By Doreen Leggett
Captain Scott Rorro was on his boat, the Ernest and Michael, getting ready for back-to-back scallop trips when a couple from Lowell peered down from MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown. Rorro invited them aboard.
Standing in bright sunshine, Rorro answered a string of questions and said although he is a day-boat fisherman now, he had been on trips lasting two weeks or longer. The visitors, impressed, said fishermen must be the epitome of rugged.
A life at sea is more a mindset than brute strength, Rorro countered with a laugh. “I have seen the biggest, toughest guys – tattoos, real bad ass – crying. And if someone wants to come back, by law you have to take them back. So you have to be careful who you take out there.”
Rorro, broad-shouldered, sporting more than a few tattoos, has the right mindset.
“I have been doing it for 40-something years,” he told them, as they walked into the shucking house where hundreds of pounds of scallops meats are removed from shells.
Rorro got his fishing start on historic MacMillan Wharf, joining a fishing community more than 200 years old. He was born in 1965 in Texas, only because his dad, in the Air Force, had been transferred there. His parents met when his dad was stationed in Truro and Rorro was back on the sandbar in a month.
His family has a deep roots in Provincetown. One branch, the Macaras, own Land’s End Marine, but the broad family tree is virtually impossible for an outsider to trace; one grandfather had nine kids and lived until he was 105.
A few large branches were noted fishermen, first in Portugal and then when they arrived here. His mother’s dad, Ernest Tavas, fished his whole life, as did his father.
“Ernest lived right under the Provincetown Monument when it was being built,” Rorro said.
He is the Ernest that his boat is named after, his other grandfather, Michael, is the second half of the namesake.
“My father’s father was a butcher,” Rorro said.
Rorro ended up going the fishing route. Some of his earliest memories are cleaning the limber holes, which ran through the ribs of wooden draggers and drained water toward the bilge.
“I was a small kid,” he said with a grin.
Rorro had a “bunch” of uncles who were charter captains. At the time bluefin tuna weren’t worth much, but they were still fun to catch so captains would hang them up at the dock to entice customers.
“When I was five or six I was mating on a boat going for bluefin tuna. My uncle used to pick me up from school on Friday afternoons. That is how I got hooked on fishing,” Rorro said, naming boats at the time: “The Shady Lady, the Inca, the Pinky. I was on the Pinky.”
By the time he went to Cape Cod Tech, which had a commercial fishing shop, he was an old hand. He enjoyed the years there with teacher Dana Eldridge, running the school’s otter trawl around Cape Cod Bay. An otter trawl was the most widely used bottom-fishing gear. A pair of flat plates called otter boards spread horizontally to open the mouth of the net on the bottom.
“But I was already fishing when I got there,” he said. “I started on the Liberty Bell. I fished almost every boat that was in Provincetown at the time.”
MacMillan was crowded then. Now there aren’t many draggers.
“This fleet had 50 or 60 boats. It was awesome back in the day,” he said.
Rorro spent formative years on the Miss Sandy with the late Louis Rivers. Rivers was always respectful and kind and had an uncanny way of reading people.
“I’m unique in how I had a lot of good teachers. Highline people. I always got to fish with the top of the food chain captains,” Rorro said.
Beau Gribbin, another Provincetown captain, said Rorro comes from an iconic fishing family and Rorro fished for everything – lobster, cod, swordfish, grouper.
“He is really good at what he does, a real pro,” said Gribbin.
And Gribbin sees a bit of Rivers in Rorro.
“There are very few people I know where if you talk to all the guys they fish with none of them have anything bad to say,” Gribbin said. “(Scott) is one.”
Rorro would fish all the time. If a boat he went on wasn’t going, he’d go on another.
“You pounded the docks. You had to have your sea bag packed in the car,” Rorro said.
Rorro fished out of Florida for eight years, in the Gulf of Mexico tuna and swordfishing (some trips were 28 days long and Rorro has seen more than one fight when people ran out of cigarettes).
There were times he would fly to Florida for a trip as easily as some people from the Cape commute to Boston.
“Back then there was respect. Now people treat you like you are breaking the law all the time,” Rorro said.
When he was in his 30s, married with two daughters, he decided to stay closer to home and came back to run boats in Provincetown.
Phil Michaud, who fishes for scallops, squid and other species out of Sandwich, fished with Rorro in the 1990s.
One trip stands out, on The Nauset.
“We were offshore groundfishing in the middle of winter, it was night-time and the wind was blowing a gale. It was snowing. No visibility,” said Michaud.
Michaud said they got hung up on some rocks so he was trying to get the boat free and the stern was down a bit with 10-foot seas crashing over the stern.
Rorro could have gone into the wheelhouse, but he was on the deck, hauling catch.
“It didn’t phase him,” said Michaud. “He was all in when it came to fishing. He really wanted to be there.”
After a few years Rorro saw opportunity in the scallop fishery and bought The Sea Hunter in 2004.
Buying a boat and permit is a big expense, six figures. A family member was willing to invest.
“I was fortunate to have someone believe in me,” Rorro said.
He did well scalloping and now he’s getting back to his roots – groundfishing.
Although there are a lot of fishing vessels, especially lobstermen in Provincetown, there aren’t a lot of boats that drag for pollock, haddock, hake and flounders.
Rorro started looking for a new boat, maybe an eastern or western rig that were among the first wave of modern draggers, playing out gear to the side not the back like a stern trawler. He had his eye on boat he had seen built years before.
But the brokers he was working with had another boat with a sale that had fallen apart. If he took that one he’d get credit for the deposit and it was a nice boat.
So he did.
The pier has changed since the heydays, not as user-friendly, said Rorro. When he groundfishes he has to decide if he will unload in New Bedford or Gloucester.
He also needs a lot of ice.
“This is 2022, are you kidding me? I am not asking my crew to shovel in 18 tons of ice. They’d look at me sideways,” he said. “I have a truck come down and have it blown into the boat.”
He can unload 800 pounds of scallops easily in Provincetown, but 30,000 pounds of groundfish is a different experience.
Still, he likes the boat, which he uses for scalloping and groundfishing.
“When I got this boat I gutted it. Everything is new. Net down to the appliances.”
And for all the challenges, Provincetown remains his base.
He looked out at the busy wharf.
“My homeroom teacher used to say to me, ‘You aren’t going nowhere fishing,’” he remembers. Now he has a very successful business – and that teacher passes him on the pier.
Rorro makes it a point to say hello. “And how are you doing, Mr. Alberto?” he asks politely.