The spring day was cold, but the greenhouse Jamie Bassett was standing in felt cozy as he and Richard Curtiss picked dried kelp from lines strung from the ceiling.
“We’ve had a banner year,” Bassett said, popping a piece of crispy kale into his mouth. “They dried beautifully. It is very nice, crunchy, kind of tastes like umami.”
Some call umami the fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salt. Bold, savory, it has driven the recent popularity of kelp. The bulk of the product comes from Asia, but it is increasingly grown in New England.
Bassett and Curtiss co-own Chatham Kelp with Carl Douglass, one of three companies permitted on the Cape (there are a few on the islands). It is the only one that is a standalone farm, not associated with a shellfish grant.
They had the idea several years ago, but between developing a business plan and navigating a nine-agency permitting gauntlet (ultimately receiving all unanimous votes), they planted their first crop late in 2018.
New deputy director of science center influenced by skies and sea
Our lives are less spontaneous, with fewer opportunities for unexpected fun encounters, than they were just a few months ago.
For example, with the Wellfleet Oyster Fest canceled, there’s no way I’ll have the chance to bump into Nicole Cabana and her family, as happened last year, and enjoy spending time with a dedicated NOAA Corps Officer who late last month was promoted to become the new deputy director of NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center, based in Woods Hole.
I had met Nicole before the fest, and knew she had some local roots. I also knew she harbored a secret ambition – to become a commercial shellfisherman one day in the probably distant future. So I wasn’t completely surprised to find her at the fest, checking out the scene, though she also was doing her part to support NOAA’s informational booth while her kids hit the amusements, husband keeping an eye.
I didn’t know the full details of her intriguing career path until the article below was published by NOAA at the beginning of the month. Her latest promotion now positions her at an important nexus in the ongoing effort to use strong science to implement better fisheries management. So we’re sharing this profile to give our community a chance to get to know her better as we work on common goals, be it policy -- or scratching on the flats.
Since the state made it easier for fishermen to sell direct from the dock during the pandemic, fisherman Kevin Conway got to thinking of ways to make it easier for people to find out about it. So he created a Facebook page: Cape Cod Local Seafood.
“I went to bed at 2:30 in the morning and when I woke up I had more than 1,000 followers,” said Conway, who had just gotten in his truck after selling haddock at Rock Harbor in Orleans on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon.
The page’s followers quickly jumped to 2,500 and then 7,000 after a few short weeks. Now it's approaching 10,000 and interest in buying directly from fishermen doesn’t stop there.
A handful of scallopers are taking advantage of new regulations that allow them to sell as soon as they land at harbors across the Cape.
“Billingsgate,” from Olde England to Wellfleet to Atlantis
If you were to pick one English word that relates to commercial fishing with the longest history and deepest association, probably it would be “Billingsgate.”
So it’s fitting that long before the American Revolution, “Billingsgate” connected Olde England to its fish-rich colony on Cape Cod at least as much as other names like Barnstable, Chatham, and Yarmouth.
But what’s more surprising is that in modern times “Billingsgate” would also resonate in a strange nautical way and reference an even more ancient mythology and place: Atlantis.
The largest permitted commercial kelp farm in the state quietly exists about a half mile off Harding’s Beach in Chatham.
Since it got its start late in 2018 it has been slowly growing, literally and figuratively, mostly under the radar (as well as the water) because it is a winter crop. So when most people are in the water during the warmer months of May through October, the co-owners of Chatham Kelp – Jamie Bassett, Carl Douglass and Richard Curtiss – are already gone.
The harvest lives on, finding its way into the artfully-created meals of local chefs, beauty products, even beer. The company has grown so successful that they are looking for others to help in the enterprise so they can cultivate a few more lines.
We were able to spend time on the water as the trio brought in this year’s crop and also as it was packed up after drying in a greenhouse. This photo gallery helps tell the tale of this spring’s crop.
We are, as any mariner would describe it, in uncharted territory.
Now that we have entered “Phase One,” and understand (in theory anyway) how we might begin to tack back to the place called “the new normal,” there are some things we can say about the months we have just navigated through.
None of us have ever experienced anything like this, and on the surface it looked like the doldrums, but actually there was a lot of movement close to the waterline, a lot of effort and coping, a lot of creativity and new tactics.
From the fishing perspective, maybe the most interesting development has been the push toward direct sales, straight off the deck and dock into the hands of a customer. This works especially well with scallops, which are shucked on the steam home and ready to go when the boat arrives, and it works well with lobsters too, which of course show up alive and snapping.
Fish like haddock, cod, sea bass or monkfish can be sold gutted and whole but not filleted, as most of us are used to buying in a market, because of longstanding public health regulations that are not likely to change. So direct sales there mean the customer has to handle whole fish, sharpen a knife and learn how to cut.
We’ve heard a lot about how gratifying it is to move fish this way, that the sense of personal connection and direct support to independent small-boat fishermen is a heartening way to combat the isolation and disconnect that this pandemic can create. And who knows, many the social and psychological parts of it make the world’s freshest, best fish taste even better.
What also strikes us is how a creative response like this actually is a reincarnation of status quo from long ago. Since the first fishermen went at it, people have been heading down to the shore to get something to eat.
Perhaps they bartered, fish for bread. Perhaps they offered coins. Of course they didn’t check Facebook, or text for time of arrival, but surely some of them ordered in advance and became steady customers. We are in a way there again, a virus forcing us to return to a simpler, more direct transaction.
Direct sales will never take the place of the retailers and wholesalers who bring fish to our communities and the world. Display cases will still offer beautiful options. Auction houses will still move thousands of pounds at a time, processors will still cut and prepare, truckers will still move fish in bulk, cases of fillets will still land in markets all over the world. Our fishermen will still rely on more volume than can move one baggy and a couple of pounds at a time, no matter how gratifying that might be.
But this creative response is worth celebrating, and once again reveals how resilient and resourceful the fleet can be. That too harkens all the way back. Independent fishermen have always had to roll not just with the waves but the punches, responding to conditions on land as well as water. Survival means making good, often quick decisions both at sea and in the marketplace. We’re seeing that again.
One longer term hope is that the flexibility and support offered to fishermen wanting to engage in new ways of selling locally will continue, even expand. The state Division of Marine Fisheries has been great about helping fishermen get the licenses and permits required to move product on the dock, while also trying to clear the way to get into farmer’s markets and other more impromptu, direct sites.
Town officials who know their own harbors best can take this on as a priority, work out logistics, be sure that what we’re trying to get to is “yes.” Health and safety always come first, but maybe there are creative ways to expand opportunities for the benefit not just of fishermen, but all of us.
Join us for the 2nd online BINGO Fundraiser on Saturday, June 13 at 7 p.m. You are invited to play Bingo from the comfort of your home! Our friends at Mainsail Events are sponsoring a BINGO night to support the Fishermen's Alliance. Participants can enjoy three rounds of Bingo LIVE on Facebook, learn some Fishy Facts in between games, and have the chance to win great prize packages. Register by Friday, June 12 to reserve your card with a minimum donation of $10 and your unique Bingo card will be emailed to you on Saturday before the event kick off. Then tune in LIVE on Saturday on Facebook
@fishermensalliance and follow along at home starting at 7 p.m. Register
Run for fish and fishermen this summer! We are looking for two more runners to complete our #fishrunfalmouth team of 15. The 2020 New Balance Falmouth Road Race At-Home Edition makes it fun for all levels of runners and walkers to complete seven miles in your neighborhood between August 15 and 29. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Support our #fishrunfalmouth team here.
Virtually (apart but together) we will be hosting our 19th annual Hookers Ball,
Show us your Mussels, on Saturday, August 1 - complete with an online auction, heads and tails, guest speakers, video, a VIP at-home experience and more! Over the years fishermen have overcome obstacles on and off the water and continue to persevere, as our organization has for more than 29 years, and we look forward to celebrating this spirit of hard work and true grit.
Stay tuned as we share more details on June 1 about our plans for this exciting new format for our beloved event and hope you'll plan to join us (from home) in August to "Show Us Your Mussels"!
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?
With all the negatives wrought by COVID-19, there have been some positives as well. Commercial fishermen have benefited from customers who want to buy local scallops and fish right at the dock. This video, which chronicles what was the first dockside scallop sale during the pandemic, was put together by a seventh grader at Monomoy Regional Middle School who has been enjoying - and cooking! - the local catch. Photo by David Hills/Fishy Pictures.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
We much appreciate the generosity of Helen Addison of Addison Gallery and artist Paul Schulenburg, who donated proceeds from the sale of Schulenburg’s works depicting the life and times of fishermen at the Chatham Fish Pier to the Fishermen’s Alliance. For those who want smaller reproductions of his working waterfront scenes, as well as other works, the two have just collaborated on a book. Find out more here.
Fishermen see changes on the water quicker than anyone else, and because they keep log books, they have a better understanding of year-to year differences in the natural world. In this
video and accompanying story, one of our partners,
The Nature Conservancy, talks about the challenges of climate changes with longtime fisherman and Fishermen’s Alliance member Kurt Martin.
The excitement around just how the annual glory of Hookers Ball will virtually unfold is building as planning for the event continues. What isn't a surprise is the big-hearted spirit of two of its regulars: Stephen and Mary Beth Daniel. The couple is spearheading efforts to support the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund. The fund, which met its original goal, but is still fundraising because of the continued need, works with Monomoy Community Services (MCS) and the Lower Cape Outreach Council. The outreach council will focus on paying housing, energy, medical and vehicle repair bills for residents who have lost jobs or are otherwise suffering financially due to the crisis. Monomoy Community Services will collect donations for the fund and the Lower Cape Outreach Council will vet applicants. We are lucky to work in such a generous, active and kind community. Donation opportunities, as well as applications for assistance can be found
here. Checks can also be sent to Monomoy Community Services at 166 Depot Rd., Chatham, MA 02633, with “CCIF” in the memo line.
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 some important news to share about someone we consider a fine public official who has spent a career working at the nexus where fishermen and public policy meet: Dan McKiernan is the new director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries. Read more
“I really think it’s going to change, eventually, the way people buy seafood. They’re going to realize it’s easy to cook, it’s quick to cook.”
Read about how retail seafood sales are a bright spot in the pandemic in this article in the New York Times.
National news outlets aren’t the only ones noting that cooking local seafood is a growing trend. This
story from the Cape Cod Chronicle talks about the growing popularity of dockside sales as does an
New research discussed in this
article suggests salmon use microscopic magnetoreceptors embedded in their tissue to navigate via earth's magnetic field to return home to spawn. Makes us wonder if our herring friends on the Cape may do the same.