Ask a lot of people — even fishermen — who are not overly familiar with the Mid-Atlantic states what Chesapeake Bay fisheries come to mind and the answer often has to do with oystering and the bay’s iconic sailing skipjacks.
But there are, of course, other fisheries, including menhaden. While the boats of that fishery might not have that “take me back to the past” look of the sailing skipjacks, they have their own fascinating story.
This is especially true for the purse boats that NF field editor Larry Chowning writes about on page 26 in the August issue’s cover story.
The purse boats and the steamers that pack them to and from the fishing grounds have continued to evolve, moving from 8-foot-long wooden “drive” or “striker” boats — so named because the guy driving the boat would strike the water with an oar to direct fish into the purse net — to being built of steel and now aluminum.
At the center of Chowning’s story is the building of two 41-foot purse boats for the Omega Protein plant in Reedville, Va. The boats were built at Omega’s boatyard in Mississippi, and modified once they got to Virginia.
Purse boats work in pairs to encircle a school of menhaden. After each boat dumps half the net, they come together to close it up. So while the hulls are identical, the Marco power blocks, hauling station and steering controls are on opposite sides of each boat.
Not so long ago, purse boats were built without a keel, having only the prop and a cage around it below the bottom of the hull. Those boats were carried in davits on the side of a menhaden steamer. Now steamers are having stern ramps added for launching purse boat into the water. Thus purse boats are now being built with a keel and skeg.
The changes over time to the purse boats are a good example of how one company in Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden fishery has searched for better and more efficient ways to fish. But check it out on page 26.