Program Examines What It Takes To Be A Commercial Fisherman Today

By: Russ Allen

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing

Seth Rolbein. RUSS ALLEN PHOTO

CHATHAM –Fishing is a key element in the fabric of Cape Cod. Sports fishing is a vital part of its summer tourist industry, the mainstay of the Cape’s economy. Commercial fishing, whether by nets or rod and reel off boats, lobstering, aquaculture or shellfishing is not only a source of employment and financial resources for those involved, but it is also a part of the tradition, history, culture and society of this fragile peninsula.

However, according to Seth Rolbein, director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, while many know of its existence, “few really understand and appreciate the challenges and commitments facing those who pursue that way of life.” Which is why he has agreed to lead a two-part course at the Eldredge Public Library. “What It Takes To Be A Fisherman in the 21st Century” will be held on Wednesdays, Dec. 5 and 12, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the library.

While admittedly not a commercial fisherman himself, Rolbein comes to his current position with a rich and productive background that has included maintaining his connection to Cape Cod. According to the Trust’s website, Rolbein “began his career as a journalist in the mid-Cape in the 1970s. He then joined WGBH-TV in Boston as a writer, reporter and documentary filmmaker, also writing for many regional and national publications, including The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. His magazine and book-length fiction and non-fiction has spanned many topics (and continents), and his documentaries on [Public Broadcasting System] have won multiple national awards.” He was editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper chain before starting The Cape Cod Voice. Most recently, he served for six years as chief of staff and then senior adviser for Cape and Islands Senator Dan Wolf.

According to its website, the “Cape Cod Fisheries Trust is a program of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance that was established to ensure that the Cape's local, smaller-scale fishing businesses continued to be profitable and sustainable. It came about when a group of fishermen got together with the Alliance to figure out how to cope with some of the unforeseen consequences that happened when the management of scallop and groundfish moved into catch share systems.”

The Trust manages a portfolio of fishing quotas issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce to ensure adequate stock while allowing those engaged in the industry to make a living. Over the years the Trust has purchased the quotas belonging to those who have retired from the commercial fishing business, enabling it to keep those quotes within the community. Its model is now being developed in other parts of the country.

Rolbein believe that while most people are aware of the Cape’s commercial fishing industry and enjoy its products in local stores and restaurants, many take it for granted without understanding its demands and rewards, especially its value as a determiner of the Cape’s essential nature. Commercial fishing and fishermen are not only part of the economy of Cape Cod, they have over the years helped define the essential nature of this place and the lives of its people, he said. As the Cape moves into an uncertain future, with challenges of overdevelopment and a more non-resident population, Rolbein believes there is a danger that the contributions which this traditional industry make to the Cape may diminish and its traditions may be lost. He hopes that this class will help people gain a better understanding of what the commercial fishing industry brings to the table where decisions about the future of Cape Cod will be made.

An offering of the Fall Learning Series sponsored by the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library, “What It Takes To Be A Fisherman in the 21st Century” will “Examine the life and times of today’s independent commercial fishermen. Attendees will view everything from a typical day in the life of a local fisherman to the changing status of fishing stocks, economic challenges and regulatory hurdles to overcome to stay on the water. Several local fishermen will offer first-person experiences and perspectives on fishing life.”

A $15 donation for the course is suggested and registration forms are available at the library and online.