In Al Youngren’s small kitchen there is a big nautical chart, covering most of a wall, nicely framed and in perfect view of anyone seated at the kitchen table.
Youngren, barrel-chested and slim at 82, says it’s from 1985 or so. Still useable.
“It’s been up there for 30 years,” he says, in a voice that is all old Cape Cod seaman, rarely heard anymore.
Youngren spent more than 50 years on the sea until he had a heart attack 20 years ago while fishing on his boat Rebecca, named after his great granddaughter. He knew something was badly wrong and managed to turn around, get back to Rock Harbor, and meet an ambulance. The Boston doctors told him he couldn’t go anymore.
“That was my last boat ride,” he said.
Still, his connection to the sea couldn’t be severed. In his second act, he made and fixed fishing gear.
After looking at the Northeast Ocean Data Portal, a major energy company wanted to propose a wind farm in the Gulf of Maine in an area where they saw no documented fishing activity.
The portal pulls together huge amounts of information on every conceivable ocean use, from cultural resources to marine transportation to fishing activity. The fishing data is robust and includes information from dockside reports and vessel tracking systems.
But then they called Annie Hawkins, executive director of Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, RODA. She suspected the area was hugely important to the lobster industry and was certainly used -- a lot.
Nick Sanchez had just hopped out of the pool at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he had spent several hours getting in and out of a survival suit and enclosed raft as fast as possible, participating in a number of safety drills.
Now in his 30s, Sanchez had been a lifeguard in Florida, bounced around other places, but was now following his wife’s dream and had landed on Cape Cod.
Athletic, even-keeled, he wanted to get into commercial fishing. He appreciates hard work and loves the ocean, but had no idea how to get a job on a fishing vessel.
“Where was I going to go to find that job, the dock?” he asked rhetorically.
When Louie Rivers and Miss Sandy fished 250 days a year
Louie Rivers was among the finest men I’ve known, and the times we spent aboard the
Miss Sandy remain among my best memories of being on the water.
Our days began before the sun, walking the dark streets of Provincetown to the pier. This was the 1980s, when the town was wilder than it is now.
Plenty of young men were ending their adventures just as we were starting ours, lounging on a bench in front of town hall that came to be called “the meat rack.” Sometimes they would make lewd comments about what they thought was an odd couple, a young long-haired bearded guy alongside a squat older man with arms like thick oak limbs and a rolling gait because his hip hurt from years of using his foot to shovel fish off the deck.
Louie would just laugh, never bothered or taking umbrage. In all our years I never saw him get into an argument or fight, on or off deck or dock, a rare thing among fishermen.
We were able to hold our first fishermen’s training program earlier this month. The images in this gallery give a sense of the breadth of training involved – from classroom work on gear to safety drills to boat visits. And there is a lot not pictured as well, discussions about management, insight into various scientific studies and research, navigational training, even knot-tying lessons.
As you look at the images, many taken by Christine Hochkeppel of
Salty Broad Studios, we hope you get a wider perspective of the training required to be successful on the back of the boat.
What we hope is also clear is the importance captains place on classes like these, because without reliable, skilled crew they can’t succeed.
Uncertainty has always been a silent, unwelcome partner to a fisherman.
Wild weather, the mysterious movements and actions of fish, natural patterns beyond anyone’s control, balky equipment, shifting regulations, big price swings in the market, even climate change – I could go on.
And now comes another huge uncertainty, how a virus we call corona and the illness it brings, Covid-19, will change this world and our small part of it.
Nothing matters compared to the health and wellbeing of our families, our friends, our community, strangers for that matter. Here at the Fishermen’s Alliance we are committed to taking every possible care, to do our part to keep this virus in check, stop its spread, and get us back to a semblance of normalcy as fast as possible.
In the immediate moment there are tangible things, for example needing to reschedule our annual meeting this week, with hopes that we will convene in May. We’re sad about that but those are things we can be flexible about and control, at least to some extent. We can wash our hands, limit personal contact (much as we prefer being together), act responsibly, do our best to take care of business and family without panic, with good humor.
Tougher to see and predict are ways this virus will impact the historic industry itself, the men and women and their families who carry on in the face of this and every uncertainty. But let’s say this: No way it helps.
Fishing has always been among the most resilient of livelihoods. Generations have been able to turn to a fertile sea with not much more than their own skills and effort, and independent, often enough alone, return with a product that weathers economic disasters because, after all, people always need to eat. During global crises like the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, Cape Codders fared much better than most because we fished, we scratched, and, if nothing else, put food on our tables.
But this crisis is not an economic collapse, even though it threatens to create one. And this is not the world of the 1930s. We are far more connected to and dependent on global events and economies. Indeed, that is the reason why a virus like this can leap across continents, because we no longer are isolated islands.
So all the musing aside, are there things we can point to that this “new reality,” as some have called it, are sure to mean for our fleet?
The infrastructure that moves our fish, from trucking to processing to markets and restaurants, is sure to be affected. Much of the work that brings fish to the public is hand over hand. We have never taken that for granted, but that truth is highlighted now. Fresh and frozen fish will remain among the best and healthiest protein sources, and in real practice very little needs to change to keep that so. But as with everything, there will be more caution, and probably more expense.
International embargoes and bans will cut into the market for some of our local catch, because what would usually move to Europe and the Far East is being blocked or slowed down. With that demand interrupted, we suspect that we will see pressure on the prices our fishermen can command.
On the flip side, perhaps this will be an opportunity for more of the fish we catch locally to be sold and eaten here. As social distancing and even self-quarantine keep some people away from restaurants, is it too much of a stretch to suggest that great fish meals at home are a wonderful alternative?
What remains to be seen is how our summer economy, as crucial to the fisheries as it is to every part of Cape Cod, will fare in a few short months. Once again, given how much our tourism economy depends on foreign travel, be it for visitors or workers, it’s impossible to make a case that this is any kind of good news. Will the rebuilt Chatham fish pier once again welcome throngs of visitors to watch the offloading, who then amble down the street and order a great fish dinner? I surely hope so, but my crystal ball is very murky.
And so, as we hunker down and take care of each other, uncertainty might grow, but that will not overcome another thought of which we are certain, expressed in a way most apt for Cape Cod and the fishing community:
Looking ahead to the sunny days of August, we are looking for nine more runners to join our #fishrunfalmouth team for the 2020 New Balance Falmouth Road Race on Sunday, August 16. We will help you train for this iconic 7-mile race and reach the $1,500 fundraising goal.
Contact our volunteer race team manager, Caroline or Brigid for more info!
A sincere thank you for the continued support from our growing list of 2020 Sponsors: Balise Ford, Canyon View Capital,
Cape Cod Life Magazine,
Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham Fish & Lobster,
Chatham Living by the Sea, The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, evolutioneyes, inc., Gibson Sotheby's International Realty, Hog Island Beer Co., Marder Seafood, Nauset Disposal
Nauset Marine, New England Sales Solutions,
Quahog Republic, Red Nun,
Sara Campbell, Seamen's Bank, TD Bank, Tito's, and UBS Financial Services.
If you would like to learn more about sponsorship opportunities, please reach out.
We are posting a new story about life on the water - videos, podcasts, stories, photo galleries, recipes and more – on social media every day. We hope these slices of life pass the time and serve as reminders that our local fleet has survived many crises over the generations, and has the fortitude to survive this one. But, as in years past, community support is also essential so continue to support restaurants and markets that are selling local fish because we are still fishing, check it out.
As a non-profit very active in the community, this is indeed a challenging time. We work so hard on our calendar of events each year and look forward to having those opportunities to connect with our supporters. We are postponing all events through the month of April and early May, but are hopeful we will be able to proceed with some great early summer events that are in the works. Stay tuned!
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?
We think we have met some future highliners and change makers on the Cape. We were fortunate to spend the day at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School recently and visited with students in the marine technology program. Some of them reminded us of crafty Cape Codders of old who could fix anything and were always looking to make things better.
Listen in to learn how and why the satisfaction of a well-running engine can make a world of difference. You can also read about it in
The Cape Codder.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
Commercial fishermen work with Red’s Best a bunch, a buyer and wholesaler with a retail outlet as well, and the company leases one of the bays at the Chatham Fish Pier. Given how uncertain and fluid everything is right now, markets can change overnight. That said, we wanted to share one of their recent messages we found exemplary: “Notice to commercial fishermen: We hope you and your families are doing well. On the business front, Red’s Best is not going anywhere. We have built a resilient local supply chain that is necessary to feed people. We are continuing to work and continuing to buy fish and will continue to fight for you. In fact, we need you to go fishing now more than ever. Please do not worry about our ability to support you right now, this spring and through the summer.” And Red's delivers if you want to support local fishermen.
Since many of us have some extra time for reading, we’re sharing some material well worth poring over. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – where our own Ray Kane serves as chairman - recently published its 2019 Annual Report.
In addition to information on the 27 species groups the Commission manages there are also sections highlighting the commission’s major accomplishments in 2019.
Last month there was an important conference in Seattle that delved into the promise and concerns of electronic monitoring, as cameras on boats to observe fishing practices is called. The third annual conference covered a lot of topics, addressed a lot of questions, and offered a glimpse into what the future will look like for the fishing industry as many more turn to EM to record their catch – for both science and regulatory reasons. Here is a link to presentations.
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.
Anything that mentions cod grabs our interest and this
article on a three-year study of Atlantic cod and other commercial fish species in southern New England waters certainly did. The authors say the goal is to gather baseline data to address how offshore wind development in the region could impact fisheries.
piece has two elements we as Cape Codders spend a fair amount of time talking about: cod and seals. It’s an opinion from academics in Canada, but it grapples with a question that has been voiced here: how do we decide which culls are justified? Is the death of a colony of seals a fair price for the conservation of a cod stock?
Although there is certainly a lot of bad associated with COVID-19, perhaps there is also good.
Read this article on environmental groups asking that people eat more local fish. We agree.