Zach Bennett’s grandfather and father were well-known, successful captains, but he never went fishing with them.
“That would have been nice,” Bennett said, his voice part slow drawl, part Cape Cod, unfailingly polite.
Bennett, 28, was sitting in his truck at Saquatucket Harbor, his black dog Otis beside him. He was looking at his new boat, having just gotten back from a trip and in a few hours he’d be headed out scalloping again.
“I’m married to the boat. I will be for the first few years,” Bennett said, not seeming too upset about it.
As the water becomes more acidic, shellfish struggle
Ocean acidification has often been called climate change’s evil twin, and both global perils are so pervasive it can be hard to put them in perspective.
Seth Garfield found a way.
Many growers and towns on the Cape, and beyond, get the shellfish seed that drives their businesses and anchors their recreational harvest from A.R.C. Hatchery in Dennis, noted Garfield, president of the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association. If Cape Cod Bay waters that feed A.R.C become more acidic, it can reduce or delay the growth of the seed that supplies hundreds of farms and dozens of towns.
“We depend on that hatchery,” Garfield said at an informational briefing last month when the state Commission on Ocean Acidification released an 84-page report that outlined the scale and threats, and provided ways to mitigate it.
At 6’4”, Nick Nickerson has to duck when he opens the door to the studio of his Chatham Coastal Creations business, tucked by the Little League fields behind the Harwich Cultural Center.
Nickerson smiles as he introduces himself and explains he was running a bit late because he’d just got off the phone with a woman from Hopkinton; she wanted one of those scallop shell mirrors she had seen at a friend’s house in New Seabury, Mashpee.
“She wants a medium oval one,” Nickerson said, scanning the walls.
Mirrors launched his business almost a decade ago and during the winter that’s still what he spends much of his time doing. About three years ago he branched into scallop shell ornaments, building a growing fan base at festivals and in stores.
Thomas Downing: African-American activist, abolitionist -- and oyster entrepreneur extraordinaire
Did you know that in the 1800s oyster bars in New York City were located in the basements of buildings? They were called oyster cellars, refectories (a room for communal eating) or dives (presumably for diving down the stairs). These cellars were distinguished by the red lanterns or balloons hung above the cellar stairs. The only women welcome in these establishments were prostitutes.
Most oyster cellars were owned and operated by African Americans. The most famous of these proprietors was a man named Thomas Downing, who at the time of his death was one of the wealthiest men in New York City.
(Story by Sarah Malinowski, a principal of the Fishers Island Oyster Farm, in Block Island Sound. Photo courtesy of photographs and prints division, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations via Mark Kurlansky’s “The Big Oyster.”)
The commercial fishing industry helped build the Cape, is a pivotal part of the peninsula’s present and will be essential to its future success. But it’s not a monolith. People are drawn to the harbors and ports to see the fishing boats, but those boats, like the ports, and indeed their captains,are very different. We decided to put together a photo gallery of several of the different types of gear and fishing vessels that help keep the Cape afloat, so you can better recognize them as you see them on trips to the dock to buy some fresh seafood or just appreciate the view.
Fishermen are always at it, as a great winter photo spread in last month’s issue proves, but the rhythms of work and weather are always in play as well. So now comes a recurring moment that in many ways, year in and year out, is pivotal.
This year that’s true more than ever, given all that’s happened and hasn’t happened since last March.
Fishermen forever take stock right about now. The days are longer, the weather is calming down at least a little, fish starting to move into the next season as water temperature inches up, markets are starting to shake off their doldrums, a new fishing season is being defined by state and fed managers with new regs and quotas creating new challenges, opportunities.
There are questions looking for answers: What does the boat need? How much to invest, or to put it just as accurately, gamble? Which stocks make the most sense to target this time around, at what times of year and where? Should those weir poles get driven one more time? Is there a shot at a better return heading way out to the eastern, or down to the mid? And by the way, word out on crew; anybody know anybody willing and able to make a real commitment?
Now overlay the course and impact of this COVID madness on all of that. It’s most likely pure coincidence, but it seems that the reckoning of the year, and the hopeful sense that we are about to rise up and get past this scourge, are coming right on top of each other.
Lessons learned in this pandemic will not be forgotten. Direct sales from dock to kitchen, pier to plate, boat to throat, helped many stay on the water and renewed appreciation in the community for the best fresh fish and the best fishermen around. The fragility of long supply chains that can be cut by events beyond our control made us all think about ways we can shorten those links and rely more on friends and neighbors, local markets and local distribution. The crisis also opened up opportunities like using our haddock chowder to support food banks as well as independent fishermen, getting more creative about how to transform a crisis into a win-win.
Now we seem poised to integrate all that into a season that has a good chance of looking a whole lot more “normal.” The vaccines are playing out, and by every credible report they’re working. Restaurants are shaking out tablecloths, though they’re still counting on take-out.
And fishermen are doing what they do, assessing stocks, gauging markets, checking engines and equipment, taking on maintenance and repairs, gearing up.
It’s all about preparation, and it’s also all about hope. No one fishes without both, and spring’s arrival always encourages optimism. But this year feels different, compounded by getting past the worst of this pandemic, heightened by returning expectations, made more heartfelt because things we took for granted a year ago we don’t take for granted now -- things as simple as giving someone a hug, walking into a restaurant, or moving fish from the deck to the middlemen to the world.
The best of the rites are back. Neither winter nor a virus could stop them from showing up once again. We take our chances one more time.
Spring is the perfect time to start training! We have 15 bibs available as part of the Numbers for Nonprofits Program for the iconic Falmouth Road Race. All levels of runners are invited to join our team and run for a good cause.The details: raise $750 or more for the Fishermen's Alliance by August 15 (race day). You'll receive a training plan and tips for achieving your personal best. We'll provide marketing materials and support to help you raise the funds. Contact Brigid for more info.
Be sure to head to Chatham Candy Manor on Main Street the week of April 19 to 25 to pick up some fresh, local fudge. They are dedicating the week to supporting the Fishermen's Alliance and donating $8 per pound of fudge sold -- we deal with pounds of fish, they deal with pounds of fudge. Both are important food groups!
It's only March, but August is less than six months away. Hookers Ball XX plans are moving along and we are prepared to create another memorable celebration. What started as a backyard fish fry 20 years ago grew to become one of the most beloved summer events on Cape Cod, complete with 700 guests under the big white tent. Determined to find ways to keep the tradition going, we are excited to unveil this year’s theme soon. In the meantime, mark your calendar for Saturday, August 7.
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?
This scallop recipe has gotten a lot of love and we are lucky to live on the Cape where fishermen are still scalloping and still selling direct at the dock. Click here for a list.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
Cape Media in Dennis has started a new Eco-Hour on Wednesdays and Sundays, 6 pm, highlighting environmental work across the peninsula. And we are part of it.
The workings of our natural world are as important as they are fascinating so we wanted to showcase these bay scallops in the tanks at Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. There is even a video. The scallops were donated by Ward Aquafarms, in Falmouth, which grows scallops for food and for bay scallop restoration projects. These animals, like other bivalves, are a great food source and also filter and clean the water.
Thanks to everyone who came together during COVID to help friends and neighbors in need. A special acknowledgement to Stephen and Mary Beth Daniel, the driving force behind the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund, which distributed more than $475,000 to year-round Chatham residents. The fund phased out earlier this month. We particularly liked this comment in the Cape Cod Chronicle: “We still are a small, seaside fishing village,” Stephen said, alluding to the spirit of the community. “It was on real display in the last 12 months with the fund.”
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.
We have joined nations the world over in agreeing that oceans need to be protected to combat climate change. That said, the United States is a leader in conserving oceans and is arguably at the goal of 30 percent habitat protection. We can and should do better, but not at the expense of our fishing communities. In recent weeks there have been headlines referring to industrial bottom trawling creating more carbon emissions than air travel. Note that the United States was not on the list of the 10 biggest national culprits. As these discussion go forward, we want to repeat that buying local fish, buying U.S. fish, and strengthening sustainable communities is one of the easiest, most delicious steps one can take to reduce CO2. Read more here. Let NOAA know that responsible fishing communities need to be protected here.
The Seafood Harvesters of America reached out about celebrating women in the industry for Women’s History Month. They created several must-watch videos, talking with successful women all over the country, including Kelsie Linnell from Chatham, a sixth-generation commercial fisherman and Tracy Sylvester, a Cape Codder who learned to fish in Alaska and who was featured in this magazine. Watch here.
Chatham fought hard, and put their money where their mouth was, to protect fishing rights in town. Looks like it made a difference. Read more here.
Lots of big news coming out of Washington, D.C. One story involves one of our neighbors, Gina Raimondo, former governor of Rhode Island. As the new Commerce Department Secretary, she has authority over NOAA Fisheries, the agency that oversees fisheries management. Hopefully her appointment bodes well for small boat sustainable efforts she might have learned about in her old port of Point Judith. Read more here.