The Hookers Ball celebrates consistency, flexibility and perseverance
By Doreen Leggett
John Pappalardo is proud of how the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is well into its second quarter century navigating the tumultuous fisheries world. And he knows why it has survived.
Pappalardo, the Fishermen’s Alliance’s chief operating officer, believes the organization is among the most successful in New England, and perhaps the United States, because it follows the lead of its industry members:
“Adopting that work ethic day in and day out, year in and year out, has helped protect a resource, a tradition and a way of life on Cape Cod,” said Pappalardo, speaking to a crowd of close to 600 at the sold out Hookers Ball earlier this month. “We build our strategies, our problem solving skills and our risk-taking off what we see every day on the water with our members.”
Pappalardo spoke of three tenets that serve fishermen and the Fishermen's Alliance: consistency, flexibility and perseverance.
Captain Greg Walinski, highlighted in a video shared with the overflow crowd, has been fishing for 35 years and exemplifies all three. He well knows the value of adapting to changes at sea and on land.
“For me, flexibility is what it’s all about because things are constantly changing,” he said. “It’s not easy, you know, you need to have drive.”
A recent development is cameras on commercial boats, called electronic monitoring, which Walinski believes is “crucial” for accountability and the future of groundfishing, including cod and haddock, because it creates the opportunity to catalogue everything caught, helping scientists make good decisions about the true abundance of stocks.
“The Alliance over the years has really helped – whether it comes to representation on the New England Fishery Management Council, our trips to D.C., working with the scientific community; it goes hand in hand with the fishing business,” Walinski said.
Walinski has seen fisheries come and go, and come back again. He adapts, but stays fishing.
“This is what I am going to do for the rest of my life, something that I really love to do,” he said simply.
Wendy and Kyle Farrell, who have an aquaculture grant in Orleans, also were featured in the video. They said work done by the Fishermen’s Alliance to promote local seafood and foster opportunities for the younger generation is important. Rock Creek Oysters creates year-round opportunity and offers their three children a glimpse of a creative future on Cape Cod.
The half-acre grant is an extension of how they grew up: Kyle shellfished and her family owned a cranberry bog. Now they see their oysters in friends’ restaurants.
“It’s great to see your name on a menu,” said Wendy. “There is a lot of pride in that because you produce a really nice oyster.”
Stephanie Sykes, the final fisherman featured at the ball, grew up in Harwich Port. Now 24, she wants to build a career fishing on the Cape.
“I love the industry and hopefully someday I’ll be a captain and maybe have my own boat,” she said. “I know it’s going to happen.”
But she, more than others, knows that while up and coming fishermen may not need help catching fish, they need help navigating policy changes as well as developing business plans.
She is particularly interested in how to market fish being caught every day just off the Cape’s shore.
The federal Young Fishermen’s Development Act, as well as local training, would go a long way, she said.
“It definitely takes a lot of consistency and hard work to be successful in the industry, there are a lot of things that are out of your control,” said Sykes, a deckhand on the Dawn T. (a gillnetter) and the Miss Evelyn (a lobster boat).
Some of the money raised at the Hookers Ball will go toward work in D.C., starting a local training program for new crewmembers, and continuing scientific research on halibut – in hopes of restarting that once-reliable fishery (this year’s ball focused more attention in this direction with its name: Just for the Halibut).
“A heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you who attended and generously participated in our auctions and fund-a-need,” said Philanthropic Officer Christa Danilowicz at the close of the ball. “With your support, we raised more than $300,000 (and still counting!). We thought last year's event was hard to top, but with your incredible generosity, we did!”
The Hookers Ball began 18 years ago, seven years after the organization was founded by fishermen concerned about the future. The ball has grown quite a bit since the days of hanging out in a private home passing lobster rolls. Now it is one of the biggest annual non-profit fundraisers on Cape Cod, under a huge white tent at the V.F.W. in Chatham.
Then, as now, the Fishermen’s Alliance is dependent on its supporters.
“We have been so effective because the broader community supports our mission. They want to see an active fishing fleet on Cape Cod,” Pappalardo said.