Diversification is key for Andy Baler, but fish remains central
Andy Baler opened up his second Bluefins Sushi and Sake Bar in Falmouth a year ago in March. Three days later, Governor Baker shut much of the state down, and because the restaurant was new and without a track record, Baler didn’t qualify for COVID assistance.
Something similar has happened again this year.
“It’s a brutal pandemic,” he said. “It just shows how fragile something can be.”
He is keeping the Falmouth restaurant open along with his original on Chatham’s Main Street and still can laugh about it, albeit painfully. Why? Because he has been in the fishing business for most of his life and business-threatening, out-of-the-blue changes are fairly common.
“This is nothing compared to the fishing industry,” Baler said. “Regulations change and the boats have to jump from species to species and they have to be a pro at figuring it out.”
From the Fishermen’s Alliance to NOAA, staying engaged in fishery science and management
Dr. George Maynard, knowing fishermen are always pressed for time, often found them at odd hours and out-of-the-way spots.
“Going above and beyond what was required or expected was pretty common of George,” said Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer. “He was willing to do whatever it took to help the fleet.”
That included initiatives like creating clever dissection videos so fishermen could see what was necessary to gather scientific samples at sea, without wasting time training on land, as well as spending hour after hour crunching data to save fishermen time on deck.
Now Maynard, research director at the Fishermen’s Alliance for close to three and a half years, will continue to bolster the success of commercial fishermen and drive science forward, just at a different place.
The Young Fishermen’s Development Act makes it into law
Just about four years ago, when Sam Linnell was 22, he came in from monkfishing with his dad just after midnight, and a few hours later was on the way to the airport for an early morning flight to Washington, D.C.
Linnell and his dad, Tim, were two of more than 50 fishermen, many from the Cape, who took time off to ask legislators to support the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, the first federal program proposed to help train, educate, and assist the next generation of commercial fishermen.
“Whoever we talked to seemed super for it and seemed to respect the fishing life, what it meant, how important it is and how the whole nation is founded on it,” Linnell remembered.
Still, it took until this year for bipartisan support to coalesce around a bill that passed both branches of Congress. President Trump signed the legislation in early January, enshrining a five-year effort spearheaded by the Fishing Communities Coalition, a national group co-founded by the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.
When fishermen's credit was more handshake than bank note
Commercial fishermen often stop by to share their thoughts on everything from policy to prices, bureaucracy to boats, what’s working and what isn’t. We value the knowledge and the connection.
During COVID the “stopping by” part isn’t happening much, but there’s still sharing going on. For example, retired Captain Mark Simonitsch recently shared some advice wrapped in a tale, sent as a letter to CEO John Pappalardo. The story was so well told, it felt like old times resurrected. We hope you enjoy it as well.
A recent article about farmers’ access to credit reminded me of experiences with the evolution of institutional credit available to local fishermen. Maybe personal money experiences from other fishermen would be interesting to document as a part of the history of local fishing for the Fishermen’s Alliance to collect someday.
The Fishermen’s Alliance values science, believing it essential to making good management decisions that protect fish and fishermen.
But not all science is created equal; we believe that cooperative research involving scientists and fishermen, who know the ocean best, is the best.
We have known the value of fisheries research since our beginning, 30 years ago,and became involved it not long after, so we can’t share all our work in this photo gallery, but we can celebrate a few projects.
There is no particular rhyme or reason for singling out the cod tagging study from 2003 to 2005, the cod mortality study in 2006, or the more recent halibut study, but it’s a start and we pledge to share more historic research work as the year rolls on.
As the pandemic descended on us all, here at the Alliance we kept racking our brains to come up with ways we could respond, ways we could help local fishermen stay on the water and stay in business.
We worked with captains and crew one-on-one to make sure they were lined up to receive the state and federal support they deserve. We worked with local and state officials to create more opportunities for direct sales off boats and docks. We launched a chowder program to become a strong steady buyer for smaller haddock, supporting jobs on deck as well as in fish processing and manufacturing, at the same time helping food banks across New England fight hunger and support tens of thousands of people facing what they call food insecurity.
Then we hit on another idea: How about trying to get fuel subsidies directly to commercial fishermen?
The more we thought about it, the more we liked it. Fuel companies have records of what they’ve pumped boat by boat, account by account, so the paperwork is there already. A subsidy by the gallon would offer more support to fishermen most on the water rather than a flat amount to anyone with a commercial permit no matter how much they are working. No strings attached, just a check in the mail – fishermen can decide how best to use it. Simple. Straightforward. Direct.
We proposed the idea to the team at Catch Together, the same group that helped us get funding for our haddock chowder work. We wrestled with the numbers, tried to figure out what kind of scale we’re talking about. Catch Together vetted our projections and ran it up their funding flagpole. We suggested a subsidy of 10 cents for every gallon of fuel used by a bona fide commercial fisherman on the Cape (and maybe a few on the islands too). It wasn’t a buck a gallon, but it was more than a token, and might just make the difference given how tight margins had become.
The word came back: You’ve got the funding. Go for it.
We let local fuel companies who supply fishermen know what we wanted to do, and asked for their help getting us hard numbers. Canal, Cape Cod Oil, Harwich Port Boat Yard, Loud, Marcey, Monomoy, Nantucket Boat Basin, Whiteley – they all came through, providing us with the information we needed or verifying data that fishermen sent in.
Now I can report that the first round of checks has gone out. Support has reached about 190 fishermen so far, totaling about $40,000. For some captains the check was a couple hundred dollars or less; for others it was close to $600. We’re working on a second round in the new year and so far we have another 20 or so fishermen lined up, roughly $4500 committed, with more to come. Checks have reached fishermen from the canal all the way to Provincetown.
As you might imagine, the response has been heartening. For some the money just showed up because the fuel companies had provided the paperwork, so there was plenty of grateful surprise. Many mentioned how “every little bit helps right about now,” which is what we had suspected.
We are going to beat this virus. There have been many tragic casualties, and there will be more. But we will beat it, and we at the Alliance will do our best to lessen its damage. We know our contributions toward that goal are very small in the grand scheme, but we will continue to do them, and we know this fleet will survive.
On your marks, get set, go! We are excited to announce we have 15 bibs as part of the “numbers for nonprofits” program with the Asics Falmouth Road Race in August 2021. Stay tuned for details and let us know if you are ready to run for a good cause!
The popular virtual B-I-N-G-O is back and happening Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. Everyone is invited to join us from the comfort of your home! Participants can enjoy three rounds of Bingo LIVE on Facebook, learn some Fishy Facts between games, and have the chance to win great prizes. Register ahead of time and reserve your card with a minimum donation of $10 by Monday, Feb. 8
This year we are celebrating our 30th anniversary and we have a full agenda for 2021! Being flexible and going with the tide is something we are accustomed to, but we can’t do it without you. Each year the Fishermen’s Alliance relies on generous donor support from near and far. Consider signing up for a monthly gift of $10 (or more) and join our Fishermen Friends Society. Your donation supports our work immediately. Right here. Right now.
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?
For the last two years, Cape Cod Blue Economy has hosted “WaterWORKS,” where hundreds of high school students learn about a wealth of water-dependent jobs on the peninsula, opportunities for enviable careers. In addition to students from schools across the Cape and just over the bridges, dozens of non-profits (including us) and business people (including commercial fishermen like Rob Martin and Sam Linnell) come to Cape Cod Community College to share their Cape-based experience and opportunities. One of the many interactions at the event featured Woods Hole Sea Grant educator Grace Simpkins explaining how to take a shellfish quiz. A photo of the moment won a first place award in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s favorite education photos from 2020. This year, COVID-19 made a big gathering such as WaterWORKS, impossible, but we want to recall its importance and how the peninsula still boasts myriad jobs in the blue economy.
If you want to take a step back in time to the last event, click here.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
Good news from another organization working for industry members, the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association. The MAA received grant funding that will build on work Cape Cod Cooperative Extension has done to purchase, process and deliver shucked Massachusetts grown oysters to food banks. With a $108,000 grant from Catch Together, a program of Multiplier, and a $3,000 AgEnhancement grant from Farm Credit East, MAA will coordinate a project that will extend oyster purchasing started by the extension service. With this funding, MAA will be targeting purchases of 150,000 or more oysters from Massachusetts growers. Like the extension service project, a 40 cents per oyster price will be offered in addition to compensation to dealers and processors for handling.
Seafood Harvesters of America is made up of commercial fishing groups across the nation, including us, and advocates on behalf of the industry. The executive director, Leigh Habeggar, recently broke down from a fishing perspective what is in the big COVID relief package and FY21 Omnibus. Congress allocated an additional $300 million in fisheries assistance and provided $1.5 billion to purchase and distribute "food and agricultural products, including seafood.” This $1.5 billion may also be used for "grants and loans to small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to coronavirus, including measures to protect workers against Covid-19." Read more here.
We are lucky to live on a peninsula with so much history and so many organizations working to protect and share the stories of the past. Most recently we worked with Cape Cod Maritime Museum to find out more about the history of Hyannis Harbor and staff there says they have an upcoming exhibit on the industry in Provincetown to look forward to.
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.
Seafood sales did better than expected in 2020. Anarticle in Seafood Source says the success stories in retail seafood were largely higher-end items, such as crab and lobster. In addition to those two categories jumping 87 percent, “scallop sales soared 64 percent, mahi sales hiked up 56 percent, barramundi sales went up 70 percent, sea bass bounced up 114 percent, and halibut jumped 52 percent.”
Fishermen are on the front lines of climate change because their lives and livelihoods are intertwined with the ocean, but an enormous, ambitious piece of legislation seems to be moving forward without their input. Find out why it matters in this piece from the Cape Codder.
While NOAA is accepting comments on new fishing regulations to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale, there also is a lawsuit that aims to prevent ship strikes. Read more here.