Pier To Plate: Cape Fishermen Find A Way To Sell Catch

Since the state made it easier for fishermen to sell direct from the dock during the pandemic, fisherman Kevin Conway was thinking of ways to make it easier for people to find out about it. So he created a Facebook page: Cape Cod Local Seafood.

“I went to bed at 2:30 in the morning and when I woke up I had more than 1,000 followers,” said Conway, who had just gotten in his truck after selling haddock at Rock Harbor in Orleans on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon.

The page’s followers quickly jumped to 2,500 and then 7,000 after a few short weeks. And interest in buying directly from fishermen doesn’t stop there.

A handful of scallopers are taking advantage of new regulations that allow them to sell as soon as they land at harbors across the Cape.

“People on the Cape have always supported the local fleets and this creates a new opportunity that in some ways harkens back to the earliest traditions of the fishery,” said Seth Rolbein of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, a member-driven non-profit. “People are hungry for fresh local seafood as well as personal connections — they appreciate knowing where the fish is coming from and that they are supporting local businesses.

Plus, you can’t beat the taste.”

Denice Lapierre is thankful she has two older daughters to help her connect with everyone reaching out by telephone as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

“People are so supportive,” she said.

Lapierre, whose husband Chris Merl captains the scalloper F/V Isabel and Lilee, said she has been thanked many times and is always pointing out that the fishermen are the ones thankful for the support.

“The most important aspect is how personal it has become,” she said.

Merl, of Wellfleet, has been scalloping for 30 years, but with the pandemic closing restaurants to all but curbside delivery, he made the move to direct sales.

He also sells to a wholesaler, Red’s Best. So far the combination is working.

“We’re still keeping afloat,” Denice said.

Other scallopers have pre-sold their entire catch, 600 pounds per trip, and have customers waiting as they tie up at the dock.

Conway said they have sold 1,500 pounds of haddock – gutted but not filleted, in keeping with state regulations – and have seen many repeat customers.

Hindsightbiz 1
Commercial fisherman Kevin Conway sells his catch to willing customers at Rock Harbor, Orleans.

He was struck by the number of people who said they have lived on the Cape for decades and this was the freshest fish they have tasted. Many are posting positive comments on Facebook and photos of various dishes.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” the 27-year-old Barnstable High graduate said. “We aren’t doing it all for ourselves, we are trying to offer a service to the community that they can appreciate during these dark times with COVID … People get genuinely excited about coming down to the boat and picking up their fresh catch.”

Conway has added other fishermen to his page and is hoping to expand this summer to include boats bringing in lobster to different ports as well as bluefish, scup, flounder and bluefin tuna.

For a curated a list of Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts seafood markets and fishermen engaging in direct sales, visit https://capecodfishermen.org/piertoplate

Doreen Leggett is the community journalist for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.