Dozens of people had swung through parking lots, picking up a bounty of local fare to prepare a carefully orchestrated meal of “scallop crudo”: turnips, shallots, dill and other ingredients accompanying the star -- freshly caught dayboat scallops.
Now they were home, gathered around computers, ipads and phones to learn from Chef Daniel Cotéof the recently opened Pelham House Resort in Dennisport.
Coté, along with George Maynard, research director at the Fishermen’s Alliance, were plugged in and ready to present at Meet the Fleet.
The virtual event was beginning, but one of the main presenters was still hurrying to get there.
Mark Hayes, Director of Campus Dining at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s campus in Cambridge, was offered the opportunity to serve students haddock chowder offered by a small, commercial fishing advocacy group on Cape Cod, aka the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.
Hayes mentioned it to his colleague Heather Ryall.
“He said, ‘This just fell in my lap,’” Ryall, the associate director of dining, said. “I was like, ‘Yesssss…’”
Most everybody loves them, so much so that the scallop fishery is considered among the most lucrative in the world, making New Bedford the port with the highest value of fishing landings in the United States every year for the past two decades. More than $430 million worth of seafood hit the docks there in 2018; more than 80 percent of that was scallops.
What few people understand, however, is how different the Cape Cod scallop fleet is from their New Bedford brethren, though this summer, as more and more people bought the world’s freshest scallops directly from independent local fishermen, fundamental differences became more apparent.
The Cape Cod scallop fleet is comprised of about 20 boats, with another couple from Martha’s Vineyard.
Pretty much all of them are owned and operated by captains who live here, have families here, and work the one boat they own. Their boats vary in size, but generally speaking we’re talking about fishing vessels that are around 50 feet or so.
These Cape Cod boat belong to what they call the “general category” fleet, gen cat. This distinguishes them from much bigger boats in New Bedford that are known as the “limited access” fleet. There are other gen cat boats up and down the coast, as well as other limited access vessels that don’t call New Bedford home.
Gen cat scallopers are strictly regulated. For each trip, a scalloper files reports to the federal government that include where he’s going, where he’s been, and how much he catches. There is a hard limit to how much a gen cat captain can land per trip: 600 pounds of shucked scallops, period, per trip, most of them less than 24 hours long.
By contrast, the limited access fleet often takes trips that last five days, a week, even more. They also are strictly regulated but allowed to land much more. A single trip of 10,000, even 18,000 pounds of shucked scallops is not unusual, with crews of five or six working hard around the clock. Generally speaking, captains don’t own the boats; one family or corporation can own a fleet of three, five, even 16 vessels.
Scalloping is among the most closely regulated fisheries in the world, in large part because it’s so lucrative, and everyone has come to understand that protecting the resource is crucial to protecting major investments.
Sometimes when scientists identify areas of the ocean with new “sets” of baby scallop, they’re closed until the animals grow to market size. Some areas are set aside for a certain amount of trips and harvest per year, other areas left as “open bottom.” An annual total allowable catch is set, based on research and surveys about how much stock is out there. Once those limits are hit, scalloping stops in an area.
What’s more, our gen cat fleet harvests only 5.5% percent of that total catch. So if scientists and managers conclude that we can harvest 50 million pounds of scallop in a season, gen can boats are allocated a total of 2.75 million pounds for the year.
Given all this, our gen cat scallopers might leave Cape Cod, steam for four, five, six hours to reach the grounds they want (and are allowed) to fish. Then they’ll drop their scallop dredges and get to work. It might take only a couple of hours to catch their allowable trip, 600 pounds. They’ll then start steaming home, another four, five, six hours, shucking as they go.
It seems a little crazy to steam that far and use that much fuel, go that far off shore in a small boat, just to bring home 600 pounds. But the popularity and price of scallops continues to make those trips worthwhile, and being able to sell direct from the dock to friends and neighbors last summer surely helped.
Can this small boat, independent scallop fleet continue to survive, hold its own given how powerful and profitable the industry has become?
That’s where the Fishermen's Alliance comes in.
Our fisheries trust provides subsidized scallop quota to our gen cat fleet, creating opportunity to fish our small share of that 50 million pounds (to use the example above).
We advocate for smart federal policies that protect the resource and reflect our priorities. I sit on what’s called the Scallop Committee of the New England Fisheries Management Council, where key recommendations about how, where, and when we scallop are debated and voted.
At the Fishermen's Alliance we meet and talk with our members a lot, they keep us informed and help me bring good insights to the committee.
So knowing all this, maybe the next time you eat amazing scallops off a Cape Cod gen cat boat, they might taste even better than ever. Then again, maybe that’s not possible.
Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you take time and remember all you have to be thankful for. We have, and once again want to express our sincere appreciation to our supporters, community and the commercial fleets that make Cape Cod such a special place.
Start your holiday shopping with our new easy-to-use merchandise store website. You will find cozy hoodies to keep you warm and koozies to keep your drinks cool! Shop Fishermen’s Alliance custom hook bracelets, hats, t-shirts and more. Find a fishy gift for yourself or your family and friends. Please share the link..
We are so thankful for all the support we receive throughout the year. Individual donations help fuel our work each and every day. If you are able to give a gift this holiday season, please consider making a tax deductible donation here
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?
Our virtual Meet the Fleets have been selling out fast and those attending have raved about them. If you want to see what you’ve been missing, get some great recipes and cooking tips for local scallops, or relive the experience, we recorded the October event. Check it out here. Want to make the recipe at home? Click here.
We need your help. I know a lot of you have followed our work trying to get the Young Fishermen's Development Act passed over the last several years. Many fishermen - Tim and Sam Linnell, Mark and Sean Leach, Stephanie Sykes and others - have travelled to Washington, D.C. talking to legislators about how important the bill is to the future of the industry. The bill has widespread support, but has stalled. Please reach out to Sen. Edward Markey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and ask them to
pass Senate bill 496 now. Thank you.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
MIT Sea Grant, a local arm of the federal Sea Grant program, has been a staunch supporter of our haddock chowder program and, like us, wants to see it continue. They reached out to their colleagues at the university’s dining and food services, and paid for a pallet’s worth of our chowder to be served to students (only seniors are on campus presently) and staff in Cambridge. Read about the outreach here.
One of our partners in the national Fishing Communities Coalition, Linda Behnken, a commercial fisherman and executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, has received the Heinz Family Foundation’s Heinz Award for the Environment. She was recognized for her work “to promote sustainable fishing practices and drive conservation policy while supporting the rural fishing communities of Alaska that rely on the ocean for their livelihood and way of life. Working at the intersection of industry, community and the environment, she has led efforts to support small-scale fishermen and promote the access of these community-based fishermen to Alaska’s fishery resources.” Congrats, Linda! Well deserved.
Our board members give their time and energy to support us, and other community organizations as well. Richard Banks, for example, helps run the Takeway Meal Program at St. David’s Episcopal Church in South Yarmouth. Accompanying roasted chicken or honey-baked ham, potatoes and other meal-makers, the Fishermen’s Alliance donated haddock chowder to all comers. Last year, the program served 1,664 adults and 281 children. The pandemic will likely drive those numbers higher as need continues to grow.
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.
This article from NOAA fisheries has a few Cape fishermen included, as well as other familiar names. Local fishermen are among those who partner with federal agencies to help provide the information they need to make good decisions. This piece not only talks about that work, but has tips from industry partners on how to prepare delicious local seafood – good reading, especially right around the holidays.
With big plans for wind energy off our coast, scientists are looking at what it means to fishermen and a nation poised to eat more seafood. This story in National Fisherman looks at how the sound generated by offshore turbines – during construction and operation – may affect black sea bass, one of the species attracted to underwater structures.
There is an important climate bill that is now being discussed, with strong concern that its benefits are overshadowed by the harm it could do to the commercial fishing industry. Read more here.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the captain and crew of the Portland-based Emmy Rose, which went down off Provincetown this week. The Cape, and many other coastal communities, are proud of our fishing heritage and those who make their living on the sea. Stories like this happen too often and always hit home. Information about a memorial and fundraising efforts can be found here.