who we are, how we fish and our connection to the sea
August 29, 2019
An early misstep works out, putting Nick Muto in the wheelhouse
Growing up, commercial fishing was never on Nick Muto's radar.
He worked in restaurants, including some no longer around like LoCicero’s in Orleans and The SouWester in Chatham (where he was a bouncer), and imagined opening his own restaurant someday. He did spend some time working on outboard motors and built a jeep with his dad, which ended up serving him well years later.
Out of high school he ended up at Salve Regina in Rhode Island and likely would have followed the food service trajectory if he didn’t get involved in another business, illegal at the time.
Hookers Ball celebrates the consistency, flexibility and perseverance of fishermen
John Pappalardo is proud of how the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is well into its second quarter century navigating the tumultuous fisheries world. And he knows why it has survived.
Pappalardo, the chief executive officer, believes the organization is among the most successful in New England, and perhaps the United States, because it follows the lead of its industry members:
“Adopting that work ethic day in and day out, year in and year out, has helped protect a resource, a tradition and a way of life on Cape Cod,” said Pappalardo, speaking to a crowd of close to 600 at the sold out Hookers Ball earlier this month. “We build our strategies, our problem solving skills and our risk-taking off what we see every day on the water with our members.”
As I crossed the finish line of the Falmouth Road Race, I was full of emotions: Happy to be done, proud of trekking through the heat and humidity, joyful seeing my son and husband cheering me on, and bittersweet knowing my three-year “run” with the Fishermen’s Alliance is coming to an end.
I look back at my time here proud of it all. I remember my first day, not knowing anything about the commercial fleet, fisheries management, or regulatory policy, wondering how in the world would I ever catch up and be able to speak of it -- I wouldn’t ever truly catch up, by the way, but I gave it my all. And I did come to know and (try to) understand people, community, and impact.
“Deadliest Catch” producer remembers commercial fishing in Chatham
Paul Gasek, who lives in Brewster, has won an Emmy for “The Deadliest Catch,” a television program he produced for six seasons, as well as accolades for his work as executive producer of “Shark Week”, from 2016 to 2018.
He isn’t as well known for his decade as a commercial fisherman after graduating Hobart College in 1972.
“Fishing taught me good lessons that would serve me the rest of my life,” Gasek says. “I got confidence, real confidence, confidence based on experience.”
A straightforward word like “groundfish” should have a straightforward definition. But in the complicated world of fisheries management, even defining “groundfish” can get downright confusing.
Are groundfish those fish that spend their lives swimming along the bottom? That would make sense, but when it comes to fishing regulations, the answer to that would be, Yes and no.
Are all fish that have fins and/or gills, with commercial value, referred to as groundfish? That would be a definite No.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Are cod considered groundfish? Yes.
How about monkfish? That would be a no.
Haddock? Yes, even though they swim well up in the water column.
Skates? Another no, even though they live on the bottom.
Yellowtail flounder, another bottom dweller? Sure, and add to that species like hake, pollock, redfish, and other flounders too.
How about dogfish, another important commercial stock for Cape fishermen? Nope.
The reasons for what seem like arbitrary distinctions go back to the early days of federal fisheries management. In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus was on what you might call the Big Three --- cod, haddock, and yellowtail. They were the valuable, targeted fish, and that’s where the initial push to manage stocks moved. And so these three generally were referred to as groundfish in a kind of shorthand.
By 1996, when Congress passed federal legislation that set a goal and requirement for all commercial stocks to be managed “sustainably,” it became apparent that other species needed to join the party. As stocks became more profitable, fished harder, and became candidates for management, they joined what most people called “the groundfish management plan.” Realizing that the name really wasn’t right, the feds tried (and keep trying) to call this “the multispecies plan.” But the common name is stubborn.
So why aren’t monkfish, for example, folded into the groundfish management plan?
The answer is more political than scientific. There was a strong lobbying effort against bringing monkfish in; the arguments had to do with it being a larger mesh-size fishery, discreet from other “groundfish” effort, but the opposition really was rooted in a desire to keep the fishery as far away from the multispecies plan as possible. When it came to all seven species of skates, or dogfish, for a long time those stocks weren’t considered of much value, not worth the time, attention, and expense of dragging them under the federal management tent.
So here we are, decades later, and we have individual management plans for each of the “groundfish,” each with its own rules like how many pounds can be caught, minimum sizes, closures by time and area. These plans are in response to Congress’s mandate that managers find some way to keep the industry profitable, and protect fishing stocks for the future.
The intent was fine, but it’s fair to say that the results have not been great. Put it another way: If we could start from scratch, would we create something similar to what we’re working under now?
Very doubtful. We likely wouldn’t have all these plans, fish by fish. We’d more likely manage by gear, and area: If you’re fishing with hooks, here’s what you need to do. If you’re fishing with gillnets, or dragging, ditto. If you’re going after bottom fish in the Gulf of Maine, here you go. If you’re going for them on Georges Bank, read this.
It would still be complicated, but it would take into better account how fishing really works now and for the future. It wouldn’t begin by pretending that each species exists in a kind of silo.
If something radical like that were to happen, then “groundfish” would be able to settle back into its more natural meaning.
A huge congratulations to our #FishRuns Falmouth Road Race team on their amazing accomplishment. This stellar team: 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 raised $20,725 to support our mission. Thank you to all of our race supporters and a special shout out to our top fundraiser (for the second year in a row), Lizzie Lane who raised $3,050, Abby Farrell, our youngest and fastest runner, placing third in her age division with a time of 49:19, and our volunteer team coach Caroline Lane for all of her cheerleading and support.
Our 18th annual Hookers Ball was very successful with close to $300,000 raised. It was also a lot of fun, and Christine Hochkeppel from Salty Broad Studios captured the revelry. Check out more than a 100 photos here.
A sincere thank you to the trio of Amarus that made last night's Meet the Fleet an entertaining and valuable experience. The three generations - Bill, Jason and Christian - talked about their lives in the fishing industry and we enjoyed flounder from Chatham Fish and Lobster. Thanks to our sponsors
Chatham Bars Inn,
Hog Island Beer Co. and
Ben & Jerry's North Eastham. A special thank you to our exclusive Meet the Fleet Sponsor
Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty who allows us to continue to offer our community these educational programs
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?
As you may have read in our related piece, the Hookers Ball – “Just for the Halibut” – was a resounding success. Our important work is powered by fishermen and
this video by Shoreline Productions, helmed by Tom Chartrand, with strong support from Lisa Cavanaugh (whose writing has often graced our e-magazine), captures what it takes to make commercial fishing a career.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
We know Captain Jim Ford, who fishes out of Newburyport Ma., through his and our involvement in electronic monitoring onboard. He’s a fine captain and we want to let people know about his new presence on the small screen. He is partnering with a group called “Eating with the Ecosystem” which is using Instagram to share footage of his boat catching fish. We hope to have a similar program with fishermen on the Cape, several of whom also have cameras on their boats, so folks know what is being caught and where to get it.
Twenty years ago, our very own Seth Rolbein was making documentaries for National Public Television, and set about creating one about the brand new National Marine Sanctuary off our coast, called Stellwagen. "Sanctuary" dove into the rich history of Stellwagen Bank, from fishing to whaling, threats it was facing from sand and gravel development, and efforts to protect endangered mammals and habitat without jeopardizing fishermen. Now Truro Connections is sponsoring a re-airing of the show as the last evening in its recent series on Outer Cape sustainability. The documentary, originally produced by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, will air Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Payomet Tent; Seth will be there along with a handful of the people who made the documentary happen, and participated in it two decades ago.
We always support better information to make decisions and UMass Amherst researchers are recruiting survey participants to better understand angler interactions with sharks. They want you to take this survey and answer questions, such as: Have you ever lost your catch to a shark? Have you ever seen a shark while fishing?
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.
Local partner-ships that help protect this special place are one of the Cape’s true gifts. This article talks about another collaborative effort between us and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy: educating the public about the different sharks off our shores, including the one we eat, dogfish.
Reconstruction of the Chatham Fish Pier has been plagued by bad news. This story, from the Cape Cod Chronicle, appears to offer some light at the end of this long tunnel. If all goes well our popular, long-running Pier Host Program, where local captains talk about the local fisheries, will start up again in September. Fingers crossed.
We support wind power -- fishermen, after all, were among the first to harness wind to make a living -- but we strongly believe the concerns of commercial industry members should be recognized, respected, and addressed. This article looks at the issues around Vineyard Wind.
A settlement with NOAA means Carlos Rafael "The Codfather" will never fish again, but some believe that penalty - and a fine that will still leave him a multi-millionaire- is too lenient.