A middle-aged man wearing a striped polo and khaki shorts was strolling through the farmers' market in Brewster. He passed stalls of vegetables, looked at the honey, and after he passed a display of local yarn he did a double take.
He had just seen a sign advertising fresh lobsters for $8 a pound.
“Are you here all the time?” he asked.
Tyler Daley, captain of the lobster boat Dorothea Isabel, was sitting under a canopy with his wife Shannon, several Igloo coolers, a cash register and a scale. They nodded.
“See you next week,” the man said with a broad grin as he walked away.
One can forgive surprise at seeing sought-after seafood tucked amidst turnips and zucchini. The Brewster Historical Society, which has the youngest farmers' market on the Cape, is the only one to offer the catch of a full-time fisherman.
“The commercial fishing industry is deeply rooted in the history of the Cape, and Brewster specifically. Not only is it an important heritage to maintain, which is important to the historical society’s values, but it’s an important piece of our blue economy today – an industry that employs many fishing families, like Tyler’s, on Cape Cod,” said Ellie Leaning, the manager of the market and also project coordinator for the Chatham-based Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.
Daley has been lobstering since middle school but only in the last few years became the captain of his own boat, named after his grandmother.
He first had his own set of traps when he turned 12 and got his student permit. He went out of Dennis on Paul Young’s boat, who would stop and let him haul his own traps.
After graduating from Nauset High School in 2004, Daley went off to major in marine biology at the University of New Hampshire, but soon came back because he preferred being on the water to studying it. Not long after, he found himself on a lobster boat out of Hyannis, this time on F/V William Bowe with Captain Bro Cote, a man he still considers a friend and mentor. Since Cote went offshore, Daley was away for a week or two at a time.
As the years went on he became the relief captain, “but I got to the point where I wanted to run the boat all the time,” he said.
So in 2014 he bought his own boat and now has 800 traps to haul. He likes the view from the “office” and likes the freedom.
“I like being able to go and do your own thing,” Daley said.
He sells most of the crustaceans to wholesalers, but always keeps some to sell to fish markets.
Driving from place to place is time-consuming, though. Plus he has a two-year-old daughter and another on the way, so he would rather run around at home.
So the Brewster native thought about selling at his hometown farmer’s market, and its organizers were supportive from the get-go.
“When you come to the farmers market you can shake the hand of the person who grew your tomatoes, raised the chickens that hatched your eggs, and baked your cinnamon bun,” said Leaning. “On Cape Cod, a logical next step in the local food movement is seafood.”
Getting permits and approvals was not the easiest process.
Selling seafood at a farmer’s market in Massachusetts requires a special permit, unlike other states where it is common to walk out with haddock as well as honey.
“The challenge in Massachusetts is that as a Commonwealth our towns have individual health policies. In states like Maine and New Hampshire they have a state law only,” Leaning said. “This makes it difficult when the state and town might not work together or know what the other is requiring.”
Leaning, also a Brewster native, comes from a fishing and oyster farming family. She is passionate about promoting local seafood and building sustainable communities.
“I don’t believe that all fishermen want to sell direct or should sell direct,” she said. “It all depends on what’s happening in the fishery and what the individual wants out of his or her business model. I just think they should have the option.
“Tyler is an example of exactly the type of family I think we should support here on Cape Cod – a young, independent entrepreneur who is trying to think outside the box in terms of his business model and is generating employment for other young people to stay on Cape Cod.”
So far it seems a lot of people agree, or at least love lobster. On a Sunday morning in early July, Daley had sold almost all of the 150 pounds he brought. He and Shannon say they have regulars that come right when they open at 9 a.m.
Jean Holzinger and her brother Rick Devore, from Arlington, Va., had just bought a handful to share with family in town.
“The price is very good and we know they are fresh and local,” Holzinger said.
Devore couldn’t get over the great price – he had seen them recently at a fish market for about $3 more a pound, and how fresh they were – you could see Cape Cod Bay, where they were caught the day before, from where he was standing.
Leaning hopes this enthusiasm spreads.
“We have an abundance of fish caught locally to sell and the technology to do it safely,” she added. “We just need support from consumers and policy makers to make this process more feasible and profitable.”
Doreen Leggett is the community journalist for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.