Imagine, just for a second, that you're a cod fisherman. You longline, which means you set a line with a series of baited hooks and send it down with an anchor, and then later, come back to pull it up.
Usually, the fish come in through a roller, fall to the deck, and then you process them by slitting their throats, cutting out their guts, rinsing them, and packing them on ice. You get about $2 a pound.
But if you take a little more time—if you unhook the fish and put them in a tank and keep them alive—you can get $3 a pound. Sound smart? It is.
This is the system fishermen Eric Hesse and Greg Walinski of Sesuit Harbor in Dennis have set up with a Boston company called Wong Trading. Wong Trading distributes to Asian restaurants—mostly chefs in Boston's Chinatown—and these chefs like their fish still swimming. Hesse says it's a cultural thing—they think the fish have a subtler taste when they're served just-gutted, and they're willing to pay for it.
Hesse and Walinski fish on a quota system, which counts the pounds of fish they catch, not the pounds of fish they sell. So if they can sell the whole fish—gutted, on average, a fish usually weighs about 17 percent less—they're making that much more money on their quota. What's more, the chefs like the smaller, single-serving-size fish, which are exactly the ones the regular fillet market doesn't want.
It can be tricky—unhooking fish at night, for instance, is a challenge, as is keeping an eye on hundreds of pounds of live cod—but all in all, it's a pretty cool system. Here's to the ingenuity of our fishermen!