Will Ligenza, right, and Farrell Davis aboard F/V Small Stuff
By Doreen Leggett
One of Will Ligenza’s first jobs was crewing on a boat out of Chatham 20 years ago with a skinny high school kid named Farrell Davis, and the captain said, “If you make that kid cry I will give you $50.”
“I cried right away,” grinned Davis.
Ligenza laughed hard. The two were in cahoots and they split the money.
“That was a LOT of money back then,” said Ligenza.
Two decades later the two still fish together, but their roles have changed.
Ligenza, 40, has been a captain for years and just invested in a new boat, his third. Davis, who is finishing up his master’s degree, crews when he can, given the demands of his full-time job.
“We have all sorts of fun together,” said Ligenza on a recent Sunday at the Chatham Fish Pier.
The two were taking a quick break after spending hours on the F/V Small Stuff doing maintenance and changing up chain and shoes on the scallop dredge.
Though they have countless stories of shenanigans, they take the fisheries seriously. And fishing has always gone hand-in-hand with science.
When Ligenza was in high school he did a research project involving cod fish and a few years later he worked with his father, Ted, a long-time fisherman, on a cod tagging project for the Fishermen’s Alliance.
Ligenza was enmeshed in the fisheries even though his dad tried to put him on a different path.
Ligenza remembers his father taking him out longlining for cod when the wind was blowing 20 or 30 knots. And to make it worse, the crew was smoking up a storm. Ligenza did get seasick, but it didn’t turn him off from fishing.
“It’s been a love story ever since,” he said.
Ligenza’s dad is pushing 70 and still groundfishing on the Reina Marie – named after Will’s mom. His older brother Michael crews on a quahog boat and his younger brother John helps in the bait industry.
Davis’ parents also weren’t keen on a fishing career. He always had an interest in science (thinking of being a paleontologist) but was drawn to fishing because it was fun and the money was great.
He went to private school in Texas but came to the Cape summers where his mom grew up.
“I got paid more than anyone in my school. No one would believe me,” Davis said.
Davis continued to fish but his parents were adamant he go to college.
“I ended up getting into fisheries science,” he said, graduating from University of Rhode Island and going on to UMass Dartmouth.
Farrell worked at the Northeast Science Center in Woods Hole before he got a job at Coonemessett Farm Foundation where he has worked for a decade.
“It is a non-profit so I can feel good at the end of the day,” he said. “That’s why I love fishing, too. It is not just about making money, it’s also about providing food.”
Davis banks time at sea on research so he can go fishing with Ligenza. He has crewed through successive boats – the Blue Jay, the Getaway and now the Small Stuff.
They have been mackerel fishing, gone for dogfish and now concentrate on scallops.
“He is really intelligent and a talented fisherman,” said Davis. “A good captain.”
“He is really mechanically inclined,” added Will’s father Ted. “Willy is really talented when it comes to fixing stuff.”
Ligenza has done some experimentation with his scallop dredge to make sure it fished in a more environmentally-sound manner.
“That was your own science,” said Davis.
Ligenza said when he was 14 or 15 he started working on the flats, when Chatham had an exemplary soft-shell clam set. Then he went offshore.
“I’ve fished on a lot of boats. I’ve been gillnetting, longlining, Scottish seining, dragging … the only thing I haven’t done is gone lobster fishing with pots,” he said.
Ligenza paused. “There was some really good fishing. It is fortunate that I’ve been fortunate.”
“They taught him how to work hard. They were really tough,” Ted said of his son’s former captains.
Scallops have been a focus for 16 or so years now and prompted a bigger boat – Small Stuff is almost 49 feet long and 24 feet wide and has a shucking house the size of some small New York City apartments.
“The boat goes over the (Chatham) bar beautifully, built to fish in the Bay of Fundy,” he said.
He picked up Small Stuff in Belfast, Maine in November. His dad came up to help drive the boat back and filled up the fuel tank.
“He was excited. As soon as my check cleared he had his bag packed and was ready to go,” Ligenza said.
Ligenza also reached out to the original owner, Bradley Smalls who lives in Canada. “He was kind enough to give us all the rigging for the boat,” Ligenza said. “Couldn’t say enough nice things about him.”
Davis, Ligenza and Ligenza’s crew (his girlfriend Heather) have fished on Small Stuff a bunch and say it’s been “amazing.” She has a shower, seven bunks, and a kitchen.
The size and amenities are well-suited to the duo’s next scientific pursuit.
The two are working on a Research Set Aside project with Coonemessett that aims to improve the health of the fishery. RSAs generate research funds through leasing scallop quota “set aside” for this purpose, an investment by the industry in a sustainable future.
Ligenza will attach a specially made beam trawler designed to catch small scallops. After a tag is attached with a gel like super glue, said Davis, 20,000 smaller scallops will be transplanted to another area where larger scallops are historically known to grow, to see if these small scallops can seed a new area.
The duo is also working with Coonemessett on another project to map peat deposits, which will provide clues on climate change.
“It would be safe to say, looking at the stock assessment, that we need to do something,” Ligenza said.
He planned to add the research trips to his scalloping trips at the end of June.
“I am beyond excited,” he said.
“All good fishermen are basically naturalists,” added Davis.