The Chatham Fish Pier is one of the most photographed sites in Chatham. It is best in late afternoon when the fishing boats return to unload their daily catch. Park in the lot above the pier and walk down, the lower lot is only for fishermen. This is the same lot all the newscasters broadcast from whenever there is a big storm on the Atlantic Seaboard.
Beloved by fishermen and sea captains for centuries, Chatham has preserved both its seaside flavor and sense of history. Native Americans valued this area for its rich fishing waters and abundant wildlife and those of us who live here today have continued that tradition. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Chatham Fish Pier.
Stop at The Fisherman's Memorial, before you go down the stairs. The steel sculpture is located at the Pier entrance, and serves as a reminder of the many fishermen who work hard in fair weather and foul. At the memorial you can see metal replicas of the many fish caught daily off the Chatham shores and brought to the fish pier.
Descend the stairs, walk across the parking lot and climb the stairs on the left side of the building to watch from the Observation Deck. This is where most of the action takes place. The fishing boats don't start returning until midday. If you happen to be there when there are no boats take some time to be acquainted with the landscape. There is a very calm and serene peace that seems to pervade the Fish Pier.
In the foreground you can see small, sandy Tern Island directly in front of you. It is piled with sand dredged from the harbor last year. The fishermen store their traps and other gear there. In the distance, across the way lies Chatham's North Beach, the local name for the section of the Nauset barrier beach that extends into the town of Chatham.
It is an extension of Cape Cod's great Outer Beach,a magnificent beach that runs for many miles along the shores of many Cape Cod towns. Periodically it is ripped apart by the seas, its coastline ever changing. You can see the old cottages that remain. In an ongoing drama, erosion keeps claiming them during storms and washing them off their foundations into Chatham Harbor.
You can take a day trip out to North Beach by boat - the beach is pristine and there are few people around. You have a choice of the quiet Bay side or you can hike across to the ocean side. There is no food or facilities so you have to take everything with you. It's a great day at the beach!
The real action begins when the fishing boats return. Seagulls perk up and start hovering expectantly. They also get real noisy knowing that dinner is coming. They are looking for handouts from the fishing boats and they aren't very polite. They will brazenly go after anything not tied down!
Watch a fishing boat pull up to the dock, its two large containers on deck overflowing with ice to preserve the fish until the catch is unloaded. The fishermen fill the large bucket hoists with fish which then rise and are positioned above the delivery chute leading to the fish slide. The most fun is watching the fish cascade out of the buckets and down the fish slide. Once down the slide, they are packed into boxes with more ice and loaded onto waiting trucks for delivery to markets all over the world.
When the fishing boats start unloading, Chatham's seals start cruising by. There about 500 harbor seals that hang out near the fish pier and the beaches surrounding it. When the fishing boats unload at the end of the day the seals gather underneath the boats for whatever scraps wash over. Occasionally, they'll get a whole fish and a seagull will swoop out of the sky and try to steal it before the seal submerges.
You can check out the action first hand with the Fish Pier Telecam. Pictures are uploaded every half hour. Closer off to the right of the main pier is another dock, new last year. The water taxis, charters and private boats dock there.
No Chatham visit is complete without a stop at the Fish Pier!