November 26, 2004: Headlines: COS - India: Fishing: Martha's Vineyard Gazette: Chris Murphy spent two years in the Peace Corps in India working with shrimp fishermen

Peace Corps Online: Directory: India: Peace Corps India: The Peace Corps in India: November 26, 2004: Headlines: COS - India: Fishing: Martha's Vineyard Gazette: Chris Murphy spent two years in the Peace Corps in India working with shrimp fishermen

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Chris Murphy spent two years in the Peace Corps in India working with shrimp fishermen

Chris Murphy spent two years in the Peace Corps in India working with shrimp fishermen

Chris Murphy spent two years in the Peace Corps in India working with shrimp fishermen

Chris Murphy Hangs Up the Nets to Chase a Life Beyond Fishing


Christopher Woollcott Murphy has quit fishing. The 58-year-old Menemsha commercial fisherman - who has memorized the charts and waters around Martha's Vineyard and beyond - is ready to sell his 42-foot fishing boat Theresa M.


But he won't sell it to just anyone.

"I am looking to sell it to an Island kid as opposed to selling it to someone from off-Island," he says.

On a leisurely November morning, Captain Murphy sits on the starboard gunwale of a boat he has partnered with for a decade. He's here to check on the boat's well-being in the off-season.

He wears a signature Menemsha swordfish cap - barn red with a long black shiny bill. The engine roars, while the boat is tied to the fragile dock. There's no plan to go anywhere right now.

Mr. Murphy tosses rice cakes into the water. A half dozen herring gulls squawk as they compete for a meal. The 450-horsepower GM diesel residing below deck sings for a few minutes.

The harbor is quiet again, once the engine is shut down. This time of year, the visit is a weekly routine for this fisherman and his boat.

Captain Murphy is bringing closure to a lifetime of bow waves and stern wake. "I am ready to do something else. This is a young man's business, period, end of story," the captain says.

True enough, but Captain Murphy has a boatload of stories to tell.

To many Islanders, he is the son of Polly Woollcott Murphy and Stanley Murphy, the celebrated portrait painter who died in July of 2003.

To others, Chris Murphy is an active voice in Chilmark town affairs. On the water, he is a fisherman, one who dabbled and worked hard in just about every fishery.

"I am not a Poole, or a Larsen or a Mayhew," he says. "I've always looked for the little things I could do to make money." Name the species, and Mr. Murphy has fished for it - from harpooning swordfish, the king of the sea, to netting herring wiggling upstream.

As far back as he can remember, Captain Murphy recalls getting his feet wet. His mother summered as a child on West Chop.

And though he was born in Baltimore, the Vineyard has always been home. He attended all seven grades in the two-room Menemsha School. He started fishing commercially as a 13-year-old boy.

"I used to go digging for steamers with Bill Whiting. He died in a car accident when he was 16 years old.


"I sold steamers to Everett Poole in Menemsha and Eldridge's Fish Market in Edgartown," he says.

Then there were other markets. "When we ran out of local markets, we shipped via dolly freight to Sam Cahoon of Woods Hole," he adds.

At times, he peddled his shellfish door to door. "I did it all through high school. I remember riding my bike from our house on South Road to Menemsha before daylight, so I could go swordfishing with who ever would take me," he says.

In those days, a captain might substitute a missing crewman with a young neighborhood boy. "You got $10 if you were the first to spot a fish," he says.

Back then, swordfish swam in close and were harpooned in waters just south of the Vineyard. "It was a day trip. We'd go just south of Noman's Land. If you got a fish it was a big deal," he says.

He built a 12-foot plywood skiff when he was 14, and it served him through high school.

There's a consistency to Chris Murphy's life. The word "fish" is on every line of his resume.

"I don't think I ever said to myself, I want to be a fisherman.' It just happened," he says. When he was 18 or 19, he worked for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on a research vessel that sailed to the Caribbean.

He spent two years in the Peace Corps in India working with shrimp fishermen. For another two years, he was at the University of Rhode Island School of Fisheries.

Back on the terra firma of Martha's Vineyard, Mr. Murphy married Barbara Theresa Thomas on Sept. 6, 1969, an Islander with roots in Oak Bluffs. Mrs. Murphy later became a celebrated Spanish teacher at the Vineyard regional high school.

In the first years of their marriage, Captain Murphy fished out of Point Judith, R.I., on a variety of different boats. He fished on old wooden eastern rig fishing boats and saw the transition to western rig steel hull boats.

"Somewhere in there, I had a 38-foot Novi boat called John and Kay. I went lobstering in her from Block island to Noman's Land," he says.

He also went offshore lobstering for five or six years in larger vessels. In 1974, Mr. Murphy and his family moved back to the Vineyard.

Mr. Murphy may be one of the last Island fishermen to operate a fish weir, a stationery fish net set with barrels and anchors.


"I set it up outside of Menemsha and had a great deal of fun. It took two years before I went completely broke. The only reason I didn't go bankrupt was I didn't know how," he says, adding:

"I went back to fishing in the pond." He fished for perch. He fished for herring in the spring, steamers in the summer, eels in the fall and oysters in the winter. "For ten years I was the only fisherman oystering in Tisbury Great Pond," he says.

"I may be one of the last commercial eel fishermen," he says.

When Mr. Murphy's daughter Hope visited from college, she'd go out harvesting shellfish with her father.

He remembers years ago driving with Don Ives to the Fulton Fish Market in New York city hauling 7,000 pounds of live eels with them. They drove all night to get to the market by 2 a.m.

"Don and I started clambakes 25 years ago as a way to sell what we caught in the Great Pond," he says. He has since turned the successful business over to his daughter, Mary Boyd.

"On occasion she lets me work for her," he smiles.

While there were other boats, Theresa M. has been the most reliable in the quickly changing world of commercial fishing.

The Provincial fiberglass boat is rigged for dragging and lobstering or pot fishing. In the last ten years, Mr. Murphy says he has had the job of fishing for squid in the spring, fluke in the summer and filling in the edges of his day pursuing lobster and conch.

"I feel I got this boat at the right time. It is great for one man and a dog named Sol. Sometimes my wife has come along and helped," he says.

There is a lot more value to this boat than metal, plastic, fiberglass and memories.

"Fishing is a great way to live. I fished to make a living, to create a life I enjoy. The downside," he says candidly, "is sometimes you make really good money and sometimes you make none at all."

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Story Source: Martha's Vineyard Gazette

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - India; Fishing



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