Dozens of people had swung through parking lots, picking up a bounty of local fare to prepare a carefully orchestrated meal of “scallop crudo”: turnips, shallots, dill and other ingredients accompanying the star — freshly caught dayboat scallops.
Now they were home, gathered around computers, ipads and phones to learn from Chef Daniel Coté of the recently opened Pelham House Resort in Dennisport. Coté, along with George Maynard, research director at the Fishermen’s Alliance, were plugged in and ready to present at Meet the Fleet.
The virtual event was beginning, but one of the main presenters was still hurrying to get there.
“We have always loved Meet the Fleet,” Jennifer Bryant, development director at the Fishermen’s Alliance, said to start the evening (and give Captain William Ligenza time to dock his boat, the F/V Getaway, and get off the water).
Bryant said once the pandemic prompted Meet the Fleets to pivot to Zoom, a cooking component had been added and she was happy to see so many join the “virtual adventure.”
Ligenza, 38, has been scalloping for more than half his life. He had gone out early that day and a wind had sprung up late in the afternoon and it was slowing him down.
Maynard told the audience a bit about the life of a sea scallop in the interim. The bivalve, an adept filter feeder with a great many eyes, is also quite mobile – for shellfish.
“They can actually swim pretty well by clapping their shells together to force water out,” he said.
Maynard also ticked off some nutritional benefits of the local delicacy the crowd had brought home: high in vitamin B12 and protein, low in carbohydrates and fat.
“They are good for you as well as tasty,” said Maynard.
Then the audience heard Ligenza’s voice and he appeared on the screen.
“It was a little more weather than I was anticipating,” he said with a smile and a slight shake of the head. “I can’t believe I was even out there.”
He was just happy he had made it back, he said.
“So are we,” Bryant replied.
Ligenza said he actually prefers fall weather to the heat of the summer. But this particular stretch has been “horrible.” Still, he brought in 80 pounds, a fair showing for this time of year and a trip cut short by weather.
“I go right around the tip of Monomoy, about 15 miles,” he said answering a question from an audience member, adding that he scallops in about 15 to 17 fathoms of water.
The trip is made more economical by a new, experimental dredge he is using, which saves him a fair amount in fuel costs.
That day’s trip used 70 gallons rather than 150, he said.
Unlike traditional New Bedford dredges, this one has no cutting bar, so “it has a lower impact on the ocean bottom,” Ligenza said.
When certain areas farther offshore are open for the fleet, the haul is much better. The trip is about twice is far, however. Near shore Ligenza is getting about four bushels per pull; in the summer, in more fertile areas, it was about 17, Ligenza said.
He can pull the legal trip limit of 600 pounds when those areas are open, but their open season depends on what scientific surveys reveal about the health of the stock.
“Hopefully they open up again next year,” he said.
Ligenza did some direct sales over the summer and was overwhelmed by support from the community. But it was a lot of logistics, he said, with 150 people lined up at the dock to pick up orders.
“It was too much work for me,” he said, particularly since many days, including this one, require a 2 a.m. start.
He now sells at the main auction in New Bedford.
“They all know me and take care of me,” he said.
Maynard has seen the auction and filled the audience in.
“You can watch millions of pounds of scallops sell in just minutes,” he said. “It’s a lot more efficient for the fishermen.”
Maynard shared more facts about scallops themselves, for example that you can tell their age much like a tree – by counting rings on shells.
Several on the Zoom call were familiar with sea scallops. They had ordered from Captain Jesse Rose of the F/V Midnight Our, one of the first scallopers to do direct sales at the dock.
They had heard from Rose at last month’s Meet the Fleet and watched Chef John O’Brien from Chatham Bars Inn prepare seared scallops with Spanish bean stew, chorizo, acorn squash puree and salsa verde.
It is a family affair for Rose; his wife Abby Our and two children help with direct sales. Rose has been a fisherman his entire life – sea clams, groundfish and now scallops for the last 14 years – but this year was one like no other. Fishermen saw orders dry up when restaurants closed and Rose switched from selling to a high-end grocery chain to the public directly.
“Knock on wood, the phone keeps ringing,” he said.
He reinforced Ligenza’s comments that the winter fishery is more hit or miss.
“We really got to go where the scallops are, hopefully we keep running into them,” Rose said.
The scallop fishery is one of the most sustainable, lucrative and healthy in the world in part because of work fishermen fund and accomplish through a Research Set Aside program run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the New England Fishery Management Council.
Scientists have worked with fishermen on projects such as gear modifications and ways to manage the stocks and keep them healthy. That research is funded by a small portion of scallop revenues. The Fishermen’s Alliance is hoping to get more information on how climate change is affecting scallops in the next round of projects.
“We fund our own science,” as Rose put it.
Both Rose and Ligenza have adapted and even excelled during the pandemic. But it hasn’t been easy. Their success – and the success of other fishermen on the Cape (like Captain Jason Amaru of the F/V Joanne A III who supplied scallops for Coté’s presentation) – is a testament to the resilience of the fleet.
“It’s been a really difficult year. I’m not going to lie,” said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Fishermen’s Alliance.
Pappalardo said the non-profit has worked with fishermen to help make the permitting process easier and provide other resources and advocacy to blunt the pain of COVID- 19.
“We help fishermen do what they do best, and they figure out how to get the product into your hands,” Pappalardo said. “That’s the innovation that exists in every wheelhouse on Cape Cod.”
Both O’Brien and Coté showcased simple recipes easy to prepare at home. Coté chose a sweet and spicy dish with raw scallops to accentuate the shellfish’s versatility.
“I’m getting an audience here too,” he said with a smile as many of the staff at the Pelham House gathered around.