At an impressive 164-by-40-by-14 feet, the Western Venture is a European design combination of mid-water trawler/purse from which fishermen will be allowed to pull out 50,000 metric tons of food and bait fish for the 2007-2008 fishing year.
Mullen, a second-generation fisherman who immigrated to America in 1984 from the Aran Islands off of Ireland's west coast, has worked his way up here from the deck to the wheelhouse to vessel and wharf ownership. Nothing has been handed to him. Herring and mackerel are his prey.
His first vessel, the 136-foot scalloper Hercules, which he purchased in 1990 and later converted into a mid-water trawler bearing the name Western Venture after his venture west, earned Mullen the distinction in Gloucester as the first successful long-term, mid-water trawl fisherman here. Gloucester also became Mullen's base of operation as well as his home.
His foresight in the fishery, willingness to improve and adapt, hard work ethic, and support from his wife of 30 years, Julia, have contributed to his success as one of the major players in the ever-changing East Coast small pelagic fishery today.
Examples of those attributes can be seen in his holdings today. Right off, Mullen replaced the original Western Venture's tall forward mast, used for lifting, with a versatile hydraulic deck crane and the old fish and ice storing system below deck with a refrigerated seawater system that chills the fish down to 32 degrees.
When the opportunity arose, Mullen bought the old Empire Fish Co. plant and wharf along Harbor Loop. He no longer had to worry about where to dock and unload his catches in town. He also cashed in on the chance to catch herring off Maine in the summer and purchased the medium-sized purse seiner, Western Wave. Mid-water trawling is not allowed in state waters.
In addition, Mullen foresaw pair trawling becoming the way of the future to harvest herring and mackerel. He then acquired the 109-foot Osprey, a raised fo'c'sle scalloper powered by a 1,500 horse power diesel and changed it over to pair trawl with the original Western Venture. Pair trawlers share a common net and open its mouth by each towing one side of it away from each other at slightly different angles.
But Mullen recently made the biggest business decision and adaptation of his fishing career after the herring powers-that-be changed the harvesting of herring in his prime summer grounds - herring management Area 1A - to fixed gear only.
"The (New England Fishery Management) Council's plan (which was just approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service) gave me the idea (to build a new vessel)," he explained. "Converting my other two boats to seining would have cost $1.2 million each. I had to be able to compete or go out of business."
So he commissioned Boconco Shipyard in Alabama to design and build him the vessel of his dreams. That shipyard is well known in the fishing industry for its quality work.
"I went to the top end (length and horse power) of what that fishery allows. If you are going to compete, you might as well go to the top end," Mullen said.
He incorporated his expertise with that of the boat builders and E&K; Marine Ltd., into the design. E&K; Marine Ltd., which has branches in Gloucester and Ireland, supplied and installed the complete hydraulic package that bears the trade names Rapp Hydema and Petrel. The result is a vessel that not only looks good and is equipped with the latest and best machinery that money can buy, but also one that is functional to seine herring in the summer and to pair trawl mackerel or herring with the Osprey the rest of the year.
The new vessel's refrigerated seawater tanks can hold over a million pounds of fish at a temperature of 32 degrees. Its twin 1,500 horse power diesels give it the power to fish just about any depth, and its main trawl winches, which each hold over seven tons of 11/4-inch diameter towing wire and can lift a dead weight of 90,000 pounds apiece, can haul up big catches from the depths.
The vessel also has the electronics - all interfaced - and even a Doppler plotter/sonar, the first on the east coast, to find fish and get them into the net.
Mullen transferred the herring permit from his first Western Venture to the new Western Venture. The old Western Venture's crew will now run the Osprey, while the Osprey crew - Capt. J.J. Faherty, Einne Connelly, engineers J.J. Johnson and Nile Griffin, Mike Faherty, Billy Simms, and cook Pasquale DiMaio - will operate the new Western Venture. The future of Mullen's original Western Venture, recently renamed Westward, remains uncertain, although she definitely will get some hard-earned rest.
Mullen had the new vessel's hull painted red and white, a dramatic change from his other boat's black and green colors. "These are Galway colors; plus, I just wanted something brighter that would lighten up the harbor. The harbor needs a little uplift nowadays," he said.
"She's a great boat. You can't turn back now," Mullen added. The Western Venture will target mackerel on her maiden trip. That could happen any day now, once the weather breaks.