Since he started doing research on the weirs in 2007, Nichols estimates that the number of weir fishing operations have been at least halved. Today, the only remaining operations on the Cape are the three Eldredge/Davis weirs and a single weir strung by Nantucket Sound Fish Weirs, run by commercial fisherman Kurt Martin of Orleans, who has been working fish weirs since he was a teenager.
Between seals and mid-water trawlers, Martin says weir fishing is far from the days when he would catch 40,000 pounds of fish across 11 different species. “I bought this business in 2011, thinking it would be getting better. I was about 180 degrees wrong,” Martin says with a chuckle.
In addition to a wholesale operation, Eldredge and Davis now sell fish directly to consumers. In 2009, the family started a community supported fishery (CSF). Based on the same concept as community supported agriculture programs, the CSF allows customers to pledge money to the fishery in exchange for an allotment of the harvest.
Shareholders meet at Stage Harbor to collect their bounty. Davis says the CSF has grown in popularity, but still accounts for only about five percent of the fish sold, with the rest going to wholesalers and shipped to Boston, Rhode Island, and New York.
It is May on Cape Cod, the fish are running, and like time immemorial, weir fishermen are out there, catching fish in modern times with ancient methods, feeding the Cape community with bounty from the sea.
“As a kid, I’d be fishing after school, on weekends, then all summer long,” Eldredge says. “It’s in my blood.”
Through it all, these fishermen control what they can and then cast hope to the horizon, subject to the whims of wind and water, just as it’s been for 5,000 years.
Rob Conery is a frequent contributor to Cape Cod Life Publications.
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