Captain anchors fishing school on Harbor Loop

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo. The Extreme Gloucester Fishing Training Center has a new home on Harbor Loop near Building Center. 12/9/19

On Friday, Capt. Joe Sanfilippo of Extreme Gloucester Fishing learned that he'd finished third in a business plan competition organized by Salem State University. 

The disappointment at copping the bronze medal was somewhat mitigated by the $2,000 attached to the prize. Sanfilippo also was heartened to return his full attention to create a commercial fishing training center in Gloucester to help foster a new generation of crew members for the city's most iconic profession.

"The business plan competition really took a lot of my time and energy," Sanfilippo said Monday. "It's really good to get back to concentrating on Extreme Gloucester Fishing. I'm back at it. I'm hard at it and we're going to make this happen."

It has been nearly a year since Sanfilippo first applied his concept of a classroom forum to the task of teaching the intricacies of commercial fishing, including net mending, diesel mechanics, basic electronics, vessel handling and the regulations and history of commercial fishing.

In that short time, much has changed.

Initially, Sanfilippo and his volunteer lecturers — such as Capt. Tommy Testaverde, owner of the F/V Midnight Sun, John Randazzo, captain of Cruiseport Gloucester's Beauport Princess and Justin Demetri of the Essex Shipbuilding Museum — held the classes in the basement of Ken Hecht's building at 189 Main St.

Now Extreme Gloucester Fishing has a new space — the Extreme Gloucester Fishing Training Center — at 11 Harbor Loop, with about 1,700 square feet of space upstairs from what for years was the waterfront space occupied by Empire Fish.

Sanfilippo, who serves as the engineer on the Beauport Princess after about 30 years of commercial fishing, said the new facility comes much closer to realizing his vision of a commercial fishing training center, akin to a fishing vocational school.

"We've held three classes there already that turned out pretty well," Sanfilippo said. "We've had two or three new people show up along with four or five others who have already attended some of the classes and now are back to learn more."

Extreme Gloucester Fishing has used the move to expand its curriculum offerings, both inside the new space and beyond. He's created three new Extreme Gloucester Fishing course offerings — net mending II, welding and what he described as "a couch-change" cooking class.

"That's a class that will discuss how we used to go about getting grub on board for five guys working for 10 days," Sanfilippo said. "We'll go through how we shopped for food before heading out and how it was prepared while at sea."

He also has reached out to Maritime Gloucester to discuss the possibility of partnering with the Harbor Loop maritime and educational center on after-school events to teach school-age children some of the same elements taught in the Extreme Gloucester Fishing curriculum.

Michael DeKoster, executive director at Maritime Gloucester, said the maritime center recognizes the educational and cultural value of what Sanfilippo is trying to achieve and is open to the discussion.

"We've always been supportive of what he's doing and always support branching out with partners for our educational programs, particularly those with the same maritime emphasis as ours," DeKoster said.

Sanfilippo said he remains determined to fully develop his from-the-deck-up classroom approach despite the daunting conditions — quota reductions, climate change, increased regulation and an aging fleet of boats and skippers — that still grip the Gloucester commercial fishing industry.

Sanfilippo is 47. His first job on a family boat came when he was 11. In those days, there was a human pipeline of youngsters desperate for their first job on a boat, to learn the trade of commercial fishing and perhaps someday run or own a boat of their own.

That pipeline has dried up. Sanfilippo is trying to reprime it.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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