A Fish Tale

At age 19, this writer spent a summer aboard a 48-foot commercial fishing boat in the north Pacific. The hours were long, and the work was hard. According to the US Dept. of Labor, fishing is the second most dangerous occupation one could choose. Out there in the vast expanse of the Pacific, we had to keep our wits about us pretty much all the time. Within a fifty mile radius of Ketchikan, Alaska, ours was the only boat in pursuit of Alaskan black cod, a.k.a. sablefish, depicted here. The 80+ other local boats were chasing salmon, for the latter fetched more than twice the price per pound.

What makes for a successful fishing run? Well, let’s have a look at the checklist.

  • Hard work. Very hard work. Check.
  • Persistence. Check.
  • Endurance. Check.
  • Someone on board who has extensive knowledge of local conditions (certainly not me.) Check.
  • Lots of fish in the sea. Check.
  • Lots of big fish in the sea. Check.
  • The virtual absence of government regulations. Check. (Note that this all happened a long time ago)
  • Little to no competition. (That surely helps.) Check.
  • Luck. Did I mention luck? Without a bit of luck, all of the above is for naught. Check again.

I’m pleased to report that our crew hit all the checkboxes above. We made multiple runs into Ketchikan laden with a boatload of sablefish.

Although sablefish was our target species, Pacific red snapper was a frequent by-catch. The latter was much coveted by the local salmon fishermen (they got tired of eating salmon), and they oftentimes approached us at sea proposing a trade of salmon for the very tasty snapper. As ours was the only boat with red snapper, we were well positioned to drive a hard bargain. And we did.

Nowadays we oftentimes hear that fresh & local tastes better than supermarket fish, and surely it does. However my all-time benchmark for “fresh” was established while bobbing about in a tiny craft in the Pacific, as we dined on salmon and red snapper shortly after it came out of the ocean. Now it would be tough to surpass that level of “fresh.”

So what does this fish story have to do with Kennebunkport’s new comprehensive plan? Across the US, small-scale fishing enterprises are on the ropes. Kennebunkport’s new comprehensive plan will explore opportunities to maintain and increase the viability of industries such as local fishing that are important to the town’s economy and identity. It is important to ensure that municipal land use policies (as articulated in the new Comprehensive Plan) do not inadvertently place additional stress on the industry or on those who depend on the sea for their livelihoods.

Those of us who are lucky enough to live on the coast may be lulled into taking fresh seafood for granted. That would be a mistake. – Tom