We are having a locavore type of week – in February. It’s amazing how much progress farmers on the Cape have made in recent years. Five years ago, it was nearly impossible to buy local sources of protein. Now the choices are nothing less that dazzling at the Winter Farmers’ Market in Orleans.
The Winter Market takes place on the first and third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. until noon in the cafeteria of Nauset Regional Middle School. It’s a friendly and bustling place despite being in the off-season. The Kitchen Genius and I stopped by E & T Farms’ booth first thing because we had reserved some of the locally grown shrimp Ed and Betty Osmun are offering. It was our first chance to try them and we were pretty excited.
Tom Smith grew up fishing out of Rock Harbor on the charter boats. After he graduated from high school in 1979, he went down to Florida to fish for a while. While there he learned how to gill net in a new way. With traditional gill netting, fishermen lay their nets at night and then haul them in the next day.
“With this Florida fishery, they would find a school of fish and circle around them and then they would haul it right back so the net is never in the water for very long,” Tom says. “The yield is really high quality because the fish are never old.”
In 1981, when he was back on Cape Cod, Tom decided to try gillnetting for bluefish the Florida way. He’s been doing it out of Provincetown Harbor ever since on his fishing vessel Sea Wolf, and today he is the last remaining permit holder to gillnet for bluefish.
The bluefish season starts in the beginning of May and lasts until the end of September. Tom and his crew of one or two go out pretty much every day in season. They fish about half the time in Cape Cod Bay and the other half on the back side of the Cape or in Nantucket Sound.
“We go out and we find a school of fish and we circle around them and then once we make the circle we go inside it and start beating on the deck and doing donuts and making a lot of noise,” Tom says. “That makes them spook into the net. And then after a few minutes we go to the end and start hauling back immediately. It’s like an hour start to finish and everything comes in alive.”
In deeper water, they use sonars and fish finders to locate the fish, but in shallow water the sonar doesn’t work so they do it the “old school” way. They go out with a spinning rod and look for slicks where the fish are feeding.
Once caught, the fish are bled immediately by cutting their throat. That pumps all the blood out of them and makes for a milder fish. Then they are packed in a brining solution of half water and half ice to get them really cold, really quickly.
Bluefish has gotten a lot more respect in the last ten years and Tom sells his fish to local seafood markets like Mac’s Seafood, Hatch’s Fish Market and Nauset Fish and Lobster Pool, all of which have a regular following for bluefish.
In October and November, Tim fishes for tuna with a rod and reel until the season closes, usually in mid-November. In the winter, he does some shell fishing, but he spends most of his time building new nets.
“That’s a full time job,” he says. “We order the twine and we hang them on our leads and corks which we reuse. The leads take it to the bottom and the corks make it stand upright. We’re able to recycle those but the netting has to be replaced because the bluefish have razorblades for teeth. We replace it every year.”
Tom’s favorite way to eat bluefish is to take a small one and cut the dark meat out. He then cuts the fish into strips, seasons it with salt and pepper, dredges it in flour or corn meal and fries it in hot oil.
We love bluefish in our family, and our favorite recipe for it is Portuguese Bluefish Cakes. The combination of potatoes, garlic, onion and chorizo really brings out a great flavor in the bluefish that even the kids will eat. You could make this recipe with leftover bluefish, but I always use fresh.