A local seafood buyer and processor and at least four Cape Ann inshore fishing vessels resorted to Plan Bs to keep working either throughout or during part of the April and May inshore spawning area shutdowns that prohibited commercial groundfishing and drastically ebbed badly-needed regular landings of quality cod, haddock and flounder.
One dragger crew even spent part of the closure replacing a critical piece of deck equipment before it could put its Plan B into action. The four vessels resumed groundfishing Monday.
Iceland to the rescue
Pigeon Cove Whole Foods at the Head of the Harbor had a hard time the past two months getting enough whole haddock, cod and greysole — whitefish — to fill its fillet orders for the more than 50 Whole Foods stores it supplies, primarily throughout the United States.
Usually for those fillets, "we are a producer/processor of (extra-fresh) day boat product," explained Bill Dubin, the Gloucester branch's purchasing team leader. The company gets the bulk of its whitefish most of the year from their own day boats and, when needed, through in- and out-of-town seafood auctions and independent dealers.
Pigeon Cove Whole Foods got around its recent whitefish shortfalls by importing fresh fillets that it repacked and redistributed.
"Iceland produces fresh product (fillets) for our stores," Dubin said.
Whole Foods, like other supermarket chains, lists the country of origin for its seafoods.
Squiding down the Cape
Pigeon Cove Harbor groundfishermen Capt. Paul Theriault and Ryan Osmond didn't let the April and May closures completely idle their 42-foot dragger, Terminator. They fished for squid (Loligo species) out of Hyannis part of May.
Their Plan B, especially for Theriault, the vessel's owner, prevented him from sliding "... into a massive hole that you can't get out of, financially speaking," he explained.
"I've only done the squid fishing about three years," said Theriault.
At least three out-of-town and six Gloucester inshore draggers joined him this year. Licensed with state coastal access permits, the boats in this non-days-at-sea fishery dragged their small-mesh squid nets on the sandy, gravelly bottoms 18 to 70 feet down off Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
The squid have yielded the fishermen up to $1.25 per pound.
Repair before Plan B
Capt. Mark Carroll and crewman Mark Favaloro, meanwhile, had to replace the 50-year-old, double-drum winch on their 47-foot dragger, Explorer II, with a pair of more modern split trawl winches during the closure before they could also head to the Cape and fish for squid.
"The old winch blew up (broke down) offshore while our fishing gear was out," Carroll said.
The crewmen were able to haul back their net and doors using their net reel and the one good side of the old winch.
"It took us three hours (as opposed to the usual less than 30 minutes) to haul back the gear (from over 700 feet down," Carroll explained.
The winch project "... took most of April, including setting up the logistics and lining up the crane at Rose's Marine," Carroll said.
"It took us one day to get the old winch off and three weeks to get the split winches and mount them on deck," he said. "There was no room in places under the deck to get at some of the nuts and bolts that secure the winches on deck.
The family's berth
Gillnet fisherman Jimmy Santapaola Sr. set his fish trap, or weir, off Kettle Island during the inshore groundfish shut-down to catch migrating mackerel that run into the trap's leader and follow it right into the rectangular-shaped, anchored fish trap.
Two generations of Santapaolas have held that particular trap berth.
"I did it (the trap fishing) this year because I had someone to go with me," said Santapaola.
Santapaola and crewman Mike Veator checked the trap mornings nearly on a daily basis using Santapaola's 36-foot gillnetter, Amanda & Andy, as a carrier and a dory to purse the trap.
The mackerel have been generally scarce and "... mixy (all sizes, including many small fish) this year," Santapaola explained.
Some of his high-quality mackerel found their way to different Whole Foods seafood departments.
Santapaola and Veator hauled in the entire fish trap, dried its twine at the seine field in East Gloucester and, lastly, put the gear into storage the day before the Middlebank spawning area re-opened on June 1.
Santapaola is the last active island Cape Ann trap fisherman.
Monkfishing out of New Bedford
Another gillnet fisherman, Capt. Don Smith, and crewmen Tom Ives and Nate Thomas worked out of New Bedford aboard Richard Burgess's 40-foot local gillnetter, Scotia Boat Too, making 30-hour-long monkfishing trips during the rolling closures. Smith and crew were also joined by several other Gloucester gillnetters.
"Inshore grounds from Cape Porpoise to Cape Cod are closed up with the closures. You are out of business for a couple of months then unless you are willing to travel," Smith said.
His monkfishery requires either a Category C or D monkfish permit, a Northeast Multi-Species permit and days-at-sea to go along with both permits.
"Monkfishing is a soak fishery. You have to let your gillnets set a minimum of three to four days and a maximum of six to seven days (the fish will die after that)," Smith explained.
The monkfishery "... is a day's pay for three days a week for this eight-week (groundfish closure) period," said Smith, who has been working this Plan B since the rolling closures began in the 1990s.
Smith and crew "... are glad to be back home working 800 pounds of (daily) cod," the captain added.
Gloucester lobsterman Peter K. Prybot writes weekly for the Times about the fishing industry and related issues.