Sean Leach is a second-generation fisherman who hesitates before saying how many boats his family has owned in the last 30 years. At least 8, he surmises.
“We keep saying this will be the last one,” he said.
Leach, 32, was standing in Cape Island Boats in Orleans, the strong, almost sweet, smell of fiberglass filling the air and a gleaming white, wide boat mostly filling the cavernous space. It’s about 60-percent done, and this time, “I’m not going to say it’s the last one,” he said with a grin.
Small as a flea, oysters go looking for calcium, and find A.R.C’s cultch
In a greenhouse off a long, sandy road in Dennis, concrete pools are filled every spring to offer millions and millions of oysters a swim.
Before the budding bivalves took the plunge this year, about 4,000 mesh bags of mostly sea clam shells, originally from a processing facility in New Bedford, were placed inside two of the empty pools at A.R.C Hatchery.
“After we put the bags of shell in the tanks, we fill the tanks full of seawater and algae – food for the baby oysters. The oyster larvae permanently attach themselves to the shell (called setting) inside the bags,” said Rick Sawyer, president of the hatchery. “It is quite a process.”
That bumper sticker, with two codfish bracketing the words ‘Pappalardo for Council,’ was created almost 20 years ago.
A lot has changed since then. But Pappalardo’s wish hasn’t.
“Protecting a tradition, a resource and a way of life was central to why I wanted a seat on the council,” Pappalardo. “The management process can be arcane and even maddening at times. But that big-picture effort to make sure small boat fishermen continue to succeed colors everything I do.”
Dozens upon dozens of boats moving in and out of Cape Cod harbors, all under sail, employing thousands of men, all with the same mission:
So it was in the mid-1800s, when mackerel was king and Cape Cod fishermen led not just the state but the nation in bringing them home. Indeed it’s fair to say that mackerel, more than codfishing or whaling, created what was probably the most prosperous era in Cape Cod history.
Here are some figures that offer a sense of scale, and growth of an historic fishery.
Capturing the look and feel of the historic mackerel fishery
A century and a half ago, in 1871, Congress created the U.S. Commission on Fish and Fisheries. The reason, even 150 years later, sounds familiar: Study declining fisheries and recommend solutions to reverse this trend.
A famous fish scientist at the time, George Brown “G.B.” Goode, became one of the early commissioners and put together a team of more than 20 scientists, with a similar number of supporting clerical employees, to compile a massive, multi-volume work that investigated just about every fishery known to the nation, detailing the fish themselves, the effort and means to catch them, the ecology in which they lived, and how the fishermen lived and worked.
The work was copiously illustrated. Captain J.W. Collins, an expert on New England fisheries, and Henry Wood Elliott (who also illustrated an edition of
“Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes”),
focused on our region and did remarkable renditions of the life and times of the mackerel industry; some were renderings of photos, others freehand.
What follows are just some of the visuals they created which appeared in “The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States,” with G.B. Goode as the lead author, in 1887. This appears to be the last of the series of annual volumes published with this name and purpose.
Last month in this space, I mentioned that the team here at the Fishermen's Alliance has been thinking hard about ways we can help keep the local fishing fleet on the water, and help others hurt by the economic fallout raining down as we try to beat back a deadly virus. And I promised to get back to you with specifics to accomplish those goals.
Now I’m ready to sum up a major initiative we’re rolling out with a couple of words that might make you laugh, to think that such big ambitions could get expressed in such a seemingly simple idea:
Here’s how we got there:
Haddock is one of the most plentiful fish in our region’s waters, so much so that millions of haddock are not growing as well as they have in the past, likely because of crowding. These smaller fish don’t make for big fillets, so don’t look great or sell well in markets. That means fishermen don’t get good prices for catching them, in fact often do their best to avoid what for generations was one of the great staple seafoods of New England.
But smaller fillets work great in chowder.
Meanwhile, food banks and pantries love offering chowder to their clients. Why? It’s nutritious, delicious, and kids often lap it up. Plus, a chowder is ready to go. Even if you don’t have a real kitchen, maybe nothing more than a hot plate or microwave, all you have to do is heat up the chowder and you’ve got a great meal.
So the plan became this: Offer our fishermen a solid, fair, predictable price for catching small haddock. Find a processor willing to fillet those haddock. Find a chowder maker willing to make a great haddock chowder. Offer that chowder to food banks and pantries.
Of course all this takes money as well as organization.
Now I can report that because of the generosity of a major private donor, as well as some smaller grants, we are ready to launch. We have our partners lined up, we’ve run a couple of test batches of chowder to make the recipe great and the system solid. Fishermen interested in participating are starting to gear up to focus on the effort.
If all goes as planned, our first big batch – and by big I mean 20,000 pounds of haddock chowder packed in more than 17,700 18-ounce containers – will be ready to distribute during the second week of August. Already, the region’s food banks, particularly The Greater Boston Food Bank that supplies many smaller outlets, will be taking almost all of that first batch and delivering it to hungry people. Then, if all goes well, we’ll do another 20,000 pounds before the end of August, and keep it rolling right into the fall and winter.
Our goal in this first year is to support fishermen catching around 100,000 pounds of small haddock, which will translate into more than 30,000 pounds of fillets. We’re going to load up the chowder with fish; most commercial chowders have around 15 percent actual fish, ours will have 25 percent. So if we pull this off – WHEN we pull this off – we will be creating more than 120,000 pounds of great food in this first year.
Ahh, you ask, but how can this be sustainable? The funding is coming from philanthropy, that can’t last forever, can it?
That’s why there’s Phase Two.
We’re creating a brand for our haddock chowder. “Small Boats, Big Taste” is the brand name, playing off our long-time motto, “Small Boats, Big Ideas.” We are going to market this great product in settings like supermarkets and fish stores, maybe restaurants too. And like the “Newman’s” brand, we will make it clear that not only is this a great chowder, but when you buy it you also accomplish two great social goals: Keep independent fishermen on the water, and feed the hungry.
Who knows? Maybe our haddock chowder will become the first in a line of “Small Boats, Big Taste” offerings.
Maybe we’ll produce other chowders using plentiful fish like hake, or redfish. Maybe an oyster stew or quahog chowder will make sense if the restaurant and retail markets continue to slump and demand for the half-shell isn’t there. Maybe we’ll smoke some fish, who knows?
But first things first.
So that’s our plan. And as we roll out over the next few months, we’ll no doubt ask for what we hope will be some pleasurable help along the way:
It’s not too late! You can watch the Virtual Hookers Ball XIX from wherever you are on Saturday, Aug. 1 on our Facebook page and bid in the silent auction. Visit the event page to sign up to place your bids and purchase merchandise so you can “Show Us Your Mussels” with a commemorative event logo T shirt, posters, hook bracelets, and more. Don’t miss out on the fun!
The Fishermen’s Alliance Falmouth Road Race Team is busy training and fundraising. We are grateful to our runners Jenna Borkoski, Abbie Emery, Kelli Grew, Amy Harmon, Brigid Krug, Lizzie Lane, Elysse Magnotto-Cleary, Jen Papplardo, Brendon Parker, Bryan Ruez, Nancy Ruez, Rob Stefanic and Tracy Sylvester for all their efforts! Contact
firstname.lastname@example.org to join the team. To help support our #fishrunfalmouth runners, click
We are thrilled that the popular Pier Program will resume at Chatham Fish Pier in August. Check our
website to find out which days our fishermen hosts will be on the Observation Deck and then stop by to ask any questions about the local historic fishing industry while taking in the fresh sea air.
Welcome to the fish family Stephanie Sykes! Living a life on the water, Stephanie comes to us as our new Program and Outreach Coordinator after 4 years of commercial fishing, working on tugboats, and conducting research as a biologist and NOAA observer.
Ever wonder how a boat, or a fish, got its name? Want the word on what people are catching --- or how to cook it?
You may have heard stories of the fishing fleets on WOMR. Here is a four-minute journey,via podcast, into what direct sales look like from a captain’s point of view.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
Hungry? The state Division of Marine Fisheries has started a new social media campaign for the summer: Massachusetts Seafood Chef Series. The series features weekly recipes from local chefs featuring local sustainable seafood. Chef Annabel Ribyah of Awafi Kitchen was the first chef and her featured dish was Beidth 'bsamak, which translates to "eggs and fish" with hake (a white fish similar to cod or haddock). Chef Annabel Rabiyah says, “This is traditional Iraqi comfort food I grew up eating with my family." Find the recipe here: https://tinyurl.com/y3qjs7sy
We want to thank Senator Ed Markey, as well as five of his staff members, who met (via Zoom) with several Cape fishermen earlier this month. The hour-long meeting was organized by the national Fishing Communities Coalition, of which the Fishermen’s Alliance is a member, as part of an effort to meet with legislators across the country. Fishermen on the call spoke about their concerns with markets and prices, worries about the summer lobster season, fisheries observers on boats during COVID, as well of an unevenness in funding for fishing and aquaculture when compared to agriculture. The meeting followed conversations with representatives from Alaska and Maine.
Access to fishing grounds is paramount, with or without COVID-19, so shoaling is yet another barrier fleets don’t need. We’re happy to see the Baker-Polito Administration announced $1.25 million in grants to Barnstable for Cotuit Bay, Chatham, for the Stage Harbor, Dennis for Sesuit Harbor and Tisbury for Lake Tashmoo.
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.
With concerns about the meat and chicken supply chain,
here is a story about some local processors who are in a different boat: getting kudos.
California Congressman Jared Huffman, who we respect and who we have visited (and shared scallops with) in Washington, D.C., has sent a letter to NOAA with a number of questions about the agency’s response to the COVID- 19 pandemic. He addresses a concern we have about cancelling important scientific surveys. Read more
We have been heralding the benefits of eating Cape fish decades, it’s good for you and for the local economy. In recent weeks, there have been more studies touting seafood’s health benefits.
This one advocates that mothers and young children need more fish in their diets. The second
article in the New York Times says eating more fish could protect the brain against air pollution.