Meet the Fleet
You’d be hard-pressed to find a heartier soul than that of the Cape Cod fisherman. Buffeted by wind and waves for hours and hours, only to return to port and face even more adversity in the regulations put in place to help protect fish stocks. Arising in the predawn hours and not returning until the sun has begun its western slide, the fishers of the Cape toil away for the love of the trade. To learn just what it takes to be a fisherman, one would normally need to walk a mile in their Grundens. Drag your weary bones to the dock before sun-up, ride along for 10, 12 or more hours of constant pitching and lurching through the peak and trough of every wave that rolls under the boat as she steams her way to and from the fishing grounds (if it’s a nice day). It’s an experience that tends to leave many novice seamen hanging over the side.
Thankfully, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance (CCCFA) has a quicker, drier, cleaner and tastier way to learn about the life of those who supply our restaurants and markets with the bounty of the sea. It’s called “Meet The Fleet”, and is part social event, part lecture series that they host six times a year that educates us land lubbers not only of the life of the fisherman, but also the types and seasonality of fish they catch, focusing on one species of fish per occasion. All aspects of that fish are covered, including how it’s caught and what to do with it when it comes time to eat. “Meet The Fleet” highlights an area chef who prepares tastings of the night’s headliner and discusses other possible preparations for it. This year’s exclusive chef is Jennifer Mentzer, Director of Catering and Commissary Manager of Mac’s Seafood.
A recent “Meet The Fleet” event was held at Nauset Marine East in Orleans with featured speakers Capt. Tom Ryshavy and Capt. Kurt Martin, and the fish in focus was scup. The gathering of 60-70, the majority of which were CCCFA donors and supporters, stared blankly when asked if anyone was familiar with scup. It was only when Capt. Ryshavy referred to it by its more familiar name of porgy did heads nod knowingly and smiles of recognition move through the crowd. In this case, the education was also promotion for a fish that no one seems to know what to do with. “I’ve never seen one for sale on the Cape,” Ryshavy states. Scup, harvested over the course of its 45-day season, are all flash frozen and destined for markets overseas.
Raising awareness of lesser-known fish stocks is an important charge of the CCCFA. With the depleted ranks of cod, tuna and swordfish, to name a few, the goal is to change public opinion of far more abundant species in an effort to protect not only the well-being of struggling fish populations, but that of the fishermen as well. Scup, for example, fell out of favor decades ago when the market for it shut down due to overfishing. People found other fish to fry and never came back to the feisty little one-to-two-pound fish that can put up a good fight. At $2 per pound after processing and trucking, scup is a great, inexpensive option that’s far better than tilapia from China. To further enlighten people of scup’s availability and affordability, local fishermen donated 4000 pounds of it to the Cape Cod Food Pantry earlier this year, with the hope of creating a demand for a fish of which there is a healthy supply. Dogfish is another species and tasty alternative with an image problem that the CCCFA is trying to correct.
This is not to say that well-known types of fish aren’t discussed. At the next “Meet the Fleet” at the Alliance’s headquarters on Main Street in Chatham, the American lobster will be featured and Chef Mentzer is sure to get creative in her prepared tastings. One of the focuses for that night will be how this celebrated crustacean can be enjoyed the world over while the fishery remains healthy and viable for future generations and not go the way of the cod.
Coming in November, Capt. John Our and Capt. Tim Linnell will provide an unvarnished look at a day in the life of the Cape Cod fisherman. From weather and fish reports they pore over to start the day, to the governmental reports they need to file to finish the day, the talk will be of the battles they fight both at sea and on land in order to continue to do what they love.
The “Meet The Fleet” series is free, open to the public and donations are greatly welcomed. It’s just one of many programs hosted by the CCCFA throughout the year. To find out more about becoming a donor, corporate sponsor (like Edible Cape Cod) or a member, check out their website at capefishermen.org, where you can even go shopping as a way to help support this non-profit organization.
Started in 1991 by a group of local fishermen, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is celebrating 25 years and continues to be the unwavering advocate for the local fishing industry, providing guidance for better fishery management to make small-scale fishing sustainable for decades to come. Another responsibility of the organization is that of community education: shining a light on what it takes to bring an incredible local resource to our plates. What better way to do it than to meet the fleet?
Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance
1566 Main Street, Chatham
508-945-2432 / capecodfishermen.org