By Doreen Leggett
A decade ago, Jon Hagenstein was doing what most young Cape Codders do – leaving.
But after college, and some time away, he came back and opened his own business with two high school classmates. He has found they are not alone: When Hagenstein talks to bankers, other businesses and town officials, he discovers he is among a growing group, a new generation taking over existing businesses.
They are saying that the tide is turning, Hagenstein, co-owner of Beacon Marine Construction, said. “They are saying that there are others on the same path. It’s a lifestyle thing. We love being on the water and we love living on the Cape.”
Spreading that word is one of the reasons he was at an event called WaterWORKS at Cape Cod Community College.
Sponsored by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod Blue Economy Foundation Inc. and the Cape Cod Regional STEM Network, WaterWORKS brought together more than 300 students from Cape and Islands schools (and beyond) to learn about a plethora of watery-based jobs on the peninsula from those who are making a career out of them.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the way the day went,” said Chris Adams, Chief of Staff at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “There was such a great cross section of Blue Economy industries, from traditional marine trades to cutting-edge science and everything in between. The exhibitors were enthusiastic and really did a great job engaging with the students.”
Adams said that feedback from the student survey showed 95 percent learned about a job they didn’t know about, and 64 percent learned about a career they might be interested in.
Students visited close to 50 exhibitors in three campus venues and spent time talking about work, in many cases getting hands on and interacting – donning goggles to watch a video of a drone’s eye view of the water, checking out a turtle excluder used by a fishing boat.
“I have the best job in the world,” said Karen Johnson of A.R.C. Hatchery, which propagates seed for the acquaculture industry. “I work on the beach every day. You don’t want to escape once you are there.”
Johnson said A.R.C. was a second career for her. She grew up in Dennis, went to Cape Cod Community College, and pursued computer science because she was told it was lucrative. She did make good money, but she never really liked computers, she laughed. So Johnson got out and now does what she loves and makes a good living.
“There is more to choosing a profession than a big paycheck. I really enjoy every day,” she said.
Not far from Johnson, a trio of commercial fishermen were talking to steady line of kids who wanted to hear about the industry.
Captain Nick Muto, 38, told the group he wished he had been introduced to commercial fishing about a decade earlier. Once he tried it for a season, he never looked back. The chance to run his own business and spend his days on the water appealed to him. He now owns two boats.
Beau Gribbin, a long-time captain out of Provincetown, had a different beginning; he started fishing when he was 10.
“There is a lot of opportunity,” he said, and unlike a lot of other careers if you are smart and a hard worker the route to being in charge is a short one.
“It’s definitely rewarding for guys who want to work hard,” agreed Muto. “There is a career here.”
Although the captains had a growing list of students who said they wanted to try their hand at commercial fishing this summer, there were concerns expressed as well. One student wasn’t a big fan of eating fish.
“Not a requirement,” said Muto easily.
Another, fair skinned, worried about sunburning into a lobster.
“I have hired a bunch of red heads, I keep waiting for them to ignite,” Muto said. “Hasn’t happened.”
Growing up on the Cape, many kids have heard stories of paying tens of thousands in college loans from shellfishing, or catching a tuna and making a $1000 in a few hours. But they never had the chance to ask what it really was like.
“I’ve been thinking about the fishing industry, but only knew it from what my friends and family have told me,” said Tyler Nugnes, who attends Cape Cod Technical Regional High School.
Samantha Virgin, 17, of Harwich, said she appreciated the opportunity to hear from all the exhibitors. Going to Tech, Virgin and Nugnes hear a lot about opportunities in the Cape’s “food economy,” but not in as much detail as they experienced at WaterWORKS.
All the fishermen who attended, including Captain Sam Linnell who just bought his own boat at age 24, have worked with scientists and could talk about another essential part of the Blue Economy: research.
One teacher stopped by the Fishermen’s Alliance table to find out about the work fishermen were doing to improve regulations when it comes to halibut. Canada has an extremely successful fishery while commercial fishermen here can only land one fish. Most think that since fish don’t respect borders that both populations must be healthy, but there hasn’t been good data to prove that. The Fishermen Alliance’s George Maynard is working on samples collected by local fishermen; in just two years fishermen brought in more samples than federal researchers had in a decade and a half.
“The current regulations are off base because the data is lacking,” Maynard said.
There were still students who, no matter how many cool blue jobs were in the offing, plan to move on – at least for now. Veronica Heron is a culinary student at Cape Tech. She has already cooked a favorite local catch, skate, in myriad ways: braised, deep fried, seared and in soup.
“I am going to New York to be a chef,” she said.
But perhaps, like Jon Hagenstein, one day she’ll make her way back to a Cape Cod kitchen.