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A Simple, Sustainable Taste From the Past

It’s spring, 1890. The days are longer, stronger. The men are out—Portuguese, most of them, first and second generation. They’re pounding poles into the shallow Truro flats to hang their weir nets. The nets are fragile, intricate things, but they’ll bring in the catch this season. The fish swim north, then into the bay, then into the nets, mingle in the trap. Each morning the men come out in boats and gather the catch with dip nets.

On a clear day, you can see all 12 Truro weirs, lining the crook of the bay. Each one stretches 2,500 feet out, a line of poles cascading toward Provincetown. Each one has its own fish house on shore, a place to sort, gut, clean. The men cut ice from the ponds in the winter, then haul it out in blocks, pack it in salt marsh hay. When the fish come in, the men ice them down, pack them into barrels, and ship them up to Boston on the train.

One net can yield 330 barrels of mackerel in a single catch, 40 tons of pollock. There are hermit crabs and sea crabs and spider crabs, goosefish and butter fish and bonita. There are bluebacks, tuna, whiting, hake—scup, fluke, and black sea bass. The men keep the nets up from April through September. It takes seven men to work a weir with all the trips in and out, all the hauling and the cleaning, the salting and the packing—hard work, but good work too.

Fast-forward 120 years, and the weirs have mostly disappeared. The poles are gone from Truro, but there are still a few in Stage Harbor, out of Chatham. Families like the Eldredges still pound the poles into the flats each spring, take them down come fall.

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