ORLEANS — For a while Saturday night, Mother Nature just didn't want summer to end.
A heavy blanket of moist air descended on Nauset Beach, where thousands had lined up to face a towering stack of pallets destined to become a glorious bonfire. As Orleans DJ Tom Tuttle spun (appropriately) the long version of “Light My Fire” (“The time to hesitate is through”), the throngs waited patiently for the pyrotechnicians to succeed.
And indeed they did, as the Paul Fulcher Memorial Bonfire produced an intense light that provided the day's second sunrise.
The big event came midway through the eighth annual Celebrate Our Waters festival staged by the Orleans Pond Coalition with the cooperation of the town and the generosity of donors. Just as the bonfire lit up the beach, the festival illuminated a multitude of corners of the town where water-based activities were enjoyed.
At Pleasant Bay Community Boating, a group including some first-time sailors boarded PBCB's catboats and Flying Scots to glide across the water. As the fog cleared and the wind rose, they learned some of the basics of the art of sailing.
At Skaket Beach, sculptures were rising out of the sand. OPC President Jim McCauley saw a young girl building what she called the Trash Castle surrounded by “a pile of stuff she picked up on the beach.” At Federated Church, event-goers could see a related documentary, “A Plastic Ocean.”
Over at the Corner Store, about 30 people eager to try a taste of skate (once dismissed as a trash fish) listened closely to fisherman Bill Amaru, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance marketing director Joan Francolini, and Corner Store owner Steve DeLeonardis as they described the Pier to Plate program that's introduced many to skate and dogfish.
Dogfish is the number one fish caught off the Cape and skate number three, said Francolini, yet more than 90 percent of the Cape catch is sold overseas (mackerel is number two). So the Alliance won a grant to distribute 10,000 pounds of free fish to capture the public's attention. She said more than 40 restaurants and over 20 universities are now serving dogfish and skate.
Corner Store is the top seller of skate among restaurants. DeLeonardis describes it as “a mild white fish with a texture similar to scallops.” He tried selling dogfish, but found that “the name is a tough one.” As a shark, dogfish is a regulated species and its name can't be changed without federal approval, Francolini noted. “We'd love to call it Chatham white fish,” she said. “That's not a lie. It's from Chatham and it is white.”
DeLeonardis offers skate in pan-blackened and lemon-pepper versions. The latter was served Saturday to those who attended the talk, and here's what self-described foodies Jane and Henry Fischer of Eastham had to say in an e-mail to the Chronicle:
“With our first taste of skate wings we realized its difference from other fish (cod, flounder, haddock). This mild fish has some character in its chewy texture that is not at all objectionable. The presentation at the Corner Store in Orleans was delicious. Coated with brown rice flour and lemon pepper, the fish pieces were lightly sauteed and presented on a bed of arugula and cherry tomatoes then drizzled with lemon aioli.
“We thank the Corner Store and the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance for introducing us to a new taste. It is too bad that skate wings are not available at our local fish markets.”
Amaru said skate run 15 to 25 pounds, with 50 to 70 percent of body mass a usable product. After the wings are cut off, the remainder is used for lobster bait. The fish are skinned in New Bedford, where processing plants can call in dozens of fish cutters when boats are near port.
Francolini asked people to keep after restaurants and markets to serve dogfish and skate. “You can buy fresh dogfish and skate at Red's Best market in Boston, but not here,” she said.
As for the fish for which the region is named, Amaru theorizes that “cod are kept away from local fisheries by the seals.” He said the huge increase in their population “have changed the migration habits of fish.”
Seal-snacking sharks are becoming a regular sight offshore, and Celebrate Our Waters devoted a morning to “Sharktivities!” with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy at the Orleans Historical Society Sunday.
At Nauset Beach Saturday, McCauley took to the PA to thank Celebrate Our Waters organizers Anne Sigsbee and Carol Counihan and to urge everyone to join the Orleans Pond Coalition and “protect all our waters.”