Looking ahead to future fishermen

May 29, 2024 | Plumbing the Depths, News

Caleb Neal and Kaycee Gilley chat about knots at Fishermen Training.

By Doreen Leggett

Kaycee Gilley graduated from high school in May and knew what she wanted to do, but didn’t know how best to do it.

“I’ve gone fishing with my stepfather sometimes,” Gilley said. “Once I got introduced to gillnetting, I enjoyed it.”

After going through Fishermen Training, she has a much better idea how to get into the industry along with the training to succeed on-deck. If the vessel her stepfather crews on doesn’t need help this summer, she now has connections with other captains.

Gilley, slight with long blond hair pulled back in a clip, was standing on the deck of the scalloper Hell Town in Harwich’s Saquatucket Harbor on a recent blustery, grey day.

Captain Zach Bennett was explaining gear, plus some of the inspirational (or sarcastic) messages written on the vessel’s pipes and poles, to a dozen or so attendees as part of the three-day training organized by the Fishermen’s Alliance.

“One more tow,” Bennett read with a chuckle. “There is always one more tow.”

Sometimes Bennett and crew are out for a short time to get their quota of scallops, other times it is a two-and-a-half-day grind, the crew taking naps in rotation.

“I’m pretty mean sometimes,” said Bennett, known as one of the nicest captains around.

Finding Gilley more interested in gillnetting, using nets as opposed to a dredge, he didn’t skip a beat. He gave her the number of his brother, another captain who has a gillnetter.

Led by Fred Mattera and Mitch Hatzipetro of Commercial Fisheries Center of Rhode Island and University of Rhode Island, the class introduced attendees to maritime safety and the wealth of fisheries on the Cape.

Sea clamming, quahogging, longlining, harpooning for tuna, potting for conch and black sea bass, rod and reel, fish dragging, musseling, lobstering, aquaculture (as well as gillnetting and scalloping) were covered in the free class. Each requires different gear, distance from shore, hours, seasons, experience.

“There are different fisheries for different people,” said Sean Leach, a lobsterman.

Leach started lobstering with his dad when he was in middle school, graduated college with a degree in accounting and a promising job offer, but opted to make fishing a career.

He gets up around 4 a.m., leaves the dock around five, steams to his traps and pulls 300 or 400 with his crew, then gets back to the dock and unloads to his family’s wholesale company.

Every day is different, “you never stop learning,” he said.

Markets change, he continued, explaining that in the past two-pound female lobsters were the big sellers, but with demand in China all larger lobsters, male or female, are coveted as well.

Leach also makes modifications on traps.

“Our lobsters are kind of lazy, so we have a low single entry,” he said, pointing to a trap for the class to see.

Mattera noted safety features on the boat, including a rope well that held 1,800 feet so only 200 is on deck; less to trip on or catch you and drag you over.

Standing at the back of the boat with traps behind isn’t advisable either, said Mattera, who has been training fishermen for more than a decade. If the rope letting out the traps catches on the trap tower behind the crew member, he is going into the drink.

All fisheries demand safe practices. In gillnetting even a button or anything on your sleeve can get caught (Wearing a hoodie? Tie those strings back). On draggers orange balls come up with the net – might as well hit yourself with a baseball bat as one of them, said Mattera. A dredge swinging aboard on a sea clam vessel can be a hazard.

A retired captain and political science major in college on the path to law school, Mattera started fishing in 1972 and never looked back. His experienced eye liked the look and comfort of Leach’s boat, F/V Jessica Beth.

“This is a honey,” he said. “I’d go back fishing on this.”

Leach told those standing on the wide deck that he puts in 14-hour days, four days a week, then spends time fixing boat or gear. The crew helps with that.

“That is what we call working your way up to the pointy end of the boat,” Leach said to laughter.

May to December can be busy, though there is also time during the year for family or to jump into another fishery.

One of Leach’s crew goes scalloping part of the year, though he much prefers lobstering. Bennett is the opposite.

Leach said growing up in a fishing family (as he did)  is by no means the only way to get into the fisheries, adding the best mate he ever had was from Iowa.

“You have to love it,” said Leach, “the work ethic and mentality.”

The class’s students were a blend of those who have been around fishing much of their lives and those who never stepped on a boat before.

Gilley hadn’t grown up in a fishing family but when stepping on a fishing boat when she was older, she was hooked. She has also worked with her mom processing clams at Chatham Light Mussels, now owned by Jesse Rose, who also owns F/V Midnight Our and F/V Nemesis (sea clam and scallop vessels ), as well as a smaller boat for mussels.

Caleb Neal, also a senior at Monomoy Regional High School, has a dad and uncle who have fished commercially and unloaded catch at the fish pier. Neal may do that this summer.

“I want to get more familiar with it,” he said.

Adam Barnes Neal, Caleb’s cousin, also worked at the fish pier unloading for Jamie Bassett. It was Bassett who turned Adam on to a job with Jesse Rose.

Then Adam, 31, got a friend from off-Cape to come down and hop aboard.

“I never thought I would have the chance to do this,” said the friend, Sam Jones, 28. “I appreciate Adam speaking up on my behalf and Jesse giving me a chance.”

Fishing on F/V Nemesis has convinced him this is where he wants to be, so he found a room to rent for the summer.

“I expect I’ll be on the boat most of the time anyway,” he said with a grin.

Having 16 hours of solid safety training has helped him “feel a lot more comfortable,” he said.

Vanessa Rose has helped her dad, Captain Keith Rose, operate a business with two fishing boats,  F/V Clamnation out of Wellfleet and the F/V Kimberley Ann out of Provincetown, for a decade.

She said her dad has taught her a lot, but she wants to spend more time on the boat – as well as re-invigorating their oyster farm in Wellfleet – and thought formalized training would be helpful.

Mattera said that is why they spend time going over what to do, then have students do it themselves.

“You can have all the best equipment in the world, but you have to know how to use it,” he said.

The group went over everything from tying knots to practicing Mayday calls to what to have in a “ditch kit.”

“Panic comes out of not knowing what to do,” he said. “When you do panic you need that muscle memory.”

Hatzipetro, who wore an inflatable life preserver for virtually the entire training to show comfortable it was, also went over a raft of fishing terms from “bite” (a loop in the line) to “warp” (the line itself).

Nothing is more disturbing than sending someone to the boat’s aft without them knowing what you are talking about, Mattera said.

Aubrey Church, policy director at the Fishermen’s Alliance, told the class not to worry too much, captain and crew on boats help new hands as much as they can.

Church went over regulations commercial fishermen work under – there are many – and spoke about her experiences as a fishery observer, a federal at-sea monitor who collects data. Church said some fishermen thought she couldn’t do the job because she was a woman.

Church saw that as a challenge, so she just worked harder and earned respect. Several in the class, made up primarily of women, nodded; one had been told she couldn’t fish because she was a woman.

“I would rather have a woman on the boat,” said Mattera, saying in general their focus is better.

The final hours of training focused on setting off flares, putting out fires, donning survival suits and getting in and out of a raft in chilly waters at Stage Harbor.

Michelle Silva, 30, daughter of Provincetown Captain Mike Silva, was one of the few who already experienced getting into a survival suit.

“I used to race my sister when I was like 10, on my dad’s boat,” she said.

Silva works on a whale watch boat, and may fill in lobstering.

Her dad didn’t want her to go into fishing, but things changed.

“He said I should have done this a long time ago. It’s good stuff to know,” Silva said.

Mike VanHoose, who holds the class record for getting on the survival suit in the shortest amount of time, drove down on his motorcycle to see the in-water training.

VanHoose took the training Fishermen’s Alliance held in 2021, crewing for an Orleans captain at the time. When he heard there was another training and Rose was sending crew from the F/V Nemesis, which VanHoose now captains, he said, “Perfect.”

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