For Mac and Alex Hay, the pandemic has reminded them of their roots
Over the course of a few decades, Mac’s Seafood has grown from one small fish market on the Wellfleet pier to 10 markets and restaurants, a processing facility, catering business and wholesale shellfish company.
This year Mac Hay, who owns the company with his younger brother, Alex, was expecting a banner year.
They had re-invested in the businesses and felt they were solidly prepared going into the summer.
COVID- 19 changed all that.
“The first couple of weeks were traumatizing on so many different levels,” Mac said. “This isn’t going to be a year of profit.”
About 25 years ago, when Mac, not yet 20, began his business career, an uncle gave him a book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, an amusing parable about dealing with big changes in life.
Mac thought of that book when the world turned upside down.
(Editor’s note: We asked US Senator Edward Markey to share his perspectives on efforts in Washington to support and protect our fisheries during this time of crisis -- an assessment of federal action to date, what has been beneficial so far, and what we might expect going forward. Here is his report.)
Growing up in Malden, summer vacations meant trips to Revere Beach with my family. Today, it means lots of trips to Kelly’s Roast Beef for fried clams.
But that was before the coronavirus pandemic and the health and economic crisis confronting the entire country. This year, Massachusetts seafood producers are facing one of their toughest fights yet, as the fishing industry has been hit hard by this unprecedented emergency.
Facing a pandemic, status quo at the Provincetown pier – for now
Timing is everything, the old adage goes, and in this case it was bad.
In March, with COVID-19 upending businesses and knocking out markets for fishermen, the Provincetown Public Pier Corporation (PPPC), which manages the town’s wharf, sent out a notice: fees were going to change.
Not only that, but the changes – which almost everyone took to mean hikes – were going to be discussed virtually. Dock allocation at MacMillan Wharf was on the agenda too and commercial fishermen were worried about being pushed out.
“Uncool,” summed up long-time lobsterman Dana Pazolt.
From that other Great Depression, a writer found fishing inspiration
Only the Great Depression of the 1930s rivals this moment for damage done to our livelihoods, our sense of security, our communities.
During the darkest times of that Depression, 1934, a man moved to Cape Cod with his wife and small daughter. At 31- years-old he had already been a young reporter for the Kansas City Star, then lived in New York City for 10 years trying to get paid for writing magazine articles, kids’ books, you name it. He moved to the Cape as one of an influx of creative souls who decided to make Provincetown home – perhaps he figured it would be better to be destitute here than there.
If anyone knows how to deal with drastically changing circumstances, and often not for the better, it’s commercial fishermen. And, to be sure, the current moment we are in is exponentially more difficult than comparable tight spots, but fishermen have done their best to create pandemic positives.
Many are still working and the following photo gallery - with images from renowned photographer
David Hills - captures several slices of life on the waterfront. Boats are still heading out to bring back skates and monkfish and deliver it to buyers, such as Marder and Red’s Best that are waiting at local piers. Most of that catch is eaten off Cape, and even internationally, but some is being sold on Cape and if people keep on buying it here we’ll see more of it.
A new sight has also been fresh scallops, sold off the boats at several harbors, and seeing the demand and the myriad smiling faces of customers this looks like an enterprise that will last long past this painful time we find ourselves in.
The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, then called the Hook Fishermen’s Association, formed in 1991 at a crisis moment. A group of independent, forward-thinking fishermen created a united front to make sure major regulatory changes hitting the industry wouldn’t destroy the historic, small-boat fleet on Cape Cod.
We are in another pivotal moment. The pandemic shaking the world is hitting the local economy hard. Yet once again, much as through wars, the Great Depression, 9-11 – the fleet is still fishing, still bringing home food from the sea.
We will weather this storm as well. But we need your support more than ever.
Back in January, when I took stock of 2019, I couldn’t help but be grateful to the fishing industry and the community that supports them. It looked like we were coming out of a trough, ready to ride a wave. Those bright, committed fishermen who started this organization had been joined by others and as the industry changed they did as well.
They diversified and improvised. Many switched to more abundant species, rebuilt their business plans and lives on the water. They hung tough, committed to a life on the ocean, practicing the Cape’s original Blue Economy. We stuck with them and worked tirelessly to protect fish and our fishing fleets.
They had won the right to sail into a brighter future. There was renewed interest in the industry. We started a fishermen’s training program, taught in part by experienced captains who have much to show, who need more knowledgeable crew. There is federal legislation, which aims to accomplish the same goal coast to coast, and we have doggedly championed that here and in Washington.
We continue to turn to good science to drive smart fisheries policy. Haddock stocks have come back and we are working with fishermen to see if halibut is on the same trajectory. Our support, investment and pioneering efforts in electronic monitoring - cameras recording what is caught at sea - will help address many problems that still plague the industry.
Decades of work to protect vital herring stocks succeeded and will pay dividends for the fisheries, the Cape’s ecosystem, and its economy. We continued to invest in the A.R.C. Hatchery in Dennis, which supplies shellfish seed to many local growers and most Cape towns. Commercial shellfisheries and aquaculture are growing at an unprecedented level.
The global challenge we face will not destroy these successes. We have mobilized to provide fishermen with the necessary support to get through this, and we see valuable opportunities we will share with you throughout this year. We are confident in the flexibility, resilience, and perseverance Cape fishermen have shown for generations.
I believe that with your help, we will look back and say we came out of this stronger than ever. We will succeed because the broader community believes in our mission. All of us want to see an active fishing fleet on Cape Cod – it’s hard to imagine what this place would be without it.
As we continue to work through these unprecedented times, we are grateful to the community and all who support our mission. This spring, shop to support by visiting our
online store for some comfy clothing. Look stylish in your fish swag while supporting the Fishermen’s Alliance. Make a one-time
donation online or sign up to be part of the Fishermen Friends Society, a monthly giving program that can start as low as $5 a month.
Fishermen and artists have always had a close relationship on Cape Cod and we are extremely thankful to Addison Art Gallery and artist
Paul Schulenburg for stepping forward to celebrate and help the industry during this time.
Now through Saturday, May 16, for every Paul Schulenburg painting sold Addison Art Gallery will make a donation of up to $500 to the Fishermen's Alliance. The paintings of fishermen at the Chatham Fish Pier show how beautiful and full of character our working waterfronts are. To see them click here. For more information or to reserve art, please email email@example.com.
As a non-profit very active in the community, this is indeed a challenging time. We work hard on our calendar of events each year and look forward to having those opportunities to connect with our supporters. So until we can meet again we are having some live onscreen events, the first is a Bingo fundraiser on May 9, sign up
here. We have also been updating our website almost daily with places to buy local sea food and resources for the community, check them out
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?
Commercial fishermen on the Cape continue to fish, though prices have been fluctuating and many markets have dried up. Here is a
video taken at Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich when three boats full of monkfish and skate rendezvoused with trucks from two buyers. The scene has been repeated often in the last month and will continue. The hope is that when the pandemic fades, people will continue to buy local fish and less will have to be shipped overseas.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
There is a lot of bad news swirling around, but there is a fair amount of good as well; the bonds of community are proving strong as groups work together to help others: Wellfleet’s Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, S.P.A.T. is paying market prices to shellfishermen who have been shut out of markets. Rave-worthy clams and oysters are transformed into delicious meals at soup kitchens in Hyannis and Provincetown. Big Rock Oyster Company in Harwich, Holbrook Oyster in Wellfleet, and Wellfleet Shellfish Company and Mac’s Kitchen in Eastham are also partners. Read more about the Hay brothers’ involvement here.
A partnership with The Red Nun restaurant, Monomoy Community Services and the Chatham Harvesters Cooperative is another pandemic positive. The Red Nun has offered a dayboat scallop meal, with fries and cole slaw, for $5 for families in need. In a similar partnership with Hangar B, another Chatham restaurant (at the town’s airport), neighbors in need can get free seafood chowder.
Many non-profits have stepped up to highlight the work of others, and Cape Cod Young Professionals is one. The organization launched “Weekly Doses of Community,” which have included our series called “Stories from the Sea” (thank you!) as well as work of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, Power Yoga of Cape Cod and others. Read about them here.
On the Hook
We do a lot of reading, searching through the wide world of fisheries, and often find intriguing pieces to share. In the old days, you might call this your clipping service.
We hear a lot about the broken supply chain and faltering markets, and rightly so, but there are many buyers working hard to keep fishermen in business. You can read about them in a strong magazine piece in
Civil Eats. Most of the voices in the piece are either from the Cape, or have connections to the fishing industry here.
Speaking of fishermen in business, many fishermen are fighting hard to still go out to the place they feel most at home: the ocean.
Read about the changes wrought by the pandemic and some of the work being done at the federal level to help.
The pandemic has meant many firsts for many people. Here’s another one: our Chief Executive Officer John Pappalardo attended the New England Fishery Management Council’s first-ever webinar meeting. Although everyone would have preferred to be in person, there was a lot accomplished. Read about the two-day meeting in this comprehensive press release from the council’s talented scribe Janice Plante