CHATHAM, Mass. “This town,” says Charlie “Paz” diPasquale as he surveys boats at anchor in the harbor here, “is a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” His companions, commercial fishermen all, laugh and sip at their beers, having knocked off for the day at noon because “the fish ain’t worth it,” according to Lenny Riznanski.
Back home, Riznanski’s wife Evelyn says she’d like to take her first vacation in years from her waitressing job, but can’t afford to. “He never seems to catch anything,” she says of her husband. “If he was on vacation, I don’t think I could tell the difference,” she adds, given his indifferent work habits.
The fishermen of Chatham say they are victims of America’s changing tastes; where once a Caesar salad would contain five or six fresh anchovies, the emergence of variations such as the chicken Caesar and the Mexican caesar means that demand for anchovies is low, depressing prices.
“Why should I risk my neck over a bunch of skimpy little fish that won’t buy me a beer and a pack of cigarettes when I get back on dry land?” asks diPasquale. “It’s frustrating, but that’s life I guess.”
But the women of Chatham don’t suffer from the same sense of resignation. They’ve organized a “Don’t Hold the Anchovies!” drive in the hopes of reviving America’s taste for the small, herring-like carnivorous fish.
“We took a lesson from PETA, then reversed it,” says Ellie diPasquale, referring to the animal rights group whose confrontational tactics have caused some women to hesitate before buying fur products. “We go right up to these bony-ass babes eating their luncheon salads and say ‘Hey–what’s with the no anchovies?’”
But the men of Chatham say the solution to the problem isn’t that simple. “Have you ever tried to get a worm on a hook small enough for an anchovy’s mouth?” asks Mike Webb, who supplements his meager fishing income with unemployment in the off-season. “By the time you finish, it’s time to come home for dinner.”
Jerry Lemuel, a marine biologist from the nearby Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute sitting at the next table, can’t help overhearing and interrupts with a question. “You know,” he says, “that anchovies are found off the west coast of the U.S., but not the east?”
The “fishermen” confer for a moment before responding. “That’s our story,” says Webb, “and we’re sticking to it.”