By Doreen Leggett
United States Senator from Massachusetts Ed Markey looked out at the bustling Chatham Fish Pier as boats navigated the tide to bring in dogfish and mackerel while a crowd watched and took photos from the observation deck.
He wondered how the industry had fared during the pandemic, if the money he had fought for in the CARES Act made a difference.
“I made that one of my very first projects, making sure fishermen got what they needed and had an economic life raft to get through,” Markey said.
Andy Baler, who has a decades-long history at the pier and now owns Bluefins Sushi & Sake Bar, said the funding came at a critical time.
“It’s phenomenal how that can make a difference between here today and here tomorrow,” Baler said.
But, he added, the margins fishermen are operating with today are much smaller than when he first started. There has to be a way to expand opportunities and markets for fishermen to grow their businesses, critical for sustainability and success, he pointed out.
Markey was at the pier to hear about creating opportunities, which include working with the US Department of Agriculture so it buys more fish, which the Senator has championed, and to expand regional efforts so small boats are included, an effort the Senator also supports.
“Chatham is the single most productive fishing port on Cape Cod. Here’s my message to the hardworking fishermen and their families in Chatham and all along our coast: I will always have your back,” Markey said.
John Pappalardo, CEO of the Fishermen’s Alliance, said his organization has been trying to convince the USDA to broaden its programs and include more fish caught by small businesses in its huge purchasing and distribution programs that send food to food banks, schools, the military, and prisons. Purchases historically have been mainly beef, chicken and pork products.
“We could really do something lasting and meaningful for coastal communities” by making the USDA a steady buyer, Pappalardo said.
He explained the non-profit’s haddock chowder program, “Small Boats, Big Taste,” which used more than 200,000 pounds of haddock as a chowder base for food banks, is an example of a successful initiative that could grow.
The Senator also spoke with fishermen at the pier on a variety of issues, including a visit with Captain Bill Amaru and crewman Paul Gasek.
Gasek had crewed for Amaru almost 50 years ago and after a career in television – he won an Emmy as executive producer for “The Deadliest Catch” – he was back with an old friend. That day they were bringing in mackerel and Gasek thanked Markey for his work championing working men and women.
Other fishermen grabbed a moment of time. Captain Mark Leach explained research work he had joined as a lobsterman experimenting with ropeless gear. Scalloper Paul Vafides expressed concerns with wind farms.
Markey said fishermen can’t be left out of the wind energy equation: “We have to coordinate so they can co-exist, so they both (wind farms and the fishing industry) are a vibrant part of the 21st century.”
Chatham town officials were on hand to thank the Senator for his work supporting dredging projects, asking that support continues. They also voiced their concern with the Coast Guard replacing traditional surf boats with response boats. Selectmen have said the new boats will not respond as well to the challenges posed by the treacherous Chatham Bar.
Pappalardo gave Markey a copy of “Pier to Plate – A Cape Cod Recipe Book,” which features recipes from local chefs using local fish landed in abundance.
“Beautiful. Fabulous,” Markey said, adding with a smile that the book will be put to good use; he and his wife have fish for dinner most nights of the week.