By Doreen Leggett
When he was young, Bradley Louw wanted to be a professional windsurfer and found himself chasing waves on the Cape, doing some instructing, living on the wilder side out of his minivan. Louw felt a change was needed:
“I had three choices, the military, jail or commercial fishing. I heard there was good money in commercial fishing, so I chose that. It gave me purpose.”
Close to 15 years later it seems he picked the right door. He splits his time between captaining two big scallopers out of Gloucester, as well as his own boats, F/V Renegade for lobster and a scalloper, F/V Three Graces.
Now he is taking another big step, opening a combination seafood store and restaurant in Orleans. He purchased Orleans Seafood Market from Chris King and will re-open it this December as Surfside Seafood.
“I’m really excited. For me it seems like the natural progression of things,” Louw said.
Louw was born in Oudtshoorn, the so-called ostrich capital of the world in the West Cape province of South Africa. He was the oldest of four and remembers fishing with his dad, mostly for carp. His dad is an architect, his mom a teacher, and they all moved to the States in 1999 when he was 10 and settled in Quincy.
“Twelve suitcases and $10,000 in pursuit of the American Dream,” Louw said.
Louw ended up spending a lot of his time on this Cape when he wasn’t in school, which “reminds me a lot of South Africa when I was a kid,” he said. After high school, he landed in Brewster where he met Tyler Daley, a lobsterman.
“He got me my first job on the William Bowe and that was history,” he said with a laugh. The William Bowe, which used to be docked in Hyannis, is a 74-foot, bright red offshore lobster boat.
Louw has a story or two from that time in his life, including the time he went overboard setting trawls. The rest of the crew was yelling at him to grab a flotation ring they threw in, and he was pulled aboard.
“I was petrified. I went inside, took a shower and was back on deck in 10 minutes.”
Although dangerous, fishing suited Louw. “Everything is very regimented. It was good for me.”
From offshore lobstering he transitioned to working on big boats out of New Bedford, at sea for a week or 10 days at a time.
While he spent most of his time scalloping, he did buy his first lobster boat, Diamond Girl, in 2014 and began to split his time between inshore and offshore work.
He bought a house in Brewster and began to think he may be growing out of spending 240 days a year on Georges Bank. He had missed one too many reunions, birthday parties and weddings.
“I didn’t want to be a deckhand for the rest of my life,” he said.
While working on scallop boats, he met Tom Reilly, a well-known captain on the Cape.
“Bradley worked on the Kate and the Kate II, two of biggest and the most successful vessels in New Bedford,” Reilly remembers.
Reilly was segueing out of hands-on fishing and looking to sell his boat F/V Three Graces, which he had built in 2001 in Nova Scotia. Named because he was graced with three daughters, the vessel couldn’t go to just anyone. Reilly felt a kinship with Louw.
“He has no family in the fishing industry, and neither do I,” said Reilly, who considers Louw the son he never had. “I really like him. He wanted to do his own thing and work for himself.”
Reilly said although Louw is young he knows when to ask for advice and learned quickly that running your own boat requires handling 15 or 20 jobs before you even leave the dock:
“He takes calculated risks. He has an intelligence and an aptitude for survival. You have to look at the numbers. You have to do your due diligence.”
Louw said he did that with the purchase of the scalloper.
“The reputation of the Three Graces precedes itself. It’s a hell of a sea boat,” he said.
When Louw sold Diamond Girl in 2020 and bought his second lobster boat, Renegade, and then the scallop boat, those two fisheries were riding high. But just a short time later, things didn’t look as rosy. The lobster industry is feeling pressure from regulators and the amount of catch scallopers are allowed to land has dropped. The amount he is getting paid for lobsters isn’t much more than he got in the 1990s. Last year scallops were fetching more than $16 a pound at the auction in New Bedford, but now they are going for significantly less.
With all his expenses – fuel (close to $1,500 a trip), insurance, dockage and the fact he has to spend more than $6 to lease a pound of quota – those prices are just too low.
“If I am getting anything less than $15 (per pound of scallops), I am doing it for free,” he said. “The margins now are really small. It is not like I have had a couple of years to prepare for the storm.”
He has had to fish smarter. Louw has varied who he sells to and takes a federal observer on his boat when he can, because he qualifies for an additional 250 pounds per trip, usually capped at 600 pounds. That can make the difference.
“It’s a big game,” he said. “I have to get creative.”
Sometimes he sells his scallops at auction in New Bedford. In the winter, the auction is a good bet because the scallops will move and he gets paid right away. But a drawback is if a small boat is doing well in a certain area, the auction reports exactly where. A big boat can come in and clear an area in three or four days that would take Louw’s boat a month to harvest.
Years of chasing the price changed his perspective.
“I have two really nice fishing businesses, but I don’t work for myself. I work for the fish buyers,” he said.
Surfside Seafood will change that equation. He will be able to sell from his boats, as well as other fishing vessels. The new retail location also allows him to put his lobsters in tanks instead of having to sell them all that day. His younger brother will help him out by running the Renegade.
Louw plans to sell fish burritos and tacos and other sandwiches as well as crab cakes, smoked bluefish and inventive items. He has been meeting with a web designer to talk about how best to feature the fishermen he buys from, so customers get to know who is catching their fish.
“I want to put a face behind the seafood. It would be an honor to do that,” he said.
Word is getting out. Kathleen Barry and her husband Christopher have been pulling in the parking lot to see when Surfside will open — likely before Christmas.
“I love that I have a fish market down the street, that it is local fish, and it’s fresh,” said Kathleen.
The two are ready to shop local, and become ambassadors:
“I’ve been talking it up to all my friends,” Kathleen said.