercial Fisheries News. Occasionally she Relaxes! Photo by Rod Getchell.

Plante has brought an indefatigable concentration to her work for these years. “She’s incredibly disciplined,” Alden continued. For anyone in New England’s often-changing fishing world, Commercial Fisheries News is the source of vital information about the regulations that dominate that world. Plante is a writer who reports accurately on what is happening at the state and federal levels, while also offering her precise insights on what those changes mean. “My role is to figure out what’s happening, follow the discussions, boil it down and put it into context so that when people read it, they say this is what I need to know about herring, for instance,” Plante explained.

Plante grew up in New Hampshire where as a child she developed a liking for fish. “There was no link to the ocean aside from going to the beach sometimes in the summer,” she said, “but I always had aquariums and went fishing with my dad. I just knew that I wanted to study fish.” At Oregon State University she focused on fisheries management and policy under the tutelage of former National Marine Fisheries Service director Bob Schoning. “He taught a class on the Magnuson Act. He had been in the government at the time the act was developed so I learned all about its background.” She also spent her summers, first as a student and later as staff, at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on the Isles of Shoals off Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In addition, she was employed during college as a fisheries observer on a 200-foot Korean vessel operating in the (Gulf of Alaska and) Bering Sea. “The observer time in Alaska helped me learn firsthand what it was like to fish in really rough weather and the risks involved,” she said.

Plante also spent three months in Tanzania with the intent of working on a fisheries research project. Although the study was stymied by political problems in the country, Plante was introduced to a new world which had a profound effect on her. “Living among people in abject poverty and going through a constant struggle to get water to drink or bathe or get certain foods to eat, seeing people with threadbare clothes, and just seeing how little people had to make themselves comfortable, I have never since taken for granted the fact that we can turn on a faucet, flush a toilet, open a refrigerator door and find something we want to eat on the shelf, or go to a doctor,” she said in an email.

As college came to an end, Plante knew she wanted to be inside the commercial fishing world, not working on fish in a biological lab. She also knew she was a good writer. During college she had taken a subscription to Commercial Fisheries News and liked the paper. “I thought, ‘this would be a perfect fit for me!’” she said. So she put together a portfolio of writing samples, shipped them off to Stonington, Maine, where the paper was produced, and waited. After their first meeting together, Alden offered Plante a job. “It was so different then,” Plante recalled. “There were no computers, of course. And just the four of us on the editorial team — myself, Lorelei Stevens, Susan Jones, and Robin Alden.”

Plante and her husband, Rod Getchell, who she had met on the Isles of Shoals, lived in Boothbay Harbor. Plante started covering the endless round of meetings that are the core of fisheries management in New England. But she was still able to experience the reality, rather than the regulatory, aspects of fishing during those early years. “I did get to go out on boats once in a while,” Plante said. “I especially remember when I went out with Richard McLellan when he was pair trawling for groundfish. It was a week-to-ten-day trip and I wrote a piece explaining what pair trawling was all about.”

Eventually the paper opened a satellite office on the Portland Fish Pier in the late 1980s. “I would spend the whole day on the pier. It was a very vibrant place then,” Plante recalled. She was able to cover the creation of the Portland Fish Exchange, the first display auction for seafood on the east coast. Despite being female in a world full of men, Plante found herself brought into the fold, as she put it. “All the long-established people on the waterfront were really very good to me. When I didn’t quite understand something, like how a net worked, no one was condescending. I knew that this was where I wanted to be,” she said.

But that world was changing. As groundfish stocks tumbled, new federal regulations instituted days-at-sea requirements in the early 1990s. Reauthorization of the Magnuson Act in 1996 (now called the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act) created a stringent ten year re-building requirement for New England fish stocks. Lobster management moved from the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and Maine instituted its own lobster zone council system.

“In the early days the rules were easy,” Plante recalled. “There were a few basic rules:  minimum mesh size, minimum fish size, a few closed areas. Now things change all the time. I don’t think anyone can completely understand. The industry is so highly regulated and each fishery is so complex.”

Janice with Richard Morey at the 2012 Maine Fishermen's Forum. Photo by Lorelei Stevens.

Janice with Richard Morey at the 2012 Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Photo by Lorelei Stevens.

The role of Commercial Fisheries News in such an environment is the same as it has been from its creation, according to Plante: to provide a neutral platform where opinions are shared in a positive way. “A fisherman can see what the scientists, fisheries managers and other fishermen are saying in a way that is digestible,” she said. “We work for the whole fishing industry. I try to help people know what they need to know.”

“The paper was a labor of love for all of us,” Alden added. “We were committed to getting the facts right. Janice was a great team player. She maintained her relationships with meticulous care. She doesn’t vilify, she treats her sources with respect. People can speak to her and know she will represent them in a rigorous and fair way.”

Plante expressed a certain nostalgia for the world she entered back in 1985. “I think everyone had much more fun then. Everything is more difficult now. It’s just so expensive to be a fisherman these days, and everyone is under extraordinary pressure.”

Plante moved to Ithaca, New York, in 1990, where her husband took a position at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. They have since become involved in training puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit guide dog organization based in Yorktown Heights. “We’ve raised six puppies thus far. In fact I took one to the Fishermen’s Forum one year. She went to the seminars with me and the opening reception,” Plante said. “She was great.”

Plante primarily covers the actions of the NEFMC and ASMFC for the paper. “It’s hard for fishermen to go to all of those meetings. It’s very time consuming and some require a lot of traveling. So I go, and then I can tell them what ASMFC did on herring, eels, lobsters, northern shrimp.” The meetings, which last for days and often feature convoluted discussions and arcane processes, call for a high degree of concentration and an in-depth understanding of what has come before. Add to that the pressure of constant deadlines for a monthly paper and, Plante said, it can get exhausting. “The thing that keeps me at it is that I like being part of the industry and everyone has made me feel I can contribute in a helpful way,” she said. “People come up to me and say I’m glad you came to the meeting. I’m glad that you wrote about this, now I understand it.”