After the 1999 release of Sebastian Junger’s book, “The Perfect Storm” (followed a few years later by a Hollywood blockbuster of the same name), which told the story of Gloucester fishing boat the Andrea Gail, lost at sea in a 1991 nor’easter, the city and the tragedy became practically synonymous. More recently, Gloucester has been held up as emblematic of the push and pull between the fishing community and government bureaucracy trying to limit where and how much they can fish. Despite inevitable challenges that face those in one of worlds most dangerous professions, the fishing community in this picturesque seaside city is always working hard and innovating, to make the most of its plentiful natural resources and ensure delivery of delicious, healthy, high-quality, sustainable seafood to hungry diners while maintaining its cultural heritage.
“GLOUCESTER HAS DONE A GOOD JOB OF INTEGRATING ITS WORKING WATERFRONT WITH THE COMMUNITY.” LENNY LINQUATA, LOBSTER WHOLESALER; MANAGER, THE GLOUCESTER HOUSE
From the fishermen who spend their days on the water to those on the shore processing and distributing the catch to others, from the mayor’s office and across the city who support the fishers and their families, the community is woven together like the nets that bring in the fish. Many families go back generations, if not in Gloucester then in bordering towns. Together they have weathered the personal tragedies that come from sharing a dangerous profession as well as ebbs and flows in the business. But a passion for their work and way of life, and their concern for the quality of what comes out of pristine local waters keep Gloucester harbor the working waterfront it has been for more than 300 years.
Al Cottone was born and raised in Gloucester. A sixth-generation fisherman, he first went out with his father when he was 12 and says he was “hooked from day one.” He went pro as soon as he graduated from high school, around 30 years ago. Al recalls years when summer meant fishing for whiting, shrimp were plentiful all winter and April through June was groundfish season. Overfishing of some species and government regulations caused the shrimp fishery to be shut down several years ago and cod quotas have been reduced to a fraction of the past. As a result, “everyone has been forced into groundfish,” Al says. But there’s plenty of good news. Haddock, pollock, redfish and numerous other varieties are plentiful and delicious. Whiting, which are small, delicate white fish, start running in mid July and are abundant through late August. On a good day, fishermen can bring in 7,500 pounds. Al spends long days—starting at 2 or 3am—on his boat (he just traded up to a new 42-foot craft), chasing whiting in the summer and groundfish the rest of the year. And there have been signs the shrimp population may be returning.
When he is not on the water Al works with the city to promote the fishery, as executive director of the Gloucester Fisheries Commission, a group dedicated to promote, protect and preserve the city’s fishing industry.
Mark Ring says he has been fishing “since I got rid of my paper route.” The Manchester, Massachusetts, native has lived in Gloucester for 30 years. His father ran a marina in Manchester and two uncles were fishermen. His two brothers fish as well. When he was young, Mark was a longline fisherman based in Pompano Beach, Florida, spending days at a time at sea. He fished the 1980 swordfish season on the Miss Penny from Florida to Newfoundland. That boat was sold a few years later and renamed the Andrea Gail (yes, that Andrea Gail). Mark found his way back north too. “By the time you get to be 30 years old, you don’t want to live on a boat,” he says. He returned home and got married, got his own boat and “started doing my own thing. It’s worked out.”
In 1992 Mark switched to lobstering. He has 800 traps set in a 10-mile stretch from Manchester to Rockport that he fishes with his nephew, Matt. The younger Ring, now 37, has been working with his uncle since he was in high school. On a good day, they bring in around 300 pounds that they sell to Capt. Joe & Sons Wholesale Lobster Company right in Gloucester Harbor. All lobsters are brought in and shipped out the same day. You can’t get any fresher than that.
Rick Beal says he’s been fishing “all my life.” The son of a lobsterman, whose grandfather was in the lighthouse service, he sold his first fish (“probably a haddock”) when he was 14. He took over the family boat that same year. Rick was accepted to college, but he didn’t go because, “I loved what I was doing,” he says. “I was making money.” And he had met his future wife.
A self-described “mostly day fish guy,” Rick likes to stay within 20 miles of the shore—unlike his brother, also a fisherman, who goes out for 10 days at a stretch. He usually leaves at around 2am and gets home in the early afternoon. “I love it. There’s nothing like it,” he says. Rick owned boats for many years, but now he runs vessels for other people, and sells his catch through Fisherman’s Wharf auction. “In the old days, before regulations, you could go whiting [fishing] in the summer, shrimp in the winter and groundfish in the spring,” he recalls. Now the area for whiting has been reduced and the shrimp fishery is closed. Rick is among many fishermen who believe the waters around Gloucester hold a lot more than the government regulators think—or say. “We’re on an up cycle now. I’ve never seen so many species at once.”
Enzo Russo arrived on Gloucester’s shores from Sicily in the early 1970s, when he was 16. His parents had come a couple of years earlier, and after getting settled sent for their five children. Enzo’s father had fished in Sicily, like his father and grandfather, and continued the family tradition in the U.S. Today, Enzo owns a 92-foot boat with his brother. With a six-man crew that includes Enzo’s 26-year-old son, they go out for five- to nine-day runs for groundfish—haddock, cod, pollock, redfish.
Enzo and his brother bought their current boat in 1998. Previously they owned a 75-foot craft from which they caught whiting, herring and shrimp. But as regulations tightened, Enzo says he wanted a bigger boat to “fish offshore." This boat is more efficient than the last one. For example, the crew makes its own ice, which may not sound like much, but it saves a lot of money to not have to buy ice. With this and other improvements “I get better money for our fish,” he says. They sell their catch through the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, one of two auctions in town.
To help fishermen in the Gulf of Maine, like Rick, Enzo and Al, catch groundfish without running afoul of cod quotas, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) led an initiative by a group of New England fishermen, scientists and a net manufacturer to develop and manufacture a trawl that can avoid cod while retaining other species. The ultra-low-opening trawl (ULOT) has a smaller vertical opening than a typical net—just over two feet, as opposed to the standard six—which allows cod to swim up and over it. The first full-scale net was tried in Maine in 2016. The net reduced cod catch by 45%, with no significant impact on yellowtail flounder, grey sole, skate, monkfish or whiting catch. The trawl also helped reduce fuel consumption. GMRI ran a loan program throughout 2017, allowing fishermen to try nets of three different sizes on their own ships free of charge.
For lobstermen like Mark, a trap modification is in the works that will allow groundfish to escape the traps without any loss of lobster. It entails modifying the traps so groundfish can swim out prior to hauling. Lobsters are expected to remain inside the trap despite the presence of the escape opening.
The cavernous [12,500-square foot] building in Gloucester Harbor is a hive of activity, with a crew of muscled men unloading fish from boats, weighing and processing them. This is Fisherman’s Wharf, the business started in 2008 by Chris, Vito Jr. and Nick Giacalone when they were all still in their 20s. The brothers are third-generation fishing industry people, “first-generation buyers and sellers,” as Nick puts it. Their grandfather and father, Vito Giacalone Sr., fished, but their father shifted to construction in the mid-1980s.
In 2003 Vito Sr. and a partner bought the building that houses Fisherman’s Wharf. Formerly owned by several families that made up the Sicilian fisherman’s cooperative, it had been badly damaged by fire in 1998. The fisheries were in such trouble at the time that nobody wanted to rebuild. When Vito Sr. bought it, he committed to retain it for marine industrial use. His sons renovated the building and moved their business there in 2011.
The Giacalone boys grew up listening to their father and grandfather’s stories of the sea. They fished with their dad on his “Jenny G,” which he used to dock at the Fisherman’s Wharf building. All three sons (they have another brother) studied business in college. But the call of the ocean where they were raised, their family’s roots and their entrepreneurial spirits were a stronger force than the classroom. They left school to start what is now Fisherman’s Wharf, a 24/7 seafood auction. Representing 30 day boats (and counting), the business combines the latest technology with regional tradition, offloading the vessels’ catch and selling it via the online Seafood Auction system. “The auction software is a silent bid that allows you to set a fair market price,” explains Nick. Fishermen are paid the day of the catch. Boats know, “It’s the fairest way,” says Vito Jr. “The payment structure is best for the boats,” which own the product from the time it is caught until it is sold. The software also enables consumers who care about where their seafood comes to trace every piece of fish or lobster back to the person who caught it.
The brothers are among the first of their generation to bring innovation to the industry in which they watched their elders often struggle. “Our friends thought we were crazy,” says Nick, and both brothers laugh. “The industry’s just changing—in some ways for the better,” adds Vito Jr. “Make a decent living, do a great thing for the fishermen, that’s what we’re doing.”
Anthony Caturano is among Boston’s most highly acclaimed chefs. His North End restaurant, Prezza, has consistently garnered outstanding reviews and remains a favorite even after 18 years. Since 2009 Caturano, who grew up near Gloucester, and whose parents have lived there since the late 1980s, has kept his sport fishing boat, Tonno, in town. When the chef decided it was time to open a second restaurant, downtown Gloucester was a natural choice. “I thought what I do there would go over well,” he says.” Since opening in June 2016, Tonno (Italian for tuna) has been warmly received by the local community, tourists and greater Boston residents happy to travel to the beautiful seaside town for this latest twist on the chef’s food.
Though not exclusively a seafood restaurant Tonno features the freshest of what the ocean offers, which Caturano gets from local distributors, some at the docks a block away from the restaurant. He puts his own twist on classic Italian seafood. Dishes like scallops “la plancha” with bacon and cauliflower, tonno tartare, and nightly specials based on the day’s local catch speak volumes about what can be done with the abundance found in the waters around Gloucester. Food is artfully presented in a comfortable dining room decorated in cool blues, greys and greens with exposed brick walls and hardwood floors. With a fresh and vibrant feel, the restaurant is a lure to downtown. “I didn’t know many people before I opened,” Caturano says. But he quickly became part of the community, hosting a fundraiser early on at which Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, an enthusiastic cook, joined him in the kitchen. “The people are a lot of fun. They’re down to earth,” says the chef.
When he only owned one restaurant, Caturano fished three or four days a week. Now he only has time to go out half as often. But he is reaping—and sharing—a new kind of reward from the Gloucester fishery.
“IF YOU GO TO THE FARMERS MARKET, GO TO THE FISH MARKET.” SEFATIA ROMEO THEKEN, MAYOR, GLOUCESTER
Congressman Seth Moulton (D, MA) is an Iraq war veteran who grew up in the district he represents, which includes Gloucester. As a native of the area, he appreciates the economic importance of the fishery as well as the community’s need to maintain its culture. In addition to figuring out how best to work with regulatory scientists and making sure data on fish stocks is accurate, innovation is key to the industry’s success. He supports development of new businesses that expand the industry and bring it into the future—by promoting underutilized species; minimizing food waste by reducing bycatch; or using all parts of fish, like gurry (everything left over after cleaning the fish) for fertilizer. Attracting the next generation is another important factor. In 2017 Congressman Moulton and Congressman Don Young (R, AK) introduced the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, a bi-partisan legislation to create a grant program at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to train and educate the next generation of commercial fishermen. Workshops will focus on seamanship, vessel maintenance and safety, as well as business skills. The bill is moving through Congress now.
In support of the fishing industry, Congressman Moulton has also partnered with the national Fish 2.0 organization and hosted its three-day development workshop for seafood entrepreneurs. He collaborated with Gloucester’s campaigns to promote underutilized seafood species. And he helped the city become one of only 26 in the country to participate in the White House’s Local Foods, Local Places initiative, to help expand economic opportunities and improve healthy living.