By Doreen Leggett
Bruce Peters spent much of his time over the last 20 years testifying locally and nationally, writing comment letters and battling to make sure forage fish were protected from overfishing.
After many setbacks, regulators and managers finally saw the wisdom in protecting sea herring and passed rules to do so. Then barely a month ago, a single judge overturned those safeguards, leading many to question whether it was worth spending all that time and energy to advocate for better fisheries management.
“I’ll keep commenting,” he said in one of his last public statements.
Peters died unexpectedly vacationing in Costa Rica late last month, leaving many to wonder how someone that full of life and energy could be gone.
“He always backed up his words with actions. If he was passionate about something he would fight for it. The guy walked the walk. You could always count on him,” said John Pappalardo, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, who knew Peters for 25 years.
Pappalardo said you could see Peters’ typical determination in his words on herring:
“He was rallying the troops. He didn’t get discouraged.”
Peters’ spirited personality is remembered by many across the Cape.
“He was just awesome,” said fisherman Craig Poosikian.
Poosikian and Peters were on the board of directors of the Cape Cod Hook Association in the early 2000s. They pushed hard to protect striped bass, which they both loved to catch.
Poosikian said he respected Peters because he didn’t talk in circles:
“He was frank. Blunt. But spot-on every single time. Just a very smart guy.”
He was also a lot of fun, always a little trouble following him around.
“I really miss him. I’m pissed that he is gone. He had a million stories,” Poosikian said.
“Everyone has a story about Bruce,” agreed Captain Nick Muto. “He was a good fisherman. It’s a big loss. There will be a hole in the fleet.”
Excitement seemed to follow Peters around. He was on the news for catching enormous tuna fish, and for taking photos and videos of a killer whale while taking a group charter fishing from the Chatham Fish Pier.
He loved captaining charters for the fun of putting people on fish (many parents have heartfelt stories of Peters helping kids catch one), and because it put him into the natural world.
“He was very in tune with the environment,” said longtime friend Mike Abdow, who often did co-charters with Peters. “He loved the outdoors. He was a great hunter – he loved his deer, which makes sense as fishermen are often hunter-gatherer types.”
Although Peters was known as an articulate speaker and writer who also wrote poetry, he was always a fisherman, a 14th generation Cape Codder (his mother was a Chace) with many ancestors who made a life on the ocean.
As a young boy, Peters would spend his paper route money on fishing lures. Sometimes he caught so many flounder he couldn’t carry them home on his bike – his mom would come pick him up. His mom, Marilyn Schofield, was a talented Eastham painter. Peters named his boat after her, the Marilyn S.
He fished locally until he graduated high school in 1974, then headed to California where he worked as a commercial fisherman out of Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco.
He was drawn back to the Cape in 1989 and began shellfishing and bay scalloping in Pleasant Bay.
Peters soon transitioned out of shellfishing to bass and tuna.
“He loved tuna fishing,” said Captain Kurt Martin, who knew Peters most of his life. “He’d go to Georges (Bank) in weather … in his little boat with his insulated coveralls on.”
That love transformed into advocacy. Peters often spoke of sustainable fisheries and the importance of understanding how the ecosystem worked, how the health of everything was interconnected.
“His consistent policy work on behalf of working fishermen echoed his devotion at sea,” said Captain Darren Saletta.
Saletta added that Peters was always willing to help the next generation.
“He left us too early,” Saletta said.
Abdow said his phone rang non-stop when word got to the Cape of Peters’ death.
With the charter season starting, it will be strange for Abdow not to have Bruce, helping each other out, splitting a large group between their boats. He’ll especially miss the jokes and razzing on the radio and social media.
“We always liked to rattle each other,” Abdow said with a chuckle.
He remembers one time when he decided against buying big, green, plastic squid-shaped lures to go tuna fishing. He told Peters, who promptly bought them and caught three big tuna in rapid succession – proclaiming the news all over the radio and Facebook.
“I want to thank Mike Abdow for not buying these,” Peters chortled.
“I still have it on my Facebook page,” Abdow said. “I don’t want to take it down.”
We were lucky enough to capture Captain Peters’ thoughts on fishing and how he got into it in this Voices from the Wheelhouse piece from 2017.
There will be a memorial service for Bruce Peters on Saturday, May 14, 1 to 4 p.m. Elks Lodge, 10 McKoy Road, North Eastham, MA. Food, cash bar, sharing memories.