Captain John Fish: The Harvest Moon

By Kevin Leland

This is Captain John Fish (Yes, his last name really is Fish) of the Harvest Moon. The other sixty five year old standing in the background is Brian, who like John has decades of experience fishing off the shores of New England. The last boat that Brian owned was called “The Maine Woman” after his wife, who during their college days, belonged to a sorority called the Maine Women. It felt good to be the young guy on the boat (at nearly forty two). By that I don’t mean that it was easy to keep up. These guys, like my Dad who is the same age, could work circles around most guys half their age. Earlier in the week they did a trip, just these two, for scallops. In total they worked a twenty two hour day –Right, no sleep / much hard work hauling and shucking and packing the scallops.

John (foreground) Brian (background)

Here I am, the greenhorn and the lowly deckhand. Maybe once I’ve logged a dozen more trips on top of the dozen I’ve got so far…And learned to tie a few good knots, I’ll be able to claim to be a fishermen. Alas, for now I’m still an out of work contractor, filling in the gaps with a different kind of “hard work” There is a fun aspect to the fishing trade. It reminds me of when I built trails out on Block Island. Doing heavy work, out in the wild, just somehow feels good. For some reason, and I think it’s the outdoors and the fresh air, the body doesn’t fatigue. Sure you get tired, exhausted even, but it just doesn’t get that nagging fatigue like the kind that comes with standing in a little room wrestling with a copy machine for eight hours.

This is what you wrestle with all day when you fish for mussels and scallops. It is called a dredge. This dredge is a bit lighter than the one that is used for scallops. We borrowed this one from the Captain Mike of the Capt. Robert. It’s all about hooking and hoisting, dumping and shaking, and lots of shoveling and hosing down the deck and rails. The black rubber mat that the dredge is setting on is used to dump the bad stuff over board. It is attached to the starboard side, outboard, and also cushions the hull from the dredge ramming into it.

Here is an example of “bad stuff.” Star fish eat mussels. Sometimes you do a tow and end up with more shells and mud and starfish than mussels. So, this is a case where the catch would be thrown back overboard. We seemed to dump four or five loads to one keeper. Does anyone know of a market for starfish? You will make a bunch of fisherman happy if you do!

This is Jerry. He’s about ten years older than me.  He fishes just in the bay, and doesn’t venture out past the bridges. He works a smaller one man boat. He, like many others, uses a bull rake to haul up quahogs. This is a serious upper body work out, shoulders, arms, legs and back. Compare it to splitting wood for 10 hours straight and you’ll get the idea. He also had some pots set for conch. He pointed out a spot where he said we could find some real clean, good sized mussels.

He was right! After a couple tows, we hit a real sweet spot. We shoveled these beauties into about thirty three, one hundred pound totes, and also filled a few bushel baskets before “deck loading” the last catch…Deck loading means just leaving the pile on deck and off loading it at the dock. We were out of totes, and after the last haul, we don’t need the room to work in. This was our second, and last haul to the dock.

Here we are about to unload our catch –all three thousand some odd pounds of it. All together we caught about six thousand pounds. We are waiting until it is all processed to find out the value. Our first load had alot of “deckers” a type of small shellfish that stick to the mussels, and other loose shells. So we don’t expect that to shake out as much weight in mussels as the second haul.

The guys at American Mussel Harvesters are going to run it through (they have a huge stainless steel machine that cleans and sorts and grades the catch before shipping it out by refridgerator trucks.) In a day or two they will let us know how it all weighed up and sorted out.

American Mussel Harvesters, North Kingstown, RI

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