who we are, how we fish and our connection to the sea
September 26, 2019
The Vineyard’s fisher journalist, poet, and folksinger pulls the pieces together
Mark Alan Lovewell drove his silver pickup past the Edgartown Yacht Club, where swordfish used to land, past the marina at Oak Bluffs, which used to be stuffed with commercial fishing vessels, past a seasonal fish market, and on toward Menemsha, a port that has become quieter in recent years.
On the way he drove by Morning Glory Farm, successful in large part because of independence and family tradition. He loves that farm.
“The narrative is that we are looking out for our family farmer… We all get that. We want to save the family farm,” Lovewell said. “What about the family fisherman?”
Why mapping the ocean bottom matters to those on top
When Owen Nichols and Charlie Beggs set out to study lobster settlement in Pleasant Bay, in 2014, both had already been working on the water for a long time so weren’t easily surprised.
But that day they were – twice.
First, they found lots and lots of lobsters under a year old, as many or more than in some areas in Maine, where lobsters are supposed to be most fertile.
And they spotted several tropical fish around the size of a quarter, seeking refuge in their larval collectors. These colorful fish included snowy grouper and spotfin butterflyfish, fish that are much more common in the Caribbean but that presumably get carried north along the warm Gulf Stream current as larvae or very small juveniles, remaining in bays and estuaries until fall water temperatures become too cold.
Many across the Cape say that industrial-sized boats have removed enormous amounts of ocean herring from the inshore, leaving whales, cod, tuna and others to look elsewhere.
But those who make their living on the sea point out that it isn’t just forage fish that disappear when pairs of big midwater trawlers come through. The boats catch everything in their wake; pollock, striped bass, big fish and small.
That’s why they believe it is crucial that new protections – lobbied for by hundreds of voices in the region – are codified into law. The last public comment period before action can be taken ends next month.
“This is it,” said John Pappalardo, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “We need people to step up for herring one more time to make sure these important rules become reality.”
People are familiar with the long, sleek lines of the whaling dories of old, and the wide-bodied, single-sailed catboats that were designed for commercial fishing before they became a sailor’s favorite.
Less well-known are the sturdy Noman’s Land boats native to Martha’s Vineyard, a mainstay of inshore fishing for close to 30 years.
“It is a measure of how significant the Noman’s Land boat is in Vineyard culture that it appears on the town seal of Chilmark,” said A. Bowdoin Van Riper, research librarian at the Martha's Vineyard Museum.
There are only two known vessels still around. One is at the Vineyard museum and the other is at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
They were popular in the late nineteenth century and set out from Noman’s Land, which early settlers of Chilmark had deemed valuable for its close proximity to good grounds, one of the reasons they annexed it in 1714.
Stage Harbor has been a working waterfront for close to 300 years and has always had a big role in the history and the success of the town.
Over the years its personality has changed with different fisheries, but it has always been a trap dock at heart, with weir fishermen bringing in their catch. In 2016 it was sold by the Eldredge family to the town of Chatham with the understanding that it would forever be used as a commercial dock.
As the shoals build in and around Aunt Lydia’s Cove the dock at Stage Harbor has taken on added importance and is often a busy place with fishermen bringing in their catch.
The harbor and its historic, funky dock has always been beautiful and
Christine Walsh Sanders has captured that beauty in these images.
If all goes well in the next month or so, and with one more push from all of us, next spring we will see the beginnings of some big changes off our coast.
The first and most obvious thing is what we won’t see: the lights of midwater trawlers,
factory boats working in pairs, wiping out schools of forage fish like herring close to shore.
What we hope to see next is more subtle: the return of those schools, and then all the bigger fish that feast on plentiful herring like cod, haddock, pollock, striped bass, bluefin tuna, even some species of whale.
We aren’t going to see our near-shore immediately return to the fertility we knew in the 1990s, when huge shoals of herring coursed through, filling the water column from bottom to top. The fish have taken too hard a hit to come back that fast.
The spawning population is badly depleted and the remnants need even more protection; I hope the New England Fishery Management Council, where I have a seat, will vote to do just that. Areas of Nantucket Shoals as well as farther out, the northeast peak of Georges Bank, should be closed during spawning times.
So it’ll be two to three years before we really know if our effort is paying off – and as you’ll see in another article in this emagazine, we need to make one more push now to make sure we don’t stumble and let this opportunity slip away.
But assuming we succeed, then right away, next spring, I’ll be anxiously looking for signs that we’re already seeing benefits.
Our fishermen, commercial and well as recreational, will be the first to know, because they’ll see early subtle changes that more herring will bring.
It could be that people onshore in pretty much every Cape town, who have done so much to revive our river herring runs, will be the next to notice, because the river herring as well as their ocean cousins have consistently taken a hit from these trawlers so should start to rebound.
But there is a major difference in our near-shore ocean environment from 15 years ago that is a wild card in this: We don’t know how the booming seal population will impact our work to bring back herring.
Seals are amazing predators. They seem to be relying on sand eels, but they’ll eat any satisfying protein, including bigger forage fish and groundfish.
Their population, now pegged at something like 50,000 animals along our coast, has a big enough appetite to take a huge chunk out of a struggling population like herring. They also seem to be very disruptive to fish like cod that are being forced out of historic spawning areas, so even if the herring make it back, these groundfish might remain depleted and departed.
These are the kind of things we worry about but don’t know about – not yet.
What we do know is that the ocean has amazing power to generate and regenerate. That gives us plenty of hope that as we take this big step, and no longer break the rhythm and beat of things that have been going on for longer than any of us can imagine, life in all its complexity will come back.
And on that note, bring on the herring!
here to help make sure needed protections become law.
October 30 is the final Meet the Fleet of 2019 – don’t miss out! This event is guaranteed to deepen your appreciation of Cape Cod's fresh local seafood. Hear from guest fishermen about what's in season and how it is harvested, while local chef Ted Mahoney of Mahoney’s Atlantic Bar & Grill offers cooking tips, tastes and recipes. Event begins at 5 p.m. at the Fishermen’s Alliance, 1566 Main Street, Chatham.Register.
October is a busy month for us. We are hosting the
Chatham Chamber of Commerce's after hours connect at 5 p.m, on Oct. 2. Click
here to register. And on October 10 we will be at Seafood Day at State House. The purpose of Seafood Day is to ensure that legislators, state officials and any members of the public who may be visiting the State House gain a deep understanding of:
The diversity of fish species caught and landed in Massachusetts waters: the economic benefit of the seafood industry to the Commonwealth and the heroism of the fishermen who bring us this sustainable bounty.
What does it mean to be in the
Fishermen Friends Society? Monthly giving is a convenient way to support the Fishermen’s Alliance throughout the year with automatic, recurring contributions. By making a monthly gift of any amount, you'll be joining The Fishermen Friends Society. Enjoy benefits like special invitations to exclusive events, outings and meetings, receiving the inside scoop with donor newsletters, recognition in our annual report, and more. Start your contribution today with $10 - $50 a month, no gift is too small.
“fishy swag” and
shop to support! Visit our merchandise online store to place your order today and receive it in the mail within a week.
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?
Fishing nets were designed for one purpose: to catch fish. But one woman who loved a fisherman, and loved a town with a face to the sea, saw beauty in the lines. She asked the men who made their living from nets they hung on tall hickory poles if she could use the mesh for a different purpose. When they acquiesced she started fashioning dresses, hats and gloves. Her fishnet fashion became known across the world, worn by movie stars and royalty.
Here is “Tiny” Worthington’s Truro story, told in her daughter’s words, with help from
Cape Cod Community Media Center and grants from
cultural councils across the Cape.
On the Shore
This community thrives in large part because of a constellation of non-profit organizations and engaged businesses.
A day of oysters and beer is hard to beat and one’s coming up. Cape Cod Community Media Center is sponsoring the event held at Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 1 to 5 pm. There will be music by 57 Heavy and videos about the amazing oyster (starring our own Melissa Sanderson) from the media center. The event is presented by a host of clean water-centric folks, such as Barnstable Clean Water Coalition and Barnstable Association for Recreational fishing. Click
here to buy tickets.
Speaking of oysters (and clams), another event will celebrate the power of the bivalve -- economically, culturally and environmentally -- on Oct. 19 and 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. That would be Wellfleet’s famous Oysterfest. The long-time, must-attend event is sponsored by Wellfleet S.P.A.T. (Shellfish Promotion And Tasting) and, just like our Hookers Ball, is taking steps to eliminate plastic so bring your own non-glass water bottle to fill at water stations (we were lucky enough to have Canyon View Capital supply ours in August). There will be art, crafts, games, and vendors as well as oysters forever and the scintillating shuck off. S.P.A.T. has given back $514,000 in Oysterfest proceeds to the community over the years. For more information, click
The annual and tasty, Farm & Sea-To-Table dinner and auctions will be held Oct. 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Nauset Regional High School. The event is presented by the Culinary Arts Program to benefit their Eat Local/Eat Clean Food Initiatives, garden restoration and culinary travel scholarships. Ticket prices: $10 (students), $30 (adult) and $200 (table). Students cook andseveral of the Lower Cape’s most exciting eateries use foods donated by local farms, fishermen and seafood markets. Meet local farmers, aquaculture grant holders, a wine expert and an Edible Landscaping expert. Tickets here
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’ve advocated for eating more local fish for more than a quarter century, and now it seems federal agencies are joining in. Read
here to find out how the latest dietary guidelines recommend at least two servings of seafood per week, but only one in 10 Americans follow the recommendation.
There have been a lot of new discussions about additional fishing regulations designed to protect the endangered right whale. Maine lobstermen argue that some measures aren’t rooted in real science. Read NOAA’s thoughts plus an article from the Cape Cod Times here.
After more than a decade of advocacy, protections for ocean herring – a forage fish vitally important to the Cape’s ecosystem – are almost a reality. Read about why they are important and what you can do in
this piece in The Cape Codder – as well as some reporting and musings about the issue elsewhere in this emag.