Not too long ago the Orleans harbormaster, a bit worried, asked a longtime fisherman to keep watch on a young guy who had started bullraking in Cape Cod Bay with no more experience than watching a few videos on YouTube.
“In two days I made about $28,” said Chris Viprino, the young guy in question, on a recent overcast day at Rock Harbor. “I spent a winter doing it. Too stubborn to do anything else.”
Viprino, now captain of the fishing vessel Miss Em, readily admitted that you have to be a bit crazy to go bullraking, but he enjoyed “being in the Zen garden.”
He moved on from bullraking after about a year and has spent the last three years dragging for quahogs.
“I bought this boat and started dragging the bay, again without any experience whatsoever. Luckily it has turned out all alright, although we definitely have had our share of adversity,” he said with a wry grin. “My learning curves are steep.”
A new fisheries director steps in at an unprecedented moment
A lot of water passes under a personal bridge in 34 years, which is how long Dan McKiernan has been working in and around the Massachusetts fishing industry.
His recent appointment as director of the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries is a culmination of that career journey – which also means the tens of thousands of hours he has spent commuting from Sandwich to Boston over the years will continue, at least when some semblance of normalcy returns and the pandemic fades.
We thought it would be important to sit down with the new director – virtually – and offer our community an opportunity to get to know him better, learn where he’s come from and how he sees a most challenging moment going forward. The questions and answers that follow were edited down from the original transcript, but hew closely to verbatim answers.
We could have gone on a lot longer, there is plenty more to discuss. And so perhaps this will be one of several such conversations as the months pass, we’ll see.
Bluefin tuna are in good shape, but do people know?
In April, in the throes of COVID, Red’s Best CEO Jared Auerbach started thinking about the upcoming Atlantic bluefin tuna season. He found some great news that he expected to be trumpeted by media outlets everywhere, but he couldn’t find so much as a mention.
“The fishery got upgraded and no one is speaking the message that it is a healthy fish stock,” he said. “Frankly, it kind of pissed me off.”
Auerbach, whose company has a presence at the Boston and Chatham Fish Piers, was referring to how the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, designed to help consumers and businesses make choices for a healthy ocean, had changed the bluefin tuna’s rating from red – avoid buying – to yellow – OK to purchase.
This is based on a variety of factors but mainly that the stocks are in much better shape than years ago.
“That should be great news,” he said. “So the fishery got upgraded but nobody cares now?”
Captain Tom Smith grew up in Orleans and remembers going down to Rock Harbor to see the fishing boats when he was a kid.
“There has always been a little quahog fleet in there,” Smith recalls.
Most associate the tidal harbor the town shares with Eastham with the trees that mark its channel, and the popular charter boat fleet. But the quahog industry predates and has been as constant as the tides.
Sure people rave about the sunsets, which are phenomenal. And they wonder about the funny trees, often sprouting incongruous street signs, which mark the channel.
The clam trees, as they are called, are installed every year and are part of the charm of the small port shared by Orleans and Eastham. But the trees, which at least one old-timer used to put clams under, don’t explain the allure of the place.
We think it has to do with Rock Harbor’s small and enduring hometown feel. The fishing port is understated, but it’s been a constant for more than a hundred years. The industry there, joined by a healthy charter boat fleet, is picturesque in its own right, as seen in these photos from Captain Chris Viprino.
Our goal is clear: Keep the independent, small-boat, historic fishing fleet of the Cape and Islands alive and well. Support fishermen who help feed our communities, our nation, and the world. Do so in a way that also helps protect the ocean’s health and vitality so the next generation of fishermen will be able to carry on, and all of us will benefit from that wise stewardship.
Straightforward enough, though of course issue by issue, season by season, how that mission translates into specific action and tangible policies is where the rubber meets the road, or better put where the keel meets the water.
Then comes a moment like now, when a pandemic strikes at pretty much every aspect of our lives, attacks not just our health but our economic well-being, our livelihoods. And it forces us to think hard about how our longstanding goals and mission fit into this new context. It forces us to question assumptions, pressure test what we really believe and how we advocate.
As time passes I’ve become more clear and certain about our course, not less. I also see ways that our hopes and responsibilities can move us into deeper water, drive us toward new initiatives that engage this fleet and this community even more directly with the urgent needs I believe we will face in the months ahead.
By that I mean that this Alliance must become as creative and forceful as possible in finding yet more ways to connect our fishermen and their harvest with people who are struggling with what some refer to as “food insecurity,” a detached way of identifying people who aren’t sure they will have enough to eat. That population is estimated to be as high as 10 percent even here on the generally affluent Cape, many of them children, a number sure to be higher elsewhere and rising everywhere given the pandemic’s impact.
We need to do what we can to take this head-on in a way that supports our fishing community, satisfying our primary mission and also making us all proud, making it clear that we will do our best to put hunger at bay.
We already do this locally. For about five years now, our fishermen have been providing fish to our peninsula’s food pantries, working with the Cape Cod Hunger Network on what we call the Fish for Families program. This is very gratifying but it remains relatively small-scale. So far we’ve distributed about 50,000 pounds of fish, which sounds like a lot and in a way it is, but given the need we see, and not just on the Cape, I feel strongly that we need to ramp up.
The team here at the Fishermen’s Alliance has been working on this, coming up with creative ways we can expand our reach and offer Cape fishermen an opportunity we know they want, to move their catch into many more homes, getting people the best fish and protein in the world. Those creative ways need to build sustainability for the fleet, address the growing need, and remove financial barriers to feeding the hungry.
Connecting those dots might sound like a tall order, but we’re on it, and I think we’re close to a plan. Stand by for more details just as soon as I’m confident we can deliver.
We are excited to virtually host our 19th annual Hookers Ball, “Show us your Mussels,” this summer and we have curated the ultimate party package for you to enjoy favorite aspects of the event in your home! Upgrade your viewing experience with a “Hookers Ball in a Box,” play Heads or Tails, purchase a commemorative t-shirt or poster and participate in the silent auction. For those on the Cape, order Clambake and BBQ Chicken Dinners To Go courtesy of Backside Bakes. Visit the event page to reserve your Hookers Ball package.
We are grateful for the strong support from our 2020 Sponsors!
Annual Sponsors: Addison Art Gallery,
Balise Ford, Beacon Financial Planning of Cape Cod Inc., Canyon View Capital,
Cape Cod Cellars,
Cape Cod Five, Chatham Fish & Lobster, Consistently Clean, Eastern Bank
, Gibson Sotheby's International Realty,
Rob & Christine Johnson / Ralph & Colleen Folz,
New England Sales Solutions,
Quahog Republic, Sara Campbell, Seaborne Watch
, Seamen's Bank, UBS Financial Services, Zudy.
In-Kind Sponsors Cape Cod Life Magazine,
Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham Living by the Sea,
evolutioneyes, inc., Fishy Pictures, Gosling’s Bermuda Rum, Hog Island Beer Co. , Mainsail Events and Marketing, Red Nun, Sunderland Printing, Tito's Handmade Vodka.
Are you ready for summer sunshine and fun exercise with a goal? How about running for our local fish and fishermen? We are looking for two more runners to complete our #fishrunfalmouth team of 15. The New Balance Falmouth Road Race At-Home Edition makes it fun for all levels of runners and walkers to complete seven miles in their neighborhoods for this iconic race. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Support our team here.
The 2019 Annual Gratitude report is out. To read the full report and learn more about the impact of your giving, visit our
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?
Working together is important in any community, particularly with COVID-19 splintering markets and economies. Chatham Kelp is a business venture born from friendships and a deep connection to Cape waters; you have read about their partnerships in this esteemed e-magazine. They are engaged in everything from beer (with one of our sponsors Hog Island Beer Co.) to soap; you can hear a co-owner, Jamie Bassett, talk about their plans with
Atlantic Soap Company for luxury soap in this short
video on our YouTube channel. And come fall you can find the soap at
Mermaids on Main in Chatham.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
We admire fishermen we work with across the nation, so once again we celebrate the Fishing Communities Coalition. The FCC is an association of community-based, commercial fishing groups, representing more than 1,000 independent fishermen and business owners from Maine to Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico; although many of our boats are small, the work we do together is big indeed. This comprehensive piece details ideas we have been fighting for in Washington, D.C. to protect the nation’s fishing economies during this unprecedented pandemic, recognizing they are essential to the health and resiliency of the nation.
Here's a shout out to “Eating with the Ecosystem,” which has just published ahandy guide to sussing out how to keep your seafood and shellfish as fresh as possible.
We have been partnering with WOMR/WFMR for several years now, listening to the local nonprofit public radio station for a great many more, so you may have heard our “Voices from the Wheelhouse” series that has been replaying on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. We have a newer group of mini-podcasts as well, “Adventures in the Blue Economy.” Take a listen.
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.
Read this point of view in National Fisherman about public process, the President’s pen, and how independent fishermen have to deal with a lot of governmental control.
This bears repeating. Seafood from America is safe, according to the National Fisheries Institute. The World Health Organization, United National Food and Agriculture Organization, and all major national food safety agencies report there is no connection between seafood and COVID-19.Read more
With a number of wind energy projects on the horizon, RODA (the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance) received a grant to pull together existing knowledge and convene a symposium on the current science regarding fisheries and offshore wind interactions. “Fishermen provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and many are involved in research and science efforts. This project is a great opportunity for their participation,” said Annie Hawkins, RODA’s Executive Director. Read more in this press release.