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Think of the fishermen

Posted by Devra First  January 13, 2012 07:41 PM

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Photo/Trace and Trust

"Where does your seafood come from?"

It's a question more restaurant customers are asking. More chefs are able to answer, in part because of the efforts of people like Rhode Island fisherman Steve Arnold (above).

Arnold and partner Chris Brown formed Wild Rhody, which sells "responsibly harvested" seafood directly to chefs, cutting out the middleman and providing the freshest product. They are part of Trace and Trust, a program that follows fish from the water to the table. Fishermen document their catch, and customers can use ID numbers to trace it back to the source.

The Wild Rhody team supplies seafood to many local restaurants. Chefs who work with these guys have nothing but great things to say. Here is a list of restaurants in the Boston area and Rhode Island serving Wild Rhody seafood.

When a beautiful piece of monkfish or fluke appears on our plates, we tend to spend each bite appreciating its flavor, texture, preparation, and presentation. Even if we care about provenance enough to learn that it came from, say, Port Judith, we don't spend much time thinking about the people who caught it.

We should. Fishing can be a difficult and treacherous occupation, as a near miss by Arnold reminds us. Earlier this week, he and his crew lost their ship, Elizabeth Helen, a few miles away from Block Island. They are fine, wonderfully, magically fine. The ship capsized while they were aboard. Through quick thinking, they were able to escape and get on a life raft. They were rescued by the Coast Guard.

I'll let Arnold tell the story in his words:

"We got out of a pretty hairy situation. It was quite a struggle. The conditions that led up to the event were a tide like I've never seen before. That was the start of my issues, and what happened from there happened so fast there wasn't any time to do anything except deal with the matters at hand.

"We trained to use our safety equipment and just had gone through it and gotten our safety sticker and made sure it was up to snuff. When you have an event like this on a fishing boat or any other maritime vessel, things happen so fast you often don't have time to get to the safety equipment. You have to struggle to get to it after [things] hit the fan and the event's over with, or you're in the middle of peril and you get to your equipment by any means you can. You can't train for going through that, and every event is different in some way, shape, or form.

"I was in the wheelhouse, and once I threw the boat out of gear, I knew we were done. We rolled right over, upside down. I scurried to get out of the wheelhouse. I climbed the high side of the boat, and it went over me and took me under. I kept my head about me, and once things settled down I was able to get out, get to the surface, pop the raft open, and find my crewman. We got in the raft and got the survival equipment and tried to get warm.

"We stayed attached to the boat in the life raft. It took about 20 to 30 minutes for the boat to sink. It came up on end with the bow out of water, then sunk. We took our paddles and paddled our asses off to get to the EPIRB [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon,used to track crafts in distress] and see that it activated. It took quite a struggle. We were getting blown away from it. But we got to the EPIRB. We sat back and high-fived each other. We said, 'It's not our day to die.'

"We assessed our situation, looking for the Block Island boat. We popped a flare. I kept hearing engines off in the distance, or thought I was. We poked our heads out of the raft, which is enclosed, looked around, and didn't see anything. But then, I'm hearing engines, I know I am. We popped our heads out again and could see the Block Island boat 3 or 4 miles in the distance. We popped up a rocket flare. It was getting pretty cold at that point. Then we could hear the engines get closer. It was not warm. [Laughs.] Within five or 10 minutes, the 60-footer out of Port Judith was alongside us. From start to finish, from being in the water to getting picked up, it was about an hour and a half. I was truly amazed. It couldn't have gone any better. I was with my family by 6:30 in the evening. It all started around 3:30.

"I've been fishing 28 years. I've been in some bad situations -- shipboard fires, floodings, things like that. We deal with that stuff. It happens. It was our turn that day to deal with a bad situation. We beat it, goddammit. Now it's kind of sad. We made up a little memorial of the boat with the EPIRB and the life raft.

"Wild Rhody is delivering fish as we speak. The restaurant community is so supportive, it chokes you up to see. I'm going to go out and see the chefs and give them all a hug."

Fish doesn't just appear on our plates. Next time I wonder where the seafood I'm eating comes from, I'll remember to say a silent thank you to the person who caught it.

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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