By John Pappalardo
Fishermen are always at it, as a great winter photo spread in last month’s issue proves, but the rhythms of work and weather are always in play as well. So now comes a recurring moment that in many ways, year in and year out, is pivotal.
This year that’s true more than ever, given all that’s happened and hasn’t happened since last March.
Fishermen forever take stock right about now. The days are longer, the weather is calming down at least a little, fish starting to move into the next season as water temperature inches up, markets are starting to shake off their doldrums, a new fishing season is being defined by state and fed managers with new regs and quotas creating new challenges, opportunities.
There are questions looking for answers: What does the boat need? How much to invest, or to put it just as accurately, gamble? Which stocks make the most sense to target this time around, at what times of year and where? Should those weir poles get driven one more time? Is there a shot at a better return heading way out to the eastern, or down to the mid? And by the way, word out on crew; anybody know anybody willing and able to make a real commitment?
Now overlay the course and impact of this COVID madness on all of that. It’s most likely pure coincidence, but it seems that the reckoning of the year, and the hopeful sense that we are about to rise up and get past this scourge, are coming right on top of each other.
Lessons learned in this pandemic will not be forgotten. Direct sales from dock to kitchen, pier to plate, boat to throat, helped many stay on the water and renewed appreciation in the community for the best fresh fish and the best fishermen around. The fragility of long supply chains that can be cut by events beyond our control made us all think about ways we can shorten those links and rely more on friends and neighbors, local markets and local distribution. The crisis also opened up opportunities like using our haddock chowder to support food banks as well as independent fishermen, getting more creative about how to transform a crisis into a win-win.
Now we seem poised to integrate all that into a season that has a good chance of looking a whole lot more “normal.” The vaccines are playing out, and by every credible report they’re working. Restaurants are shaking out tablecloths, though they’re still counting on take-out.
And fishermen are doing what they do, assessing stocks, gauging markets, checking engines and equipment, taking on maintenance and repairs, gearing up.
It’s all about preparation, and it’s also all about hope. No one fishes without both, and spring’s arrival always encourages optimism. But this year feels different, compounded by getting past the worst of this pandemic, heightened by returning expectations, made more heartfelt because things we took for granted a year ago we don’t take for granted now — things as simple as giving someone a hug, walking into a restaurant, or moving fish from the deck to the middlemen to the world.
The best of the rites are back. Neither winter nor a virus could stop them from showing up once again. We take our chances one more time.
Bring it on.