Have you ever wondered where your fish, clams, lobsters, etc… have come from, or when they were caught?
In my experience, having grown up in a landlocked area, “fresh” fish was not a treat. Unless it was purchased at a reputable seafood market, (and there weren’t many of those available), the word fresh could not be used to describe it. We just didn’t bother, and heaven forbid you bought it in a grocery store. To this day, I will not purchase “fresh” fish in a grocery store.
Current seafood regulations for a commercial fisherman’s catch require complete identification at landing. Harvest location, harvest date, species, weight, quantity, boat name, permit ID, port name and more, are required to be reported to a dealer. After landing, the wholesale dealer must report this information to the regulatory authorities. Bushels of clams and other shellfish are bagged and tagged – no tag, no sale. Fish are distributed in totes (I will not get into the tote discussion) and each tote must have a tag attached with weight and identifying information. Usually the fish are sorted into totes and iced by the fisherman at sea. Stacked on pallets from the dealer, the fish are taken to the auction houses for sale.
Even in winter, some who haven’t pulled their boats are working. This dealer’s crew is preparing a catch of clams, bagging them just after receiving them from a boat in Stage Harbor, Chatham.
Sorted, weighed (or counted in some cases), and bagged, they are now secured and tagged for shipping.
When the commercial fishermen come in to port with their catch, it is important to have the dealer truck at the dock, but it doesn’t always work out that way. They have been out in the elements, many of them day boats, and waiting at the pier is not what these fishermen want to do. However, if the dealer has to get the truck to the auction and a fisherman is going to be late, often the truck will leave and the fish will have to be brought to and wait at the shop until the next day. The auction does not wait.
In the past, I’ve had the “pleasure” to be on the phone with cranky fishermen, out all day in harsh conditions and anxious to be home, when things haven’t worked out. I’ll save those stories too. Most were reasonable, only a few were notoriously cranky. At least until they received their checks.
This boat came in while we were at Stage Harbor, but we didn’t wait around to watch them unload the catch.
After the fish goes to the auction house, it moves on to retail, restaurants or processing. I have no information on the identification tracking and how much further it is carried through, but I believe that in the US, the tracking can still be followed to the source boat and tags must be retained for a period of time.
My disclaimer: This was the process several years back according to my reporting experiences at that time. If I have made errors in describing the process in present times, then changes have been made since then that I am not aware of.