When more than 1400 people logged onto a virtual event the New England Aquarium hosted to discuss the documentary “Entangled,” focusing on the plight and politics of the right whale, there was one overriding question:
“Do you think the lobster fishery and right whales can co-exist?”
Panelist Rob Martin, a lobsterman out of Sandwich, said he has been working for the past seven years to make sure they can. He has engaged with researchers from the aquarium and elsewhere on gear changes, everything from break-away lines (in addition to those already required by law) to ropeless gear – using technology to locate underwater traps without needing lines and buoys to the surface.
“I want to solve the problem. I don’t want to put a band aid on it. There are a lot of us trying to do the right thing. We’ve been using the best available science,” he said. “I have been lobstering for 40 years and I want to keep going.”
When Hyannis had a railroad spur jutting into Lewis Bay
“The fish shanties were right over there,” said Don Stucke, curator at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis, as he gestured across the inner harbor of Lewis Bay. “That white house over my shoulder on Lewis Bay Road, you can see it in the old photo of the shanties. Of course Cape Cod Hospital wasn’t there by a long shot.”
Most histories of Hyannis and its harbor don’t say much about commercial fishing, and these days most people don’t think of Hyannis as a fishing port as much as a ferry terminal, home for big pleasure craft, a place for the Kennedys to come about. But then as now, fishing played a major role.
Hyannis Harbor has gone through many transformations in its centuries of use, but none more dramatic than the period from the 1850s into the early twentieth century, when a long railroad spur and wharf turned Hyannis into a major maritime hub.
Few vestiges of that commercial expression remain, replaced by other kinds of economic activity that reflect the changing economy of the Cape, more focused on summer, tourism, and ferry traffic. Then as now, commercial fishing also makes good use of Hyannis, though with a lower profile than many other pastimes.
These historic images, courtesy of the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis, some of which appear in an exhibit presently at the museum, help draw the past back into the present.
Despite it all, or maybe because of it all, some achievements
By John Pappalardo
Even after a year that will be remembered as one of the most challenging in our lifetimes, there are good things to hold onto and play forward. This is not one of those “glass half full” comments. It’s more a celebration of resilience and creativity, strengths that have always defined Cape Cod’s fishing community, attributes that take on even more importance as thing get tougher.
So I thought I’d usher out 2020 – can’t say I’ll miss that calendar too much – and usher in 2021 with a handful of positives. Call them accomplishments. Call them tacks, pivots. Call them building blocks.
Call them facts:
The fleet hung tough: In March, April, and May, there was serious question whether the fleet could survive. Fish buyers and wholesalers, essential even as their relationships with fishermen have always had a love-hate aspect, were seeing the bottom fall out. Overseas demand vanished as shipping became difficult if not impossible. Restaurants shuttered, removing many high-end customers so valuable to the high-quality fleet. Fish processors were having a hard time staying open given the distancing demands of a contagious pandemic. Yet by June and July it slowly became clear that a virus was not going to destroy this fleet. Stressed? Yes. Challenged? Yes. But fishermen adapted, and markets began to recover and re-shape. As essential workers feeding our nation, and others, fishermen stayed on the water.
Deck to kitchen: Some wags took to calling it “boat to throat,” a fun description too. What mattered was that the oldest, most traditional way of selling fish came back in vogue; people headed down to the docks, meeting captains and crew, to buy the freshest fish in the world. This worked especially well for scallops because they arrive at the port ready to go, lobsters too. There were more challenges for finfish because public health rules prohibit filleting and processing on deck. But whole fish could move, and did. The fundamental experience of seeing who catches the fish we eat, face to face (even with masks on), was a major plus. Here’s hoping those opportunities continue long after this pandemic is beaten.
Cooking up a storm: A lot of people are a little intimidated by the thought of cooking seafood, thinking that it’s complicated or delicate, easy to ruin, better to leave the prep to the great chefs around us. And those chefs make magic, but with restaurant capacity curtailed, many people got over their fears, and realized that cooking seafood does not require a four-star rating. Start with great fish, and keep one idea in mind whether you’re baking, laying it on a skillet, or firing up the grill: Don’t overdo it. All summer, we heard satisfaction on this point, and while we can’t wait to get back to our favorite haunts, there was something beautiful in seeing people gain confidence in handling and preparing an iconic harvest.
Young fishermen getting a leg up: Despite the transition and mayhem in Washington, we got a huge win in the last days of the year, just before Congress adjourned. The Young Fishermen’s Development Act, legislation we had been pushing for years, finally passed. It was a bi-partisan effort, from Democrats in Massachusetts to Republicans in Alaska, the kind of cooperation that has become an endangered species in D.C. A federal program now poised will commit $2 million a year to train and qualify people around the country interested in becoming fishermen. Our own training program, funded partly from the state, had to be put on hold but is sure to resurrect and expand as soon as we can get back to hands-on teaching and training. The pandemic’s impact no doubt created urgency to get this great bill over the finish line and to the president's desk, hopefully for his signature.
State public officials stepping up: Many public officials are dedicated, honest, and public-spirited, but sometimes they wind up distrusted, in adversarial positions to the very people they are supposed to be supporting. But since COVID, I think a lot of fishermen and people in the fishing industry have seen the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries in a new light. Getting special permits for fishermen to sell at the dock, moving federal aid out of the bureaucracy and into the ports as quickly and fairly as possible, being flat-out responsive and engaged, DMF has been walking the walk and a lot of people are recognizing that. Maybe it takes an external threat to heighten appreciation for common goals and core beliefs.
And when in doubt, make chowder: Since launching our chowder program in September, with a mission to pay fishermen a fair, predictable price for plentiful smaller haddock while helping meet the crisis every food bank and pantry is facing, we have been blown away by the amazing success and outpouring of support. As the year ends we have donated and distributed about 80,000 containers of haddock chowder, each 18 ounces or roughly three servings, meaning 240,000 cups. From small community kitchens on-Cape to food banks and pantries across the state to food banks in New Hampshire and Maine, the reception has been phenomenal. For as long as we have funds, for as long as fishermen can catch’em, for as long as the fillet house can cut and the chowder maker can cook, we’ll keep this going – because we know the demand and need is growing.
So maybe Charles Dickens captured it well: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Here’s hoping the balance shifts yet more in our favor in 2021.
Have you been wanting to try some haddock chowder? For the month of January, your donation of $250 or more to the Fishermen’s Alliance funds our important work to support Cape Cod’s fishermen and sustain important programs like our haddock chowder. This contribution helps to provide a case of haddock chowder to local food banks and as a thank you, we will send you a case of haddock chowder to enjoy in your own home. Part of this donation will be tax deductible. Be sure to make note in the comments section: haddock chowder.
Each year we are overwhelmed with the continued generosity of long time supporters, as well as new people who have stepped up to help fund our important programs. This year had its own set of distinct challenges and we are so pleased to report that we received more than 500 unique donations throughout 2020. Your support fuels our work immediately, right here on Cape Cod. If you are able to make a tax deductible donation, please visit our website today. Thank you from the bottom of hearts, and the ocean.
Be sure to check out our online store and pick up some Fishermen’s Alliance gear. From cozy hooded sweatshirts to long sleeve t-shirts, we have you covered in style and for a good cause.
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?
The need in our community and beyond can not be overstated. Food banks are facing unprecedented numbers of clients as the pandemic surges for the second time. We are trying to grow our program of keeping fishermen fishing and providing a delicious, nutritious meal to those who need one. Learn more about our initiative in this piece that aired on Fox 25.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
The Young Fishermen’s Development Act, which provides funding to train and support the next generation of fishermen, passed Congress this month. The victory is an important one, accomplished due to efforts of fishermen across the Cape and the nation – pulled together by the Fishing Communities Coalition of which we are a member, as well as political leaders ranging from Democratic Senator Ed Markey here in Massachusetts to Alaskan Republicans Don Young and Dan Sullivan. Now it’s on to President Trump’s desk for a signature. Tune in to this video to see why the act matters.
There has been a fair amount of good news on the shellfish front, quite welcome considering problems that beset the industry this year because of the pandemic. Although recent initiatives won’t erase the economic hit, they are important steps undertaken by people who care about the future of the industry and community. Read about national efforts – promoted by one of our partners, The Nature Conservancy - to buy oysters and create natural reefs; also about a farmers market in Wellfleet set up by Holbrook Oyster and the Wellfleet Shellfish Department to sell shellfish direct to consumers.
We are always pleased to be working with new organizations helping our communities, so wanted to give a shout to a few groups that are distributing our haddock chowder to those who may need a nutritious, delicious meal that also keeps fishermen on the water: the Common Table at The Fox and Crow Restaurant in Wellfleet, Helping Our Women out of Provincetown, Cape Cod Alzheimer's Family Support Center and the Barnstable Council on Aging.
Other Cape groups are working with us to offer help for aquaculture businesses. SCORE, in partnership with MassMutual, USDA, Farm Service Agency, Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, SEMAP and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce is offering a workshop for farm businesses entitled Legacy Planning for Farmers. The workshop includes programming on succession planning, retirement planning and estate planning for farm owners on January 19, 3 to 5 p.m. Registerhere.
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.
Readhow the tuna fishery’s proven technology may help solve the thorny problem of transporting millions of frozen Covid-19 vaccine doses across continents and oceans.
While lawsuits play out, and federal regulations have just been released, the state Division of Marine Fisheries is moving ahead on changes to the lobster fishery that include greater protections for the endangered right whale. Close to a 1,000 pages of public testimony was submitted on new proposals that would expand the closed area of Cape Cod Bay and require break-away vertical lines. Read more here.
Here is a fun history piece, put together at Lower Cape Media Center, that tells the story of a famous Provincetown tuna captain and has lessons for today.