CHATHAM — It's strange but true: locally-caught dogfish and skate can be easier to find on the menu in Europe and Asia than in restaurants here on Cape Cod. That's despite the fact that they're plentiful, delicious, and make up most of the catch landed by the local fishing fleet.
A new effort launching this weekend, called Pier to Plate, aims to change that by promoting these "under-loved" fish varieties.
The local day boat fleet has been targeting skate, dogfish and other lesser-known species as an alternative to cod and other groundfish, which are scarce and heavily regulated. Most of the harvest is frozen and shipped overseas; dogfish is a popular species for fish and chips served in English pubs, and skate wings are a delicacy in parts of Asia.
By making these species consistently available to local restaurants this summer, Pier to Plate hopes to get local consumers hooked on them.
“Our goal with Pier to Plate is to create consumer demand for these fish on Cape Cod and across the country,” said Nancy Civetta of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance. “When our summer visitors return to their year-round homes, they will be raving about these fish and asking for them at their favorite restaurants.”
“Skate is fantastic,” Chatham fisherman Tim Linnell said. The meat is light and flaky, and “a little bit more flavorful” than the fish often served in restaurants. Dogfish, sometimes called Cape shark, is another flaky white fish that's valued by cooks for its texture and versatility.
“It's local fish, fresh fish, sustainable fish,” he said.
“Skate is a plentiful, locally-caught, delicious fish, and Americans should eat it,” Chatham fisherman Greg Connors added. Connors was one of the first members of the local fleet to fish for skates.
Paul Dineen, manager of Chatham Fish and Lobster, said he's putting dogfish on the menu as “shark bites,” chunks of the white fish coated in their popular gluten-free batter and deep fried to a golden brown. It's a simple recipe and should be particularly popular as a finger food for kids, he said.
Dineen said they served dogfish during a special tasting event several months ago, and patrons loved it.
“They were like, 'Wow, this is really good,'” he said. They plan to host a tasting for skate on Saturday June 3 from noon to 2 p.m., where customers will also have the chance to meet a local fisherman and learn about the fishery.
Promoting skate and dogfish is a way to help boost the economic sustainability of small-scale fisheries. Selling their catch closer to home means fishermen can retain more of the profit while providing customers with an environmentally responsible menu choice.
Local chefs have been working to develop new menu choices with skate and dogfish, and a group of around 20 restaurants have agreed to feature them. A full list of participating restaurants is posted at www.PierToPlate.org.
In addition to the June 3 skate tasting in Chatham, there will be a “Bowling with the Dogs” event on June 15 at 5 p.m. at Big Dogs Barbecue at the Orleans Bowling center. In addition to half-price bowling with teams of fishermen, there will be free samples of dogfish and skate and delicious dishes on the menu.
On June 28, the fishermen's alliance will host a Meet the Fleet event at 5 p.m. at Nauset Marine East, 235 Main St., Orleans, with tastes of recipes from Chatham chef Caleb Hessler of the Lazy Lobster. The event is free but reservations are required; details are at www.PierToPlate.org.
Organizers are encouraging other restaurants, caterers and fish markets to join the effort. The program is supported by Chatham Fish and Lobster, Araho Transfer, Marder Trawling, Red's Best and Seatrade, and is funded by a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant from NOAA Fisheries.