who we are, how we fish and our connection to the sea
July 25, 2019
Conch fishing in the Sound
When Ronnie Braun was a young fisherman captaining the Peggy B, he used to cruise by buoys strung in a line, and they weren’t marking lobster traps.
He always wondered what they were, but since he was catching thousands of pounds of cod a day, he didn’t think much of it.
“I thought those days would never end,” Braun said.
But they did.
Braun, whose only career has been fishing, began involving himself in other ways like trying to sell live cod for a larger profit margin. When he talked to some dealers selling to Asian markets, they asked if he knew about a sea snail that was a delicacy overseas -- conch.
“I didn’t even know what they were,” Braun remembered.
That was 20 years ago and Braun ended up buying a state conch permit to work off a skiff, but soon re-did his next boat, the Peggy B II, to catch conch and sea bass.
“It was either go 140 miles offshore to look for codfish or come closer for conch,” he said.
Scientist studies how to keep leatherbacks moving like foul balls; outside the lines
When Kara Dodge, a scientist at the New England Aquarium, began doing leatherback sea turtle research more than a dozen years ago, she turned to local fishermen for help.
“We didn’t have a lot of money so we were relying on them for access and one of the very first people who helped us get out to an entangled leatherback was Mark Leach,” Dodge remembered.
Earlier this month it was deja vu all over again. When Dodge got the season’s first call about a behemoth visitor hung up in a fish trap, Mark Leach was there yet again to assist.
Leach said this leatherback, huge at approximately 500 pounds but still about half the weight of some he’s seen, wasn’t entangled too badly. The team used the aquarium’s new inflatable platform, which fits easily on the deck of his boat, to get the turtle out of the water, unwrap the line around its flippers, and gather some data.
“We were able to attach some satellite and acoustic tags, and we let it go and it swum on its merry way,” Leach said.
Fisheries and conservation go hand in hand in Brewster
Logan Jones, 7 years old, and his brother Caleb, 5, were having the time of their lives raking up clams in a big sand box.
“I guess we’ll have to get a family shellfish permit,” their grandmother laughed as her grandsons kept Dennis Morris, from the Brewster Natural Resources and Shellfish Department, busy re-burying shells.
The Joneses were not the only ones looking for a family permit to dig shellfish. Eloise Brenner, 8, also visiting Drummer Boy Park the second weekend of July, was interested too.
The Brenner family comes from Connecticut for a week every summer and make it a point to come to Brewster Conservation Day because Eloise’s older sister Isabel, 13, is a big fan.
“I just like everyone here,” she said, as well as the premise: “making the world a better place for everyone.”
There were close to 50 groups at the event on a sunny Saturday, all talking about their mission and how it dovetails into protecting natural resources.
Once upon a time there was a man named Henry Stellwagen.
Actually, we know when that time was, the mid-1800s, and we know that Henry served in the United States Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant commander.
But that’s not why his name is still spoken by many people who fish, whale watch, or just like being on the water. The reason we pause to wonder about good old Henry Stellwagen is that a swath of nearby water is named after him; Stellwagen Bank.
Fishermen had long known about shallow grounds beyond the tip of Cape Cod, stretching roughly north and west toward Gloucester. Geologists will tell you that this arc from Provincetown to Gloucester was dry land thousands of years ago, when glaciers kept much of the ocean solid and sea level was much lower than in today’s warmer times.
Some called the area “Middle Ground,” perhaps because it was between land and the greater banks farther offshore, perhaps because it was between the Capes north and south, Ann and Cod. Like many places where the bottom rapidly rises, currents and upwells create a fertile mix, attracting fish from tiny to huge which in turn attract fishermen from across New England, including those on Cape Cod who can easily leave from Provincetown, for example, and make a good go of it in small boats.
But this place was not defined. Enter Henry Stellwagen.
Photo courtesy NOAA's Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary
Catching up with Ben
One wonderful result of having longevity in this fisheries world is that over time, many talented and committed people have made their way to our doorstep, accomplished a great deal while here, and then used those experiences to springboard into other fascinating jobs and positions within the broader fishing community.
We thought it would be fun to visit and revisit some of our friends and former colleagues, to find out what they’ve been up to since, well, you might say “graduation” from the Fishermen’s Alliance. Ben Martens is the third in a series of profiles that will appear here in the e-magazine on a regular basis.Read his storyhere.
Fishermen say that a lot, and they mean it in a sad or nostalgic way.
I have my own nostalgia but it’s a little different. My biggest changes have come because I no longer have time to work on the water, even part-time. These days I work rooms, phones, and meetings, trying to do my best navigating political currents to keep this small-boat fleet alive. It’s still all about fishing, but hey, it isn’t fishing.
And I miss those days.
I got started in the mid-1990s, late compared to many, in my mid-20s. I had been one of those young kids who would curl up in the back of the family stationwagon and wind up on Cape Cod after a night drive from Connecticut, loving the place, later a college graduate back to try to make a real life on this peninsula full of good summer vibes.
Don Bramley reluctantly agreed to take me, greenest of greenhorns, as a fill-in deck hand. He was a legendary fisherman, his boat the Pooh Bah, berthed in Wychmere Harbor, 31 feet if it was an inch, and he was a handliner, fishing by hand with hook and line. He was pretty hard on me the first few trips, he’d go below while we were looking for striped bass, leaving me in charge of everything from tiller to throttle to jigging to trying to stay out of the rips, and every 10 minutes or so he’d come up and ask how I was doing. Maybe I had another fish or two.
“We’re gonna be out here a long time,” he’d say.
When we switched over to jigging for cod on bottom with structure on it, like wrecks, where cod like to school, one of the first things he told me was that to jig you need to “see” the bottom with your hands, know when to keep that hook down and when to bring it up to avoid snags. Just when I was about to tell him I was getting the feel of it, I hung up on a wreck. Lost three jigs in one trip, which he took out of my next pay settlement, something like six bucks a jig.
But he stuck with me and I fished with him through a summer, winter, and spring, until he got sick and had to stop. With hooks we were catching 2000-3000 pounds of cod, 1000 pounds of pollock, maybe 100 or more striped bass. We’d stay out until the boat was full, whatever it took, a day and a half or then some.
It hasn’t always been this way.
When Don had to stop, I joined Ronnie Braun. Ronnie had fished with Don too, but branched off to take his dad’s boat. You’ll see elsewhere in this emag that my colleague Doreen Leggett went conching with Ronnie this month, which does my heart good – she took her 12-year-old son Caleb on his first commercial fishing trip that day, which does my heart even better.
But 20 years back, it was still jigging and longlining for groundfish. I filled in whenever I could, sharing the site with Paul Parker as we were sharing our community work. Ronnie would take us into the channel but usually in late August he would get “tuna fever” – even if we were doing fine with cod, he’d want to go look for those big fish. I remember coming home with 3500 pounds of cod, a fine trip, and Ronnie got off the VHF radio to say that we were going to unload, strip the boat, and get ready to chase tuna. That’s what we did, maybe all the way to Halloween, then switch to dogfish in Cape Cod Bay maybe all the way to Christmas, then start the cycle again.
Around 2002, 2003, longlining codfish stopped being the reliable go-to it had been for so long. Gillnetters were still doing well for a while longer, but guys fishing with hooks were dropping off. Hooks only catch fish that are hungry, interested in bait, while gillnets can catch any fish that’s moving in the water column. That major difference meant that the decline in total stocks hit the hook guys much harder and faster, and by the way led to a lot of bitterness and division within the fleet.
By 2002, I first gained a seat on the New England Fisheries Management Council, and my policy and advocacy work made it really hard to be on the water except as an occasional stand-in. My life changed a lot; I even surrendered a hand-gear permit, because I wasn’t using it and didn’t want to sell it given that I was supposed to be making decisions independent of personal gain.
I don’t regret coming ashore to do my work for the Fishermen's Alliance, though I miss those times. If there’s any regret it’s that the pace of improvement is too slow; I want to see the fishery I remember come back a lot faster. That said, I remain confident that what we hear so often, “it hasn’t always been this way,” implies a more hopeful phrase I believe in just as much:
“It won’t always be this way.”
(John Pappalardo is the CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance)
On the Horizon
We have lots of exciting stuff happening.
We started the busy summer off right, adding a new member for our development team. Brigid Krug has a Masters in Environmental Science from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, with a background in fisheries conservation and biosecurity programs for the New South Wales state government. Having participated in projects with commercial fishers and aquaculture farmers, seen their dedication to their industries and the environment, she is excited to be working for the Fishermen’s Alliance. Brigid grew up in New York and spent extensive periods of time on the Cape since childhood and is thrilled to be living in Orleans. Find out more about our development coordinator here.
Thank you to everyone who made an online donation and participated in our Hookers Ball ticket giveaway. The winner is Pattie from Chatham! Not a winner? Not a problem! This is your last chance. Only a handful of tickets remain, so purchase yourstoday. Funding from events like Hookers Ball enable us to help ensure that our traditional fishing industry continues to thrive as a vital contributor to Cape Cod’s blue economy. We could not do it without support from our donors and the local business community. Thank you to our amazing list of sponsors; AllWays Health Partners, Ben & Jerry's North Eastham, Canyon View Capital, Cape Cod 5, Cape Cod Life Publications, Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham Fish & Lobster, Eastern Bank, evolutioneyes, inc., Fisherman’s Daughter, Gibson Sotheby's International Realty, Hog Island Beer Co., Marder Seafood, Nauset Disposal, Nauset Marine, New England Sales Solutions, North Star Marine Insurance Services, Rockland Trust Bank, Rogers & Gray Insurance, Seamen's Bank, Shepley Wood Products, TD Bank, The Black Dog, The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, The Nature Conservancy, UBS Financial Services and ZUDY.
Meet our 2019 New Balance Falmouth Road Race runners: Melissa Alden, Christa Danilowicz, Abby Farrell, Abbie Frazier, Christine Johnson, Lizzie Lane, Kurt Martin, Jim Nelson, Brendon Parker, Amanda Rice, Rob Rice, Chris Ruez and Lara Slifka. Race day is August 18 and Team #FishRuns has been busy training and fundraising. Show your support for our team and learn more here.
On the Water
Ever wonder how a boat, or a fish, got its name? Want the word on what people are catching --- or how to cook it?
Chatham’s history is wrapped up in fishing and that symbiotic relationship was expressed with town meeting’s vote to purchase the Stage Harbor dock in 2016. The idea is that the historic commercial offloading spot might need to serve as an alternative or backup facility for the fleet if the municipal fish pier in Aunt Lydia’s Cove becomes too shoaled -- an increasing possibility. Although owned by the town, Stage Harbor often is referred to as the Eldredge trap dock and the family still runs its weir fishing operation from there through a lease with the town. We had an occasion to speak with Chatham Selectman Shareen Davis, a fine photographer and fisherman married to long-time fisherman Ernie Eldredge, mom to two daughters who work in and on behalf of the industry, about the history of the dock. Listen
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
We are big believers that the more information we have, the better the decisions, and several groups are partnering to gather information designed to benefit fishermen. The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety, in partnership with Johns Hopkins University and UMass Amherst, is studying how fishing vessel operators use mobile apps to help with safety issues. Each questionnaire takes about 30 minutes. Participants will receive a $50 gift card. For more information, 508-441-4728 or click here.
Pleasant Bay Community Boating has an interesting speaker series this year, and we’re highlighting a few. On Friday, Aug. 9, Richard Reils and Kevin Rand will talk about ropeless buoy technology in “Mission to Save the Right Whale: Technology to Reduce Harm to Marine Mammals.” Some of our members are exploring innovative gear already.On Friday, September 6, the topic is “Earth’s Last Frontier: Accessing the Deep Sea with Robots,” by Andy Bowen. A sure highlight of the year comes on Friday, October 11, when our own Chief Executive Officer John Pappalardo is the guest speaker.
Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, known as SPAT, is once again hosting great aquaculture farm tours this summer. Attendees wade out to a working aquaculture site and learn how shellfish are grown. Tours are $10 per person, children under 12 free and this is a great way to get kids engaged on the waterfront. Attendance is limited to 25 people per tour so advance registration is required. Boots or shoes that can get wet are essential. Note well: no sandals or flip-flops! Shellfish cuts are not pretty.
On the Hook
We do a lot of reading, searching through thewide world of fisheries, and often find intriguing pieces to share. In the old days, you might call this your clipping service.
Recent decisions have created headwinds for Vineyard Wind’s project to build offshore turbines; read about hurdles ahead and how the delay was influenced by fishermen.
We work locally to keep fishermen fishing and the ocean healthy, and are active on the national level as well.
Read our Chief Executive Officer John Pappalardo’s comments on a planned roundtable tour to gather input on a Magnuson-Stevens Act rewrite, the most important piece of federal law that regulates our nation’s fisheries.
“The ‘graying of the fleet’ does not reflect a lack of interest in fishing careers, but rather high entry barriers facing young commercial fishermen. Young people want to get out on the water, but they need opportunities to acquire a diverse set of skills, ranging from navigation and diesel mechanics to fisheries regulations and business management.” Those words are out of Alaska, but they apply here. Read more.