Thoughts from the Hookers Ball this time around
By John Pappalardo
Every year around Hookers Ball time we create a video to share with people under the tent, part recap, part celebration, always providing glimpses of some of the great fishermen and personalities we work with.
This year the ball had to become virtual, but that didn’t stop us from celebrating, or creating our annual video. So I wanted to share with you the thoughts I expressed in this year’s version, this most unusual time around:
These are uncertain times, no doubt. The impact of COVID has been described as unprecedented, the virus novel, the drumbeat of bad news relentless.
But there has been one constant, one certainty, and it gives me pride and hope: The resiliency of the fishing fleet and the communities who support and rely on that fleet.
Cape fishermen are used to rolling seas, stormy weather, and unpredictability, so when much of the world stopped they kept working -- and so did we.
In the early days of the pandemic, with markets closing, prices plummeting, fishermen still got up before dawn and took to the sea to catch fish and feed a nation. Fish buyers still sent tractor trailers over the bridges to pick up thousands upon thousands of pounds even as the beef and chicken supply faltered. If there was little money to be made, fishermen swallowed the loss to keep people working and joined together to provide meals for neighbors in need.
They boldly took chances on new initiatives. Many lobbied the state for more streamlined permitting to allow direct sales from the dock. Selling from the deck of a boat will never take the place of traditional markets, but it tapped into a yearning on the part of consumers to eat the freshest fish possible, and to connect with those who make their livings on the ocean. It was a welcome reminder of an historic time when all eyes turned to the sea, when the relationship between the food we eat, and those who catch it, was closer.
Those who bought cod, flounder, monkfish, scallop, lobsters and more at piers, farmers markets and church parking lots have realized the amazing difference between truly fresh fish and imported subpar product.
While fishermen navigated at sea and through the marketplace, they also stayed connected to regulators and elected representatives, sometimes on Zoom calls right from the dock as they advocated for themselves and the commercial industry as a whole.
Good news emerging from the bad was not a surprise to me. After all, this organization was formed by a group of fishermen who came together close to 30 years ago to make sure they not only survived, but thrived. Their tenacity, ingenuity, experience, intelligence and sometimes sheer cussedness meant they could continue to deliver the best seafood to ports across the Cape and beyond.
This time they have more resources. They have the organization they built, and they have you, a network of supporters rooted on the peninsula but extending far beyond.
The community’s support has been tremendous and we are deeply grateful. Donations are coming at extraordinary levels as many give what they can. We will continue to rely on our supporters as we navigate these uncharted waters and make sure the Cape’s fishing industry steams into a brighter future, capitalizing on the innovative and important ideas this unique crisis has fostered.
I take great comfort in the progress we have made in truly tough times. I take comfort in the community we have built that becomes stronger as we nourish our personal relationships and realize how lucky we are to have a direct connection to the sea, and to each other.
With your continued support, we’ll weather this storm together.
Click here to watch the video.
(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)