Saving The New England Fishing Industry
Up Close & Personal with Captain Feeney and his Fishing Brigade
By: Marketing Coordinator Intern, UMass Dartmouth, Michaella Lesieur
It’s 3 AM on a warm late July summer day as we take our voyage out into the dark blue hues of the Atlantic sea in Chatham, MA. We came equipped for the trip with snacks packed in coolers, bottles of water, a quick morning coffee run and yes, motion sickness meds. As we pull up to the dock the smell of the fishery was carried to our noses.
In a blink with a feeling of both excitement and fear we inched further away from the cute quaint town that reminded me of Gilmore Girls. A small town where everyone is tightly knit, with beautifully built homes, Inns and local mom and pop shops. We stepped on board “The Noah,” not realizing at first what to expect upon docking just shy of 7 AM.
This is nothing new for captain Doug Feeney who has been in the industry and up and at it at all hours of the day. From the crack of dawn to overnight trips his specialty--dogfish, monkfish and skate. Feeney said that when he goes out for monkfish it’s usually a two day trip for him. While for dogfish he can be out at sea for six or more hours.
Fisherman see it all the good, the bad and the ugly. This is no glorious cruise line it’s rather a commitment, a lifestyle, a job where others like Feeney spend countless time and energy to provide for their families.
On this trip we were tackling dogfish and skate. Although, the dogfish was not a typical catch years ago where the ever so popular cod would be the prime catch of the day. Hoping to fill the nets with the New England favorite--cod was considered the fisherman’s goldmine; however, with numbers dwindling it made it difficult for the fishing industry, leading fishermen to turn to underutilized species that are less popular to the American eye.
Society was used to the love of Cape Cod and the cod fish that would fill the sea’s and the white meat flakey and fresh turned into famous dishes that New England is known for--chowder, fish cakes, fish and chips. Well, we are here to tell you that dogfish can do all that too. The name may be daunting for some; but once given a taste it can easily be used for a tasty fish and chip with tartar, burgers with a slice of tomato and leafy greens or bites dipped into a chipotle sauce.
However, means are taking a shift as more schools and restaurants are having these species make an appearance on their menus. According to the Chatham Harvesters Cooperative “Dogfish has versatility and little waste when processed with a sustainable plan. The white meat filet can be used for fish and chips, fish burgers, and fish tenders. The fins can be made into a soup and internationally, the skins for clothing accessories and the remainder as fertilizer.” The whole fish is used and nothing goes to waste--so underutilized also means sustainable.
We are making the pack to incorporate underutilized fish into our own methods. Through Kendall and our local purchasing initiatives the fisherman have already noticed their dogfish going from 100% overseas to 80 with 20% being kept here in New England. The students here at UMass Dartmouth will also be introduced along with Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Northeastern University, and Eastern Connecticut State University as we will be serving local underutilized fish and kelp on our university menus.
Captain Feeney lives, drinks and breathes the ocean air as he goes out day after day with his crew to catch his favorites. The prime months for catching the spinney shark run from May through November. Upon arriving on the boat you will notice that routine goes into effect right away. It’s all about timing and location. Amongst traveling about 10 miles off the site of shore, Mr. Feeney immediately starts prep work from unraveling the netting, to prepping the boards to start hauling in his catch of the day.
Mr. Feeney is a natural as he told us his story, not to mention that today he was working without his crew. A diehard at what he does as he piled in the fish making it look effortless. However, the work of a fisherman is strenuous he did not wink an eye. He smiled proudly telling us that his boat was named after his son and that maybe one day he too would follow in his father’s footsteps.
Noah already loves going fishing with his father and would be proud to pass it down to him someday. Feeney himself has loved fishing from a young age and it might just be the perfect time to create a family heirloom. You know the saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
We were at sea for approximately six hours and were shocked at the over abundance of these mini shark creatures that came pouring in along with what we learned was skate; that at first to me I called a “stingray,” just moments later to find out were not (still working on my fisherman skills). Feeney would take the skate after all the fishing had been done and cut the wings off which we learned were later used as fillets (there is our fun fact of the day folks).
Once caught the dogfish would flop around for what seemed like hours. Their shiny skin sparking in the late morning sun was rubbery and their stomachs Arctic white. Feeney told us that these mini sharks can stay alive from the minute he catches them to the time he docks. You can’t get it any fresher. Dogfish are now a fisherman's legacy. They are sustainable and fascinating to think about.
On our voyage we were able to take in nature’s beauty from whales that spouted to say good morning with a whip of their tail, to the seals that greeted us when we arrived back. There were so many seals that came effortlessly towards the boat swimming around us with not a care in the world. Their heads bobbed to the top hoping to get a fish or two. Even the Atlantic sea animals love underutilized fish.
Dogfish are the future of the fishing industry and more and more American’s need to change their norms in order for the industry to grow. At a 20 cents per pound rate fisherman may be making less on dogfish than cod; but the industry is set to grow once society helps to make that shift by purchasing dogfish and having it appear on menus throughout New England. This is just one fisherman’s story on how underutilized is helping to set forth better methods to help our ocean and feed society.