By Doreen Leggett
John Pappalardo commercially fished for close to a decade until fishermen thought he should quit his day job and focus on his volunteer work: Being a voice for the fleet at the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association.
Fast forward 20 years and Pappalardo is chief executive officer of the successful organization that is now the Fishermen’s Alliance. But during COVID Pappalardo had a recurring nightmare:
What if no one spoke on behalf of the Cape’s fishermen, what if no one advocated for them, defended their interests, protected their traditional rights? What would become of the peninsula if we lost the industry?
“I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to make sure that today’s fishermen, and the young kids pulling on boots in the future, would have someone standing shoulder to shoulder with them. There needs to be someone who takes their concerns and solutions for better management and better science to the tables, meeting rooms and Congressional halls where the decisions about their lives, businesses and the futures of their coastal communities are made,” Pappalardo said.
To make sure the Fishermen’s Alliance will have staff to provide consistent, professional representation for Cape Cod fishermen, the non-profit launched a $2.5 million endowment campaign. Pappalardo announced the endowment at the 22nd annual Hookers Ball, held August 5, under a big, white tent on the grounds of the Harwich Community Center.
“Your support will enable the Fishermen’s Alliance to continue to fight to protect Cape Cod’s special fishing heritage, our treasured marine environment and the future of our region’s small-boat commercial fishing industry,” he said.
The crowd of 400, a mix of long-time and new supporters, got the effort off to a strong start. The event overall raised $530,000 with $380,000 raised during the fund-a-need which will go to the endowment, and bringing the total raised to $1.1 million.
“This endowment will help ensure that Cape Cod fishermen will always have representation at local, state and federal levels, so their ideas and experiences will help inform policy and regulations,” said Brigid Krug, development coordinator at the Fishermen’s Alliance.
The importance of a permanent policy position was highlighted by fishermen in a video played at the ball.
Andy Baler got involved with the Fishermen’s Alliance in the early 1990s, when it was “the Hook” and he was selling and buying a lot of fish.
“We realized that regulations were running us out of the business we so dearly loved and they were not written to help a fishery stock or help fishermen,” Baler said. Local fishermen started to go to regulatory meetings to protect their livelihoods, protect the Cape.
“We formed an association and we found it was an amazing thing, by coming together as a group … they listened and we found that we got a seat at the table.”
Over the years, that seat has gotten increasingly important and the work increasingly time-consuming.
Staff at the Fishermen’s Alliance spends hundreds of hours a year at meetings, bringing concerns and ideas to decision makers.
“Cape Cod’s fishing industry has been facing challenges for decades: a warming ocean and shifting fish populations, industrial fishing interests, high permit costs and constantly changing state and federal regulations,” said Pappalardo.
“Without the Fishermen’s Alliance, you’re not in charge of your future,” said Baler, who serves on the board of the Fishermen’s Alliance and owns Bluefins Sushi and Sake Bar. “You have to have someone paying attention to what goes on around you. Because you are running a business, you are running a boat, you are at sea.”
Andrew Spalt, who runs the FV Miss Emma with his two brothers, said he saw how much impact the federal government had during a recent trip to Washington D.C. with the Fishermen’s Alliance.
“They gave me the opportunity to talk to a variety of different political figures about the needs of the Cape and the needs of the commercial fishing community. It really just highlighted how important it is to have people working on the behalf of fishermen talking to these representatives,” said Spalt, who fishes for lobster, Jonah crab and scallops.
Legislative and regulatory victories are at the heart of the Fishermen’s Alliance’s work. The policy team engages in public campaigns—some lasting more than a decade – requiring a consistent, sustained advocacy program.
Jesse Rose, who has fished almost all his life and has a scallop boat, mussel boat, sea clammer, and a new processing business, said the Cape’s fleet is unique. Other ports have bigger boats owned by corporations, while here the businesses are small, family-run:
“The Fishermen’s Alliance has helped me over the years – especially in the beginning when I first bought the scallop boat – learn how to be a businessman as well as a fisherman. They have always been on the cutting edge of regulations with good foresight of what is going to happen down the pike, so that upfront knowledge helps us plan.”
Pappalardo said the endowment will also protect the coastal community. Commercial fishing is much more than a romanticized view of “olde Cape Cod,” he said. Like generations before them, it is a way of life:
“Beyond the benefits of providing some of the best fresh seafood available, the Cape’s fishing fleet has a significant impact on our community, creating thousands of middle-income jobs. Our fishing communities generate commerce and opportunity for ancillary businesses and support a tourism lore that draws visitors.”