Buying Your Fish for the Day From the Dory Fleet

[SUMMER GUIDE] No. 10 of the 100 Reasons to Be Ecstatic About Summer In OC!

Dead red snapper glisten like ripe fruit. The pungent smell of open flesh—cabazon, abalone, lobster, sweet shrimp, butter fish, rock cod. There's the frantic scramble of beet-red stone crabs and the metallic jingle of scales and pocket change. Thin swirls of fragrant tobacco smoke linger in the air among deep laughter and confidential murmurs from weathered faces, their eyes crinkled into smiles. Ancient wooden boats brim with the day's catch. The infinite, bright morning sky above the endless ocean. This is the Dory Fishing Fleet Market.

Since 1891, men and women have flocked to Newport Pier—except then, people called it McFadden Wharf, and visitors arrived by train, which carried them straight to the pier. With petticoats lifted and trousers hiked up, they ambled across the grainy floor toward hardy fishermen and their wives leaning against tiny dories filled with gleaming fish. Seagulls squawked eagerly above the thriving business—just as they do today. Then, the fleet consisted of 30 men and their families. Children grew up here, progressing from baiting lines to gutting fish to becoming deckhands to replacing their fathers as captains of ships or their mothers at the market. Like the remaining fishermen today, these children know the market as a second home.

Despite numerous quotas imposed on the fishermen, the looming presence of cod-hoarding commercial boats, and fierce competition from cheap fishmongers in Little Saigon and Latino markets, the tradition continues. When wandering around the Dory Fleet market between the prime morning hours of 5 to 8, the livelihood of generations past and present is etched into the faces of every fisherman. As customers curiously peer into piles of slick cod and scrambling crabs, these men heartily lift pounds of fish, dropping them with a satisfying slap! onto wet counters. Then, in one fluid motion, they shuck off the fish's scaly skins. Children proudly help their fathers and mothers by washing the snapper and smelt in large silver bowls, then wrapping the fish in thick paper, doing so with the utmost seriousness and respect, hoping they'll soon get the chance to join their fathers at sea.

Marco Voyatzis, a second-generation fisherman of the fleet, muses about what keeps him coming back. He says that when you're out at sea, you get away from all the bullshit on land. It's just you and the ocean, under a sky that is almost white. There is nothing for miles in either direction—a landscape of seamless blue. Out there, nothing is definite, yet its waters offer a reassuring certainty: Here is man's greatest freedom, endless escape.

 
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