Fishermen’s Alliance Reflects on 25 Years

Fish - 1CHATHAM – The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance started in 1991 as the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s alliance which was made up of about a dozen hook fishermen who wanted to help shape New England fishing regulations.

“The association back then was a loosely knit, informal organization,” said John Pappalardo, the alliance’s CEO. “They were very narrowly focused on just the stock of cod and the impacts to the cod fish habitat by other modes of fishing.”

Before the alliance was formed the cod stock had fallen way down and had just started to creep back up.

“There was a lot of disagreement between the industry and the science of the status of the stock,” Pappalardo said. “Today it’s very difficult to find cod fish close to the shore.”

When the alliance started, Pappalardo was studying at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He joined the organization as a volunteer about 20 years ago.

As the cod fishery started to become less of a certainty to the members businesses they began to diversify the fisheries in which they participated.

“As their interests and fisheries expanded so did the work of the hook association,” Pappalardo said. “The involvement of the alliance today is really steered or guided by the fishermen members we have so whatever fisheries they happen to be in they have a voice within the organization to shape the priorities that we have and the policies that we take.”

The organization became a registered 501c3 charitable organization in 1996 and opened an office in Nickerson Corner in Chatham two years later to create a consistent meeting place for local fishermen to meet and discuss issues regarding the industry.

The organization continued to help local fishermen and launched a cooperative research program to tag cod and haddock. The program brought $1.5 million to local fishermen.

Nick Muto, who currently serves as the chairman of the organization’s board, began fishing in Chatham in 2001.

He purchased his first lobster boat from a retiring fishermen about eight years ago and just recently bought a second boat.

Muto said diversifying a fishing business is the key to being successful on the water.

“Very few guys are making it on single species fishing anymore,” he said. “We don’t solely rely just on lobster or just on monk fish or cod or anything else anymore. You want to be able to transfer in and out of fisheries to be the most productive you can be throughout the year.”

The alliance purchased the first of what became a $4 million investment into the fishing quota of scallops, cod and flounder in 2007. The alliance then began leasing permits at affordable rates to about 120 fishermen on the Cape, which has allowed them to catch an additional $3 million in seafood each year.

“As we had fishermen retiring we began purchasing their permits from them and hold them in trust for the community and the next generation,” Pappalardo said. “Even if we hold quotas today that nobody locally wants that probably will change in five or 10 years and it is going to be a really good thing that we have that quota available to them.”

The name of the organization changed to the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance in 2013 just three years after the organization became the first in New England to purchase a permanent home, the Captain Nathan Harding House. The organization also won the Town of Chatham Preservation Award for the building’s restoration.

The alliance launched the Fish for Families program with the Family Pantry of Cape Cod in 2013. The program has donated more than 88,000 seafood meals caught in local waters to over 20,000 Cape families.

They also invested last year in rebuilding the Aquacultural Research Corporation, which supports 1,400 shellfish fishermen and the shellfish programs all 15 Cape Cod towns.

This year marks the eleventh that Pappalardo has served on the New England Fishery Management Council to make sure local fishermen have a voice in federal fishery decisions.

Pappalardo said the most important accomplishment of the organization is that it now has a voice.

“We don’t throw a lot of rocks. We don’t do a lot of protesting. We roll up our sleeves and try to solve problems and put forward solutions that not only work for us but, potentially, could work for other coastal communities,” Pappalardo said.

The alliance currently has 95 commercial fishermen members and receives support from 1,100 community members who donate to the organization.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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