A Sea Scalloper's Story

A Story of Jason

A note with a cell phone number was tacked on the bulletin board at the fishermen’s supply store in Chatham few days before Christmas. Placed among the notices of ‘boats for sale’, 'diver services'  available' and ‘ will buy scrap metal’ it read: “ Looking for work do any kind of fishing or whatever staying on the Donna Jean II in Stage. Can be ready in 10 mins” – Jason

Last winter, in Maine, in his parents’ home, in front of them, that same young man put a gun to his head , shot and killed himself. He was distraught , depressed ;having no money, no ability to provide for his children and no means of employment because the fisheries he worked in was closed- shut down.

Jason was from Maine, fished on a small scallop boat based out of Cape Ann that found its homeport to be Stage Harbor, Chatham MA during the general category sea scallop openings.

He was a bright spot on the Stage Harbor dock. After a day at sea; bedecked with tattoos, a friendly smile and a mini-can of Heineken in hand, Jason would help fellow fishermen with gear and equipment. He’d grab a fishing pole sometimes times a youngster or fellow fisher at his side and cast off the dock hoping for a fish for his dinner. He was known for collecting heart shaped sea scallop shells that he gave to a Chatham bride who wanted to use them as decorations for her wedding reception. And would give away sea scallops to anyone happening upon the dock who asked.

He’d tell people how he missed his own kids and girlfriend back home and talked about how he would love to bring his family to the Cape Cod, make it his home and have a go at fishing here year-round

When National Marine Fisheries Service said their fisheries was open, Jason, his fellow crewman and Captain landed 400 pounds of organic sea scallops a day. The scallops were fresh and sweet; they did not have to be chemically treated because they were not held in a hold for several days at sea the way the hundreds of the larger vessels who make their port in a major city south of Cape Cod have to do when they bring in thousands of pounds of scallops.

Jason’s life was lost to a system that gives more fishing quota to large boats that have more money and more political pull. A system that awards efforts of lobbyists instead of sustainable fishing efforts. A system that does not honor small day boat ports, small boat fishers or their communities. This system does not, as this tragedy tells, understand that the loss of a young man impacts the people and communities in Maine and two in Massachusetts, nor does it honor that these communities are all historically interconnected. That the tragic wasteful loss of life is an example of a bigger story of small boat fishers.

The general category scallop quota could be increased, allotting a small percentage from what the larger boats are allotted by their flawed self-serving regulatory system to the small day boats. Fishers like Jason could crew on these boats that would land scallops in a more fresher, sustainable way, creating more diverse economic opportunity along the coast. Instead fishers like Jason are losing their livelihoods and lives.

Jason will not be forgotten; his photograph posing with scallop knife in hand has hung at art shows on Cape Cod. Friends and fellow crewmen will remember his bright smile, tattoos and  lift a Heineken in his honor. His name will be forever etched on the wall of Chatham Fisheries at the Stage Harbor dock, next to dozens of transient east coast fishermen who left messages saying see you next year. 

Jason won't be around next year , he won't be handing out fresh cut scallops, teaching a kid to fish on the Stage Harbor dock nor hoping for an opportunity to move to the Cape and work in a sustainable fisheries.

He’s gone and his blood is on the hands of a greedy flawed system.