15. Chatham Fish Pier
The Fish Pier is second only to the Lighthouse as an iconic Chatham landmark. Members of the fishing fleet make their run each suitable day to the fishing grounds from 3 to 125 miles off Chatham. The boats start returning to the fish pier shortly after noon, depending on the tide and the fishery. The visitors balcony provides a great spot for viewing and picture taking. The catch consists of haddock, cod, flounder, lobster, pollock, dogfish monkfish, skates, and every now and then, a halibut or a tuna. The fresh fish is placed on ice and transported in refrigerated trucks to the New York, Boston, Gloucester, or New Bedford fish auctions, as well as some local markets.
On summer weekends, the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association has seasoned fishermen at the Chatham Fish Pier to tell visitors about an industry that is vital to the Cape’s past, present and future.
Historically, Chatham's shores were crowded with fishing-related operations from the mid-1700’s well into the 20th century. The shores were lined with boatyards, salt works, flake yards for curing fish, racks of drying squid, wharfs and docks. Shanties for storing and repairing gear were everywhere along the shore - Oyster Pond and Oyster River, Mill Pond, around Stage Harbor, and the Old Harbor. Fishing boats brought their catch to docks for off-loading, or the fish were pitch-forked into dories that brought it up to shore. Docks existed in many different areas of town at different times, used until the shifting sands made them useless, or until a nor’easter broke them to pieces.
Getting the catch to market has also been an integral part of the fishing industry. The principal catch for many years was cod, because cod "took" salt better than any other species, making it easier to preserve and transport to market. Salt works sprung up in Chatham, producing salt by evaporating sea water. Windmills were used to pump the sea water into large evaporation vats. Changes that we would today call technology improvements happened throughout the 1800’s, making halibut and other species marketable to Boston and New York. Commercial ice operations began in 1815; saltwater tanks on boats, called fish wells, came along in 1830; and the railroad came to Chatham in 1887. At New York’s Fulton Fish Market, the finest fish, regardless of where they came from, were called “chathams”.
The fish pier was built in 1946, dramatically improving the efficiency of getting the catch off the boats and on the way to market. The facility was built by the town, and was the largest single investment the Town of Chatham had ever made. The Fish Pier was rebuilt and modernized in 1980. The facility is leased to private companies that buy and sell fish. The Fish Pier has been a mainstay tourist attraction from the beginning.
When visiting, please observe local traffic and parking regulations while at the Fish Pier. Parking for visitors is in the upper lot; the lower lot is by permit only.