Rising tide: The return of the family fisherman

Bedford dad is leading the way while giving back to the community

Before meeting Capt. James “Jim” LaMarche, owner of New Hampshire-based RogueOne Fisheries, my closest point of reference to understanding the small-scale fishing industry was, naively, the movie, The Perfect Storm. But I learned that providing the freshest, healthiest catch – through harvesting methods with a low environmental impact – to local chefs is a rising tide fueling the return of the family fisherman.

Captain Jim spent his childhood fishing on Pine River Pond in Wakefield. His lake house was built by his father, grandfathers and uncles. Three key lessons left a lasting impression: the importance of hard work, learning how to independently create things and respecting nature.

Captain Jim’s fishing excursions led him across New Hampshire, with some of his favorite locations being lakes Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam for salmon and lake trout, and the Seacoast’s Piscataqua River and Isle of Shoals for striper fish. Like so many, the serene days of fishing on the water, and calm nights staring out into it, drew him in — hook, line and sinker.

 As his life evolved—work, marriage, family — so did his ambitions. In 2012, Captain Jim expanded on his passion for ocean fishing and purchased RogueOne, a 25-foot Parker Pilothouse. By 2014, he was using traditional hook-and-line methods to catch Bluefin tuna, and in 2015, he started fishing commercially.

Demanding trifecta

Captain Jim found himself swimming upstream among three powerful waves: a successful career with Cisco Systems, being a dedicated father and husband, and answering the sea’s call.

Something had to give. His entrepreneurial spirit led to the creation of his own “perfect storm.”

“I knew I wanted to pursue commercial fishing, at least part-time, but I also had to figure out how it would sustain my family,” said Captain Jim, who lives in Bedford with his wife, Kara, an artist, and their sons, Finn, 9, and Gavin, 8.

In 2016, the LaMarches decided to do what so many find difficult in today’s world: take a calculated gamble to create the ultimate work/life balance.

Captain Jim left Cisco Systems. The bait was two-fold – he had a unique idea for a technology startup and wanted to pursue his love for fishing. He had, officially, launched into the next phase of his life as a small-scale family fisherman.

A year of challenges and opportunities

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Captain Tim, Captain Jim and Chef Jayson McCarter.

To say 2017 was non-stop for the LaMarche family is an understatement. Captain Jim established RogueOne Fisheries to focus on Bluefin tuna; christened a new boat, a downeast, 32-foot long Mitchell Cove fishing vessel named Athena; and became the co-founder and CEO of Reflen Inc., a provider of an end-to-end artificial intelligence platform that uses behavior analytics to improve online experiences.

“Reflen’s culture is to be creative and not follow the typical way of doing things, which mirrors what we’re doing at RogueOne Fisheries by ‘saying no’ to drag nets and, instead, using the latest in hook-and-line fishing to avoid unnecessary by-catch (extra fish),” he said. “Kara and I wanted our kids to see it all, from technology to fishing, because while they’ll grow up in a society with devices at their fingertips, they also need to know how to take an original idea from their minds and build it with their hands.”

During his transition, Captain Jim met Capt. Tim Rider, whose boat slip for the Finlander, was “across the dock.” Captain Tim, co-founder of New England Fish Mongers with fellow fishers Amanda Parks and Spencer Montgomery, shared a similar philosophy: hook-and-hand-reeling of a day’s catch and filleting it at sea to maintain quality and increase shelf life, which customers, especially restaurant chefs, find of high value.

“It is a challenging time for small-scale fishermen,” said Captain Tim. “New England Fish Mongers is about putting people, not big businesses, at the helm to support their families, earn a good living and give back to the community along the way.”

Family fishermen weather rough currents

The Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries operates a sector for coastal hook fishermen. Those that hold groundfish (e.g., cod, haddock, halibut, and more) permits have to join a sector to manage fish quota. The Athena and Finlander are part of the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector. Some of what New England Fish Mongers sells directly to 30-plus local restaurants will come from RogueOne Fisheries.

“RogueOne Fisheries shares in New England Fish Mongers’ beliefs about empowering small-scale day boat operations, using hooks-and-lines to protect aquatic resources, and delivering fresh fish to the area’s best chefs to support a dock-to-dish model,” said Captain Jim. “Educating consumers about quotas, the family fisherman’s business model, and questions to ask about the fish they’re buying and eating, are part of our objectives, too.”

Keeping the community in mind

In January, RogueOne Fisheries and New England Fish Mongers hosted a sold-out event, the Fisherman’s Feast, at The Foundry Restaurant in Manchester. Known for its farm-to-table commitment, Executive Chef, Matt Provencher, led a team of culinary experts in the preparation of locally caught fish.

Featured chefs included Jayson McCarter and Paul Morrison of the New Hampshire Food Bank’s eight-week culinary job training program, “The Recipe for Success.” A portion of funds raised were donated to the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, the advancement of local family fishermen and the NH Food Bank.

“Nutrition, being on the frontline of health and wellness, is important to the at-risk folks we prepare food for,” said Chef McCarter. “The New Hampshire Food Bank is a program of Catholic Charities New Hampshire. We always try to get everything we can out of each and every donor dollar to make a difference.”

He added that New England Fish Mongers has been coming in as often as they can to drop off “wonderful fresh products” and commends the desire to give back to the community.

“I’m not sure any of us truly understand the passion one must have to be a fisherman,” he said. “At the end of the day, my kitchen doesn’t capsize, I’m in no danger of being swept away at sea, and I never get cold. To Captain Tim, Amanda, and all the rest in the sector, we thank you for what you do and for being part of the solution.”

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Captain Jim at age 10, on the dock of his Pine River Pond camp.

Ned and Suzanne Hazard, who attended the Fisherman’s Feast appreciated the catch quality and preparation, but were particularly thankful for the education about New Hampshire’s local fishing climate, as well as how consumers can encourage establishments to purchase stock from small-scale fishermen.

 “As citizens, we have to pay closer attention to what’s being put on our plates. We need to ask grocers, waiters/waitresses and chefs where they get their fish and urge them to buy from local fishing families that give back to the community and environment,” Suzanne Hazard said.

Captain Jim continues to ensure that RogueOne Fisheries stays involved with opportunities that serve the greater good. He recently participated in New England Fish Mongers’ delivery of 80 pounds of fresh pollock to the NH Food Bank, which was prepared in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of New Hampshire to provide a hot, fresh, protein-filled meal to kids.

“That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had: I am proud to have been a part of something that had such a positive impact on so many,” he said. “Using technology and forging valued relationships to, responsibly, bring good food from hook-to-heart is at the core of RogueOne Fisheries. I’m thankful to my family, Captain Tim, the mentors in our sector, and everyone involved with small-scale fishing for the opportunity to advance the progress of family fishermen.”   

Jessica Ann Morris is managing director of jam:pr, a strategic communications firm providing PR and writing services. Convinced she was a Jedi in a former life, Jessica is happily married to a Han-Solo look alike and lives in NH with their four Padawans and two Wookies.

Categories: Food news