Tilefish Report from Dock to Dish

Friend of Edible Sean Barrett, founder of Dock to Dish, the first community supported fishery on Long Island, sends out weekly newsletters to his subscribers. It is always jam-packed with information about what’s going on in the fishery, specific species and the men and  women who fish our waters. This week: tilefish. 

Good morning members, we are happy to report a successful landing of The Great Northern Tilefish, aka Golden Tilefish, which is a very abundant mid-Atlantic species and a genuine local Montauk favorite.These tasty and colorful fish derived their nickname from the beautiful golden tile-shaped markings across their blue-green backs. They are well known for the unique flavor and texture of their fillets, which is remarkably similar to that of their favorite prey: lobster.

Image courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

This haul was caught by John Nolan Jr., who is one of the youngest captains in the Dock to Dish alliance and hails from a long local fishing lineage here in this town.The bright red hull of his boat, F/V Sea Capture, and the tendency of his young crew to blast loud rock-and-roll music from the deck, combine to make his fishing outfit one of the most visibly and audibly recognizable in Montauk Harbor.  From a family who has pioneered the development of nylon hook-and-line fishing for Golden Tilefish, John is often far out at sea on overnight trips because he knows that this deep-water species he is after typically goes on the hunt most aggressively after the sun goes down.By carefully coordinating with John Jr. via satellite phone while he was still far out at sea, we were able to reserve the freshest selection of fish from the top of his bountiful harvest for you.  We have now packed them into pure flake ice here on the dock and will be processing this evening, then delivering choice fillets to your pick-up locations on schedule tomorrow.For our weekly recipe recommendation, Pan-Seared Montauk Tilefish with Sautéed Amber Waves Farm Vegetables, please click here where we have also included a suggested Channing Daughters wine pairing for this dish.  For further details and information about Captain John and The Great Northern Tilefish please read on.

Know Your Fisherman

Photo credit Ellie Graham
Twenty-eight year old Captain John Nolan Jr. (left) unloads his haul from the ice hold of F/V Sea Capture at The Montauk Fish Dock, with 1st Mate Trevor ‘Thor’ Funk (on right) and guard dog Spike keeping seagulls at bay. Music by Led Zeppelin absolutely blares in the background.
Since going on his first overnight trip twenty years ago at the age of eight, John has been learning his trade from his father, Captain John Nolan Sr., who showed him how to grow accustomed to a rather rugged work agenda which requires that he be out fishing offshore all night and then unloading the haul on the dock during the day.“At sea,” says John Nolan Jr., “you definitely sleep in shifts.” It’s the type of back-breaking work and around-the-clock schedule that many of the professional chefs participating in the Dock to Dish program can directly relate to, except that the kitchen to which little John reports to each night is typically 80 or more miles offshore. Once there he skillfully navigates the F/V Sea Capture in the dark, hovering anywhere from five hundred to fifteen-hundred feet above the ocean floor while roving up and down the outer edges of the continental shelf and slope between the Block and Atlantis Canyons. His exact offshore locations are intentionally never discussed for obvious reasons (primarily that his best fishing spots not be found out) but for generations, Montauk captains with the last name Nolan have gone there in search of this one colorful fish. Tilefish is an elusive species with a diverse diet and they are known to feed on squid, herring, clam, crab and most heavily on the prey that lends this fish it’s flavor: juvenile lobster.
Image courtesy of NOAA Fisheries
This species was first discovered in 1879, when cod fishermen caught some by chance while working off of the coast of Nantucket. Since that time it has been discovered that The Great Northern Tilefish has a unique burrowing behavior and habitat preference along the Atlantic coast.It is very abundant, specifically here in the Mid-Atlantic region, where in some areas off Montauk near the Hudson Canyon there are a reported 2,500 burrows per square kilometer. The latest NOAA stock assessment shows that the Mid-Atlantic population is not only fully sustainable but actually above the target level.The Sea Capture is one of three tilefish boats in Montauk, and this trio works hard year round harvesting tilefish quota assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s region, which stretches from New York to North Carolina.

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Eileen M. Duffy

Eileen M. Duffy DWS holds a diploma in wines and spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Her book on Long Island wine Behind the Bottle came out in 2015. Visit her website, eileenmduffy.com, to find out what else she's working on.