Mike Dunbar was standing by his work truck and well-loved boat, looking at the cadet-gray waters of Lewis Bay, about to head out to fill a surprise, and very welcome,
order of thousands of oysters.
“This is my office,” he said, grinning at the thought and the idea of harvesting as many oysters as he wanted after a year of harvesting next to nothing, except for deliveries destined for food pantries.
Conrad Caia, long-time Yarmouth shellfish constable, pulled up in a green truck to survey the landing by Englewood Beach. They exchanged waves before Caia drove away.
Twenty years ago, the two had stood at the same landing as Dunbar, who had recently landed back on the Cape, wanted to try his hand at aquaculture. He became the third in town.
What fishermen, fish, whales, and seabirds have in common: A love of sand eels
Bluefin tuna and striped bass crash through the waves. Seabirds wheel overhead and plunge into the water.
Gape-mouthed whales rise from below. Schools of cod and dogfish hide below the surface.
While the convergence of such diverse sea life might seem accidental, those in the know thank a small, slender fish called a sand eel for the bonanza.
Also known as sand lance, these three-to-six inch forage fish are a main food source for many of the top predators in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank, including some of the most commercially important species.
As their name implies, sand lance are tied to sand habitat, but not just any sand will do. To avoid predators, sand lance spend most of the night and parts of the day buried. When disturbed, they rocket out of the bottom, then dive head first and at full speed back into the sand.
Alex Hay of Wellfleet Shellfish Company was on screen, shucking meaty surf clams for linguiça-infused stuffies, when an audience member following along at home raised a virtual hand.
Jenn Allard of Mainsail Events and Marketing, who had pulled together the Meet the Fleet Zoom for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, encouraged the question as one camera filmed Hay’s cutting board and the other focused on his face.
“Where do you buy these clams?” the attendee asked, explaining that she had lived on Cape for a long time and had not seen them for sale.
Fred Bennett remembers the moment well and although he doesn’t regret it, he does say he alienated some people.
And he destroyed a flower pot.
It was the mid-1990s, in a conference center in Hyannis, at one of many state and federal hearings centered on reducing fishing effort.
Big cuts were on the table and hook fishermen like Bennett didn’t want to be lumped in with bigger dragger boats using so-called “rock hopper gear.” Hook fishermen were fishing in the same areas, said Bennett, and had seen the destructive impact this heavy equipment had on the bottom, tearing up and removing vegetation, powerful enough to move boulders and destroy little protective oases.
So Bennett went to the meeting, laid a tarp on the ground and placed a flower pot on it. Then he commenced “fishing.”
Our headquarters, the Captain Nathan Harding House on Main Street, has been much quieter than we would like because of COVID restrictions. We miss being there, meeting people there, having events there and celebrating a historic building the community came together to restore. So we thought we would take the opportunity, it being our 30th anniversary as well, to virtually visit and tell the story of the house that became our third office, and forever home, in 2010.
Just when we thought we could put the herring fight behind us, comes this
By John Pappalardo
So many of us put in so much hard work to enact protections for herring in our waters, understanding that these small forage fish are crucial to a healthy ecosystem but have been nearly wiped out by one style of fishery working in devastating, massive ways.
We won that fight, and now the federal government has in place thoughtful, constructive measures designed to bring herring back both offshore and to our rivers and streams that should teem at this very moment of every year.
What we accomplished was targeted, and smart: Mid-water pair-trawls, large boats working in tandem, using small-mesh nets that can be as big as football fields, need to stay more than 12 miles off the New England coast, out to 20 miles for an especially sensitive area off Cape Cod. It’s a big ocean, and they can fish elsewhere, but crucial near-shore waters must be better protected from the intense fishing pressure they exert.
Now the bad news:
A dozen or so midwater pair-trawlers responsible for a great deal of the damage to New England’s herring population have banded together and sued the federal government, specifically the Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service, looking to get the new rules thrown out.
There are only two things anyone needs to know to understand how disingenuous this lawsuit really is.
First: For 15 years, these very people have fought tooth and nail to keep impartial, federal fishing observers off their boats. The only solid explanation for that resistance is that they have something to hide. And what they have to hide is the way their fishing practices really work, how destructive they can be.
Second: Look at the stocks. The herring population has been devastated in the years since these midwater pair-trawlers started fishing nearby. After the famous 200-mile limit on foreign vessels was enacted, we had a hiatus from this kind of fishing pressure and the herring had been coming back. Now they are at historic lows as measured by every reputable scientific standard.
Does anyone think that’s a coincidence?
There are a dozen other things that could be said about this self-serving lawsuit, but I’ll throw in just one more. This group, who calls themselves “Sustainable Harvest,” argues that fishery managers should not consider the concept of “localized depletion,” meaning they shouldn’t focus management plans on smaller, specific areas where fish stocks and spawning areas have been wiped out. The obvious reason why this group makes that argument is because herring stocks in our communities have been slammed so hard, if localized depletion can be considered then you have to do something to stop it. Which begs the question: If you shouldn’t and can’t look at local areas and take steps to help them recover, what are you supposed to be managing?
Commercial and recreational fishermen up and down the coast, town, county, and state officials, conservation and environmental groups, coalesced to build and enact the smart measures now in place. We shared a vision, which is not always the case, and we convinced the federal government to do the right thing. Now come a handful of midwater pair-trawlers to try to use the federal courts to overturn a deep community consensus.
They have a right to appeal, of course. But they’re wrong morally, wrong environmentally, wrong economically, and wrong legally. We’ll do everything we can to prove every one of those facts, and if we need to return to all of you for more support to do so, rest assured we will.
Looking for some fishy swag or a nice Mother’s Day gift? Visit our online store for a variety of items including the iconic Chatham hook bracelet, tote bags, shirts, cozy hoodies, AND some new Yeti tumblers to celebrate our 30th anniversary.
Get the spring in your step and join our Falmouth Road Race team! We have 13 bibs available as part of the Numbers for Nonprofits Program for this iconic race. All levels of runners are invited to join our team. You can choose to run or walk the seven miles in your neighborhood. Raise $750 or more for the Fishermen's Alliance by August 15 (race day), you'll receive a training plan and tips for achieving your personal best. We'll provide marketing materials and support to help you raise funds. Contact Brigid for more info.
We had another successful Meet the Fleet and received most welcome compliments from attendees on the delicious surf clam stuffy recipe and the skills and storytelling of Alex Hay of Wellfleet Shellfish Company. A special thank you to Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty, premier sponsor of Meet the Fleet for seven years. Read about the event 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?
Before COVID, we were offering insights and slices of the sea in a new endeavor we started with WOMR/WFMR and with funding from cultural councils across the Cape. We called it “Adventures in the Blue Economy” and we have kept it up, now into our second year putting together four- to eight-minute “podlets” or conversations with people connected to commercial fishing. Here are our two most recent vignettes: young captain Zach Bennett, a third generation fisherman, and Nick Nickerson, a former captain who re-invented himself and is now a popular artisan.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
Since commercial fishermen depend on the health of the ocean, we want to thank Barnstable County for offering a low -cost hazardous waste collection opportunity for small businesses, removing financial incentive to dump illegally. Fishermen and others can schedule a pick-up or drop materials off by emailing kalliope@barnstable county.org. For more information click here.
We work with small fishing businesses who will be selling to the public long after COVID is just an unpleasant memory. Local seafood is available from Cape fishmongers and at Farmers Markets as well. That’s why we are happy to share the peninsula with other non-profits such as Love Live Local,a Cape Cod organization dedicated to community advocacy and educating consumers on the importance of shopping local. Their mission “is to foster an economically sustainable, creative and exciting future for the Cape and help all those who love this place participate in keeping it special.” Hard to disagree with that.
Our Fish for Families program is close to a decade old and has evolved a bit as we work with the Family Pantry of Cape Cod on our new haddock chowder program. The family pantry does phenomenal work year after year and this year they are doing more than ever. They have a virtual gala coming up and the timing gives you plenty of time to rest up for our favorite event, The Hookers Ball!
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.
One of our board members, Beau Gribbin, has been appointed to Provincetown Pier Corp and we are pleased to note that the pier corp. decided to defer rate increases for fishing boats and others using the town wharf (Gribbin recused himself on that issue). Read more in these two stories and for some perspective read our story on fishermen’s concern about rising fees.
This story out of Rock Harbor also has to do with rate increases and although we worry that some on the Cape don’t understand the true value of commercial fishing, officials in Orleans do. And we appreciate that.
“If we push out people at the harbor you’re not going to have people come to Orleans to watch some wealthy guy sitting on the deck of a yacht sipping cocktails on a boat that never leaves the dock,” Selectman Mark Mathison said. Read morehere.
Provincetown may soon boast a visitor center for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, an undersea shelf spanning more than 800 square miles. Stellwagen Bank starts a few miles off the Provincetown coast and extends north across the mouth of Massachusetts Bay to Gloucester. “The sanctuary’s waters are prized by both whale watchers and commercial fishermen.” Read more here. And check out our story on Henry Stellwagen here.