There is a resurgence of activity in Menemsha this summer, and it is all related to getting seafood from the boats to the consumer. Every morning, visitors to Menemsha find fishing boats going in and out of the harbor. In the late morning they return from the fishing grounds laden with product. Boats come in loaded with fluke, also called summer flounder, caught in nearby Vineyard Sound. There are boats coming in with bluefish, caught west of Gay Head. Yesterday, with the opening of the commercial striped bass season, there are now more opportunities to eat locally-caught fish.
Menemsha is always a fairly busy fishing port, but this summer is different. There is a bigger shift in the commerce of moving locally-caught seafood than there has been in quite a few years. Alec Gale and Tim Broderick have turned a corner in their wholesale seafood establishment, Menemsha Fish House, which has been buying and shipping seafood to the mainland for several years. Even they agree this summer is different. They’ve got more boats delivering a diverse product, and that means they’ve got more to share with their customers.
During the quiet of last winter, the Menemsha Fish House interior got a facelift, including a new 20-by-15-foot refrigerator and an ice-making machine installed a year ago.
Mr. Gale said the company is growing and now shipping their seafood to the mainland entirely through the use of trucks. They’ve also hired Ty Rossi, as their business manager, and he’s also looking for local outlets here on the Vineyard.
Many of us recall years ago when there were more fish markets on the Island, and they all sold a lot of Island-harvested product. Fish of all sorts were plentiful and there was an equal match of shellfish.
Beginning about 30 years ago, locally harvested seafood dwindled, for a lot of reasons. There were declines in stock and significantly more restrictions on what fishermen could do while they were on the water. Competitive markets from abroad stepped in and offered a different product. Local fish markets made adjustments to keep a consistent flow of fresh seafood: They got seafood from around the globe.
It was reported back then and it can still be said today that more seafood is landed on the Vineyard by the Steamship Authority ferryboats than by our local fishing boats.
But there is again a shift, and local is back. The resurgence of interest in locally-grown vegetables and produce is having a positive impact on the seafood community.
Many fish are either on the road to recovery or are just more plentiful. There appears to be a healthy energetic shift back to locally-harvested Island seafood, and it is occurring with some new additions. Oysters are being raised and marketed by fishermen. Locally raised blue mussels are about to have a bigger part in our local diet. There is a resurgence in local fluke, more recently referred to as Vineyard Sole.
Striped bass are here and in sufficient abundance that you can count on seeing them on ice in every local fish market. The commercial season will continue, hopefully, well into August.
“We want to see more local fish in Vineyard markets,” Mr. Gale said on Tuesday after unloading 300 pounds of freshly-caught fluke from one of the fishing boats tied up at the dock.
Mr. Gale’s successes are tied to one Vineyard customer at a time. He said more and more restaurants and markets are taking his locally-landed product. “More and more are discovering they can eat good Island fish,” Mr. Gale said. Mr. Gale said he is delivering to the Homeport Restaurant in Menemsha and the Beach Plum Inn nearby. He is also delivering seafood to State Road Restaurant of West Tisbury, and Fishbones Grille and Waterfront Cafe in Oak Bluffs, among others.
“I know this sounds crazy,” Mr. Gale said, but in the past there were restaurants serving frozen fish from the mainland.
An example of change: The fish house where Mr. Gale operates his business was built nearly 20 years ago by Louis Larsen of the Net Result fish market in Vineyard Haven as a storage facility for locally-caught live lobsters. There were plenty of saltwater tanks. Often times during the season, the lobstermen unloaded more lobsters than could be bought locally. Mr. Larsen’s house got a nickname as lobster hotel, a place where lobsters waited until they went to the store. Through the years, the numbers of landings of lobsters dropped.
This summer Mr. Gale reintroduced Mr. Larsen’s old idea. There is a small space, considerably smaller than before, where Mr. Gale keeps recently caught lobsters in saltwater tanks for delivery to the markets. “We are starting to take in lobsters that are locally caught,” he said. Mr. Gale is getting shellfish, mostly steamers and little necks, from five people. “I am doing shellfish this year,” Mr. Gale said.
There is another good sign on the waterfront. Fishermen are coming from afar to catch and to unload their fish in Menemsha.
Capt. David Dutra, 67, of the fishing boat Richard & Arnold, is from Truro and he has been selling his fluke in Menemsha. “I’ve been coming here for years,” he said. The boat is one of the last eastern rig fishing boats around. She was built in 1924 for Frank Parson of Provincetown. The boat is named after his two sons. “He told his sons they couldn’t go fishing on the boat,” the captain said. Instead, the two went into handling fish. Mr. Dutra has owned the boat for 32 years. He fishes off Cape Cod and in the waters from here to Montauk.
Fluke Fishing Tournament
One-hundred and six fishermen competed in last weekend’s fluke tournament, hosted by the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9261. Peter Herrmann, organizer of the event, said that the anglers had a good time, though he said he would have liked to see the fish weighed-in bigger. The weights were not significant.
The following are the results. Teen fishermen: 1, Luke O’Toole, 3.0; 2, David Packer, 3.0; 3, Chris Perry, 2.8 pounds. Men: 1, Roy Hope, 7.3; 2, Jim Choinere, 5.9; 3, Rick Harvey. Women: 1, Bev Bergeron, 4.5; 2, Emily Williston, 2.8; 3, Kris O’Brien, 2.7. Fishermen twelve years and younger: 1, Charlotte Packer, 3.4; 2, Corbin Buchwald, 2.6; 3, Dylan Kral, 2.2; 4, Tate Buchwald, 1.9; 5, Nathaniel Packer, 1.9.
There were special black sea bass awards: for an adult: Jim Choinere, 5.2. for a junior 12 years of age and under: Charlotte Packer, 3.4. The winning team: Todd Stempier, Steve Barron and Jim Choinere.