Back in February, I made a trip on the Tiger Joe. We were looking for small herring for a niche market. Volume wasn’t our mission. The small herring are delicious lightly fried. Roll them in flour, a little salt and pepper. Then cook. Once done, the whole spinal column will lift right out of the fish and you’ll be left with two lovely boneless fillets. I have no idea why more Americans don’t eat this way. Pretend you’re Portuguese for a day. Or Norwegian, Italian, Japanese.
The Tiger Joe was fishing just east of Block Island, RI. The day was frigid. We made ice, as the spray came over the bow, hitting the windows. From Point Judith, it took about an hour. On the ride we bullshitted about fishery management, herring migrations, women, diesel engines, and gardening.
The Tiger Joe fishes with three guys, sometimes four. Its primary fishery is skate. On menus skate is called Raja or skate wings. The enlarged pectoral fins have a very fine meat. Removing the skin is beyond arduous. Most skate are skinned in New Bedford on machines with tiny cutting blades. The French do cartwheels for skate wings. They use capers and butter. The Tiger Joe goes after skate with a gillnet. The fishery runs from April through whenever the price drops out. Below 30 cents a pound many fishermen stop fishing for skate, reason–too much labor cutting the wings from the body. Burn your arms out for pennies.
Terry Mulvey is the owner and the captain. He’s been fishing forever. He owns one of the oldest houses in Rhode Island, a creaky structure with period furniture in it–chains and tables– dated from the 1700s. He had the Tiger Joe built in the late-1970s. It’s made of wood and is 45 feet long. A small but able boat with a slow roll.
For crew Terry has Pete D’Ambra and Jason Jarvis. Pete was a horticulturist for many years before he joined Terry more than a decade ago. They went to high school together, are lifelong friends. They’re both 55. From their high school stories they told me–fast cars, motorcycles, wrecks–I’d say they lived fast. Crazytimes.
Jason has been fishing with Terry for about ten years. He’s from Rhode Island, but his mother’s a Bahamian, and his father’s a Maine down-East’er. Jason told me that he has over 200 cousins scattered throughout the Bahamas, from Abaco and Andros right on down to Great Inagua. Before Jason started fishing he worked as a substance abuse counselor. And before that he was a cook. When Jason isn’t fishing he’s playing conga drums and singing in the band, Hope Road. Jason’s also becoming very interested in fishery policy, on the state and federal level. At night after band practice he reads about monkfish management.
Here’s Jason at work, singing Marley in a bar, click here to check it out.
I’ll let the photos speak. Terry is pictured in hip boots looking aft out the wheelhouse door; Pete’s the man grinning in the wheelhouse; and Jason is standing in oil skins painted in herring scales. The first shot is a picture of a school of herring. The red blotch rising off the bottom. We towed our net through the school and got our fish. It’s often not this easy. Sea herring move fast and cover ground. They might be east of Block Island one day and somewhere off Martha’s Vineyard the next.