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Catching Flounders


July 16, 1910

How Some Enterprising Italians Built a Business
By Means of Power Boats

As you plan your spring or summer fishing jaunt, on which you expect to catch a few puny "shiners," just pause to take heed of the Italian fishermen of Boston.  For, they catch something worth while.   The Boston fishermen used to go "down to the sea," as they say in poems, in row boats.  Now they fish from powered craft much to their profit.  The Boston fishermen angles mostly for flounders and he catches $350,000 worth of the each year.  There are 310 power boats, engaged in the trade and it employs some 500 men, yielding support to 2,500 people.  Quite a business to be developed within  a half dozen years.  The fishermen along the Massachusetts east coast are not the "old salts" of story books.  Instead, they are hardy, chunky Sicilians for the most part who learned something about fish in the old country and a whole lot more about dories and gasoline engines in the United States.  The dory, by the way, is the popular form of boat for the Boston men and you can find it along the fish wharves in about every variation of that highly useful craft.

The Sicilians have a peculiar organization.   Frank Ragusa, a stubby little man, is "king of the fleet."  He is a kind of director general, a "walking delegate" sort of man, yet he combines the duties of a union boss and a proprietor.  The fishermen have a society appropriately called the "St. Peter's Fishing Society."  It has no regular meeting place, but when some weighty question is to be decided, the leaders go out and hire a hall.

Ragusa was the pioneer of the industry.  He got a foothold by purchasing a worn out yacht from a member of the Savin Hill Yacht Club.  Native fishermen laughed at him and his disreputable looking outfit.  But he worked hard and nine years ago bought a dory and a gasoline engine.   That was the beginning of the present industry.

There is one feature of this industry which should not escape the economist.  When it commenced, the flounder was not popular in the effete east.  The Intellectual tastes of Boston and vicinity ran more to the classic cod and the salted mackerel.  One progressive dealer finally bought 500 pounds of flounders at 3 cents per pound.  He disposed of them and bought more.   Thus was the trade established.  In one week of September, 1909, high tide in the flounder sales was reached when the receipts from the catch totaled $5,000.  The season commences about March 15 and extends to November 15.  After that the fish disappear, going into the mud for the winter.

The Italian introduced a new system of fishing for flounders.  before he came, nobody thought of trolling.  The flounder trawl is lighter than that used in off shore fishing for cod and haddock and the hooks are smaller.  There are between 500 and 700 hooks on a trawl, set about 18 inches across.   This trawl, when set at daybreak, catches a fish to a hook when drawn an hour or two later.  No wonder the fishing is profitable.

The Italian, however, does not confine his efforts to flounders.  Cod, haddock, herring and other kinds occupy his attention.   The rapid increase of the business, aside from its interest in knowing what one eats, is worth considering because it shows the utility of the power boat.  Equipped with gasoline dory, the fisherman can go further form the shore and can cover a greater radius of activity.

The Boston fisherman is interested in the best things in the power boat field and there is a constant demand for high-class heavy duty engines.  Like the oysterman of Louisiana and the salmon fisher of Washington, he wants the best, because it means increased business and increased profits.


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