Fishermen are today’s undervalued heroes.
Paul Farnham passionately believes that.
As hunter-gatherers, fishermen are among the “last of the indigenous people in today’s world – a fast, paced technology driven world. Those guys on the back of the boat, they are my heroes. Real true heroes. They go out in brutal weather. They don’t get paid a lot. They still do it.”
And that’s why Farnham spends day in and day out welcoming commercial fishing boats back to the Town Dock in Montauk, New York, practically the northernmost port in the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s region.
Farnham doesn’t own the dock. He’s not even a wholesale fish dealer. What Farnham offers fishermen in Montauk, through his company the Montauk Fish Dock, is unique, he said.
Simply put, “we unload and freight forward.”
Commercial fishing boats pull up to Farnham, whose team helps unload the boat (called packing out), weigh, ice down and package. Then he ships it.
Most docks have wholesale operations right there, he said. Fishermen unload and sell their catch in one place.
“Our service provides the opportunity for fishermen to unload and sell and market themselves to whoever they want,” Farnham said.
Most of the fish are sold on consignment to Fulton Fish Market in nearby New York City, but some of Farnham’s clients ship their fish overseas, as far away as the West Coast and to various wholesalers outside of the area.
Farnham, originally from Canada, worked in and around commercial fishing all of his life. He bought his unpacking and freight forwarding business in Montauk in 1988 and has been a staple on the docks ever since.
So much so that in 2006, while battling cancer, Farnham never missed a day of work. He would get his chemotherapy treatments and return to the dock.
Ask Farnham to describe himself and he’ll tell you “I’m first a cancer survivor. Then I’m a fisherman. You really have to be a survivor to be a fisherman these days.”
Many fishermen, when asked about the challenges to their community today, talk up regulations.
“Regulations are a given. Our challenges are our survival. We need docks to unload. Our threats are real estate, environmentalists and the government.”
Farnham leases his unloading property at the dock. Within throwing distance is a piece of property, he said, sold eight or nine years ago for just more than $1 million. Today it’s valued at more than $4 million.
Then there’s the constant work to ensure the market isn’t oversaturated with fish, yet properly priced for the consumers to eat and fishermen to still make money.
“By the time fish gets to someone’s plate, there’s a lot of hands that have touched it. A lot of middle men.”
From the fisherman to Farnham, Farnham to the delivery driver, from the wholesaler to the restaurant, and finally to a kitchen and a plate.
Each time, a few more cents of operating and handling fees add on. On average, for example, Farnham charges 18 cents per pound of fish unloaded, iced and shipped.
Looking toward the future, Farnham plans to get involved in reducing “the number of hands each fish goes through” and open something of an online fish market.
“I’d like to be able to unload the fish from here and ship it directly to the consumer. This way, the consumer saves money and gets real deal, same day, fresh fish” from his fishermen heroes.