In the predawn hours of mid-July, Chatham plays host to a chaotic scene that has become commonplace in this otherwise laconic Cape Cod village. Hundreds of fishermen flock to the shore to jockey for position and launch their boats. Frustrations run high, and arguments often erupt. There is a lot of shouting and a little shoving over violations of unwritten rules and affronts real and imagined.
It is the start of Massachusetts’ commercial striped bass season, and each fisherman who has traveled here — whether from across town or from Canada — is anxious to get a line in the water. Chatham is at the epicenter of the mayhem because schools of stripers congregate off its coast, the town’s launches are closest to them, and 60 percent of the one million pounds of Massachusetts striped bass that go to market are caught there each year. The fishery generates approximately $23 million in total economic activity.