By Doreen Leggett
Paul Wittenstein, general manager of A.R.C., the shellfish hatchery in Dennis, sat on a stool on “Massachusetts Avenue,” backdropped by a booth full of information.
Aquaculture Resource Corporation was one of several Massachusetts companies in the state’s section at the North American Seafood Expo. After a two-year, pandemic-fueled hiatus, the big seafood show was back in Boston for three days in March, smaller than in earlier years though still full of fish purveyors from all over the globe.
In addition to drumming up business and answering questions, A.R.C. staff had meetings with potential overseas buyers; Chloe Starr, Farm and Wholesale Operations Manager, was meeting with representatives from the Netherlands that afternoon.
A regulatory dispute shut off trade of oysters and mussels between the European Union and the United States for more than 10 years. That embargo was lifted earlier this year, creating opportunities for Starr:
“Their busy season is late fall into winter. That would be the time we could ship a large quantity and get the guys a good chunk of money before the winter season,” Starr explained.
Other Cape Codders, including Alex Hay from Wellfleet Shellfish Company, were having comparable meetings. The name Cape Cod has cachet overseas when it comes to seafood.
On cue, Starr was enveloped in a hug by Rifko Meier of “Oysters XO,” who she met shucking oysters at an event held by the James Beard Foundation (whose mission is to celebrate food culture).
Chef Rifko is from New York, but learned to shuck on Cape Cod, and travels around the country hosting “sip and shuck” events. His mission is to make sure everyone can easily and happily shuck oysters.
“Imagine the demand if everyone could shuck their own oysters!” he exclaimed, and upon being introduced to Dan McKiernan, Director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, added, “Everyone in Massachusetts!”
McKiernan agreed. He and staff were at the Expo working to make sure the commercial fishing industry had support making connections and increasing economic opportunities.
Along with visiting with A.R.C., McKiernan stopped at the Plenus booth, a family-owned company in Lowell, who creates the Small Boats, Big Taste haddock chowder for the Fishermen’s Alliance (among many products).
“Nice job,” said McKiernan, who has been supportive of the haddock chowder program.
“The mission is important,” said Joseph Jolly III, referring to how the chowder provides fishermen a fair price and provides food bank clients with a delicious meal.
The talk quickly turned to a new product being launched by the Fishermen’s Alliance, also made by Plenus – “Provencal Fish Stew,” which uses skate in a tomato-based broth.
“I’m looking for a Michelin star,” Jolly enthused.
Just steps from the Plenus booth, where they were offering tastes of multiple soups and chowders, McKiernan stopped to chat with Jamie Rayner of Kildare Princess Seafood Products.
Raynor, from Prince Edward Island, has expanded his new business, processing Jonah crab. The products he makes, including Empress Claws, have been flying off shelves and he is targeting bigger markets, such as Hannaford.
Raynor told McKiernan he is working to get fishermen more money at the boat and has seen the price of Jonah crab go from 75 cents to $2.25 a pound in about a year.
He said he is processing about six million pounds a year and could use four million more. Raynor works with Massachusetts fishermen as well, including the Colbert family, who own two boats and also own and run the Fishermen’s View restaurant in Sandwich.
In conversations with fishermen from other countries, commonalities and connections became clear.
Simon Macdonald, who represents fishermen and shellfishermen on the western coast of Scotland, said he is working to open more markets for langoustine (akin to our lobsters though without big claws), caught by 30-foot boats with trawls and pots.
“It’s a beautiful product,” he said of the small crustacean.
Macdonald also spoke about a subject on the minds of many fishermen on the East Coast: wind farms.
He said that until recently fishermen weren’t at the table when placement in Scottish or European waters was discussed.
Macdonald added that fishermen have noticed one of the species they rely on, brown crab, has been negatively affected by the wind farms.
The electromagnetic radiation from the cables appears to disrupt migration patterns, he said. “It’s really not good,” Macdonald noted.
Although Canada, Chile and other countries had impressive displays, “Massachusetts Avenue” held its own, also visited by John Lebeaux, Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Commissioner.
Officials weren’t the only ones who saw the power and pull of the industry. Fishermen joined in too.
Ken Baughman, who fishes with rod and reel out of Falmouth, was thrilled with scup tacos served up by Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation of Rhode Island. He is looking for new markets for the fish.
“On the water, I forget that fish are worth billions of dollars; all the slick international booths and business nerds at the expo make that hard to forget,” Baughman said. “Farms, cowboys, and ranches are not really part of poultry and meat branding, but that’s not true for seafood. Fishing boats, captains, and maritime vistas are everywhere.”