Narragansett, Rhode Island is a fishing town. Galilee is one of the largest fishing ports in the United States of America. There are some one hundred and fifty boats of all sizes and shapes coming in and out of Galilee on commercial, charter and pleasure excursions hunting for all manner of fish on a daily basis. There are draggers that go out for weeks at a time, day fisher boats, lobster boats, large-scale hourly charter boats and clammers to name some of the specific types of fishing boats that depart at all times of the day and night to go out and put food on our tables, food in our restaurants, bait in their traps or to ship seafood out to all corners of the Earth. Fishing is a big industry in Rhode Island, and Narragansett contributes a great deal to that industry. Many people I know and have known fish for a living. It is a very challenging, dangerous, and difficult job. The pay can vary from fruitful to far less than that. It is a way of life that the fishermen and women know intimately, and one that those outside of it do not. It is a way of life full of many interesting stories, legends and lore. It is all much more than just fish stories, by the way.
There is another fishing port just north of us in New Bedford, Massachusetts that is equally bustling, and equally full of tales. Todayâ€™s book discusses this way of life in great detail. It is entitled Down on the Docks by Rory Nugent, published by Pantheon Books in 2010. This book is a very interesting and insightful look into the world of commercial fishing given from the authorâ€™s first-hand point of view as a fisherman for many, many years and interviews with, and descriptions of residents of New Bedford. Their lives tell the tale of this old and storied fishing town. New Bedford, and many other fishing towns have fallen on hard times of late, and there is little respite for the people who live and work in them. It is something you really need to sit down and consider as you read. There is a great deal going on behind the scenes, so to speak, when you sit down to eat your fish and chips, lobster roll or clam cakes, and this book does quite a nice job of shedding some light on this very deep, extremely important and complex world.
I have known fishermen all my life. I have several very good friends who have taken this vocation on as a lifelong occupation, and I have heard the stories of mammoth seas, amazing natural sights, life-saving camaraderie, death on the high seas, shady business dealings, disgust with regulations, troubles with boats and equipment, the good and bad in people, the good and the bad in fishing for a living, and of course the stories of the fish they caught, all my life. Some of this world seemed beyond wonderful, some of it difficult and dreadful, but all of it seemed very real, and very important. None of what I ever heard was ever delivered lightly, though there was plenty of hilarity mixed in. The stories were intriguing.
You really cannot understand this vocation without getting out there and doing it. Most people never will. I have had the opportunity to do so, and have gone out fishing on a dragger with a very good friend and assisted in the business at hand. We drag fished out between Galilee and Block Island, and I witnessed and participated in the various elements of the fishing world. It was exhilarating, fun, exciting, tiring, overwhelming, and challenging all at once. I made good money for the work, and being able to do so with a great fisherman and great friend was much more valuable a learning experience than any money could buy. I am no fisherman, but I have glimpsed the way of life.
I you have a notion to try to better understand the life of local fishermen and women, then I recommend you get out there to your local bookstore or hop on-line and find yourself a copy of Down on the Docks and give it a read. You will learn a lot about this very important industry and the people that undertake the task of commercial fishing to bring us healthy, tasty food. It is a necessary industry for human kind, and one that we all should be better informed about. You never know, you might even be inspired to go out and try fishing for yourself. Enjoy and read on!
Kerry Wholey is a freelance writer living in Narragansett.