Narragansett – Bringing with them at least three vessels and an estimated 7 million pounds of catch annually, the Reposa family of Narragansett is moving their fishing business from New Bedford to the Port of Galilee.
Coming full circle, the family, whose first vessel docked at Galilee in 1957, is bringing its fourth-generation business full-circle and moving home to Point Judith.
“My family has been here forever,” said Jeremy Reposa in an interview at the Great Island Road location. “It will be nice to get back here and maybe pick up some of these guys, too,” he said motioning down the docks.
Receiving lease approval from the Galilee Lease Advisory Committee (GLAC) and state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) last Thursday, Peter Reposa and his son, Jeremy plan to get underway immediately. Garnering a spot at 272 Great Island Road, the Reposa’s plan includes a new packing house and administrative offices at the port.
Both father and son were raised in Narragansett – Peter a lifelong resident and Jeremy now living in South Kingstown. Representing two of four generations, the men talked of fishing as a lifestyle with no regrets for their chosen path.
“I’ve fished for 38 years straight,” said Peter Reposa. “I fished from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland down to the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “I fished my entire life.”
The Reposa family came to Rhode Island from Portugal, with Peter’s grandparents settling here. His roots are in Narragansett where he still lives in the family home, purchased in 1958, now his.
“My father (Arthur) bought his first boat, the Priscilla V and fished out of Point Judith,” he recalled. “That was in 1957.” Before that he worked on other vessels out of the Point. As told, the Priscilla V, formerly named the Midway came from the Vineyard. After the Priscilla V came the King Neptune and then the Monte Carlo.
“The Midway sunk coming from the Great Round Shoal. She hit a shoal spot and sank,” Reposa said. “He raised her, bought her when she was on the bottom. He hauled her out and brought her here. I can remember it as a kid.”
The third generation Reposa’s first trip to sea was on the King Neptune at just six years old, fishing yellow tails. When they came back in, eight days later, the hurricane dyke was closed and they had to wait to come in to port.
“As a six year-old kid, do you think I was anxious to get off there after eight days?” he asked. “You’re talking about no TV, no video games, none of that modern convenience stuff – not even a transistor radio. Just work that’s all.”
Keeping with tradition, Jeremy too went to sea at age six. The next and fourth generation of fishermen in the family, Jeremy said he is in for the long haul.
“I enjoy everything about it,” he said. “The captain of the Alexis is only 31. He and I both went to college and we both chose this over everything else.”
The family business, KSJ Seafood, Inc. (KSJ) currently operates out of New Bedford. The family moved the business out of Galilee thirteen years ago for a short stint in Connecticut and then on to New Bedford. In their absence from Point Judith, the company has grown. Wanting more control over the pricing of their catch and profit, Peter developed a business model different than what was traditionally seen in port. Instead of “taking out” at Port and selling his catch to a middle man at the docks, Peter decided to handle the sales aspect also. That decision, made more than a decade ago, worked at the New Bedford port and the Reposa’s saw their business thrive.
“On any product you have a sliding scale.” said Peter. “The more they get, the more they take. The bigger the dollar the higher the price. I sell my own product. Nobody wanted to do that here. We’ve kind of created our own markets. The only way I could come back is if I had my own spot,” said Peter.
Grown from one boat to three, Reposa owns two vessels, the Alexis Martina and the Olivia Catherine. KSJ also manages takeout and sales for another Galilee vessel, the Charlie’s Pride. Reposa’s vessels were named after Peter’s two granddaughters with the boys in the family being allowed to add a rendition of the character SpongeBob to both ships.
KSJ fishes all year round with their main catches of whiting and squid sold primarily at the Fulton Fish Markets in New York City. According to Peter, they catch more whiting than squid because whiting is more accessible year round.
“We used to switch over and go ground fishing. Now the company stays strictly white fish and squid as there have been no shut-downs in those markets. Once in awhile you might reach your quota and then shut down for a little bit,” said Peter.
The Galilee lease, new packing house and move home are a good business move for the family and also will provide a better quality of life, with Jeremy and his father not having to commute to New Bedford.
“I will be able to keep it relatively our business here. We work hard. My boats don’t stop very often. We take out and they go. Take out, stay a day and go,” Peter said. “They don’t lay around the dock.”
Now setting to continue the family business in Point Judith, Peter reminisced about the history of the port where his father was one of the early members of the Point Judith Fishermen’s Cooperative Association. The co-op or COOP, formed in 1948 to help local fishermen sell their product at a fair price. According to information obtained from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the COOP disbanded in 1994 due to increased regulation and the evolution of the local fishing industry.
KSJ is looking to start work as soon as the lease is signed with the state, getting bids on the building, securing the necessary state and local permits, and moving the process along for a fresh start in the spring.
“I think it’s good for us, too. I would love to be in here in the Spring,” said the younger Reposa. “That would be my target-Spring.”
KSJ will be sharing Docks G&H at the port with its neighbors and offloading directly to their own facility. Once the fish is lumped out, it will be packed and trucked out to market.
“The “H” dock will pretty much be all ours,” said the younger Reposa. “Only one boat can come in at a time. Alexis is the longer and wider of the two. The plan right now, is for taking out on H dock. We’re hoping to install a conveyor on the H dock to bring the product up and into the building.”
Jeremy, who has taken over administration of the business, went to New England Tech for construction management. He started his own company and worked two jobs, building and then lumping fish for KSJ seven days a week.
“It was pretty tough,” he said. “When you got done lumping 30,000 pounds of whiting – I had to drive back from New Bedford, start on a roof. I had had enough when my dad said he wanted to buy another boat and bring me more into operating the business.”
Peter told him that one condition of taking on the family business was that “this is going to be your only job.” Jeremy was just fine with that arrangement.
“I’ve been brought up by him to lead since the day I was born,” said Reposa. “I’ve always wanted to be in charge, whether it was on the football team or anything else.”
Dealing with the construction side of the business won’t be alien to Jeremy although he has no intentions of building the packing house. That part of the endeavor will be handled independently by contractors, while Jeremy transitions the business and boats to the port.
“I’ll be in charge. I’ll be the one on the call board. I’ll still be down here every day unloading the fish, and selling the fish to Fulton,” he said. “We’ll probably need about 3-4 people. Depending on the volume, the number of boats that may come with us. It may be closer to part-time jobs when we start. Once we get busier, there might be more opportunity, with boxes to build and packing.”
Taking over the family business means opportunity for growth and expansion in Reposa’s eyes. In addition to increasing the load capacity at the Port, Reposa wants to work with the restaurant community, too. He would like to develop a way to get a portion of their catch directly to local restaurants.
“We’re probably not done buying boats either. If the right deal comes out there, we’ll look into it without a doubt. I’m here for the long haul and so is the captain. We’re bringing the catch and the weight back here. We’re still going to sell to New York, but there will be development and money here. About seven million pounds will be added to Point Judith. New Bedford is above Point Judith in catch weight per port. Our weight is there,” said Reposa. “Roughly we’ll be taking 7 million pounds from them and putting it here at this Port. That’s a lot of weight. That’s with only three boats. Think about how many trips we had to make.”
U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood valued at $5.1 billion in 2012. For the 13th year in a row, New Bedford, with 143 million pounds valued at $411 million, had the highest-valued catch, due to its concentration in the sea scallop fishery. NOAA reported that sea scallops accounted for over 80 percent of the value of landings in New Bedford in 2012.
The owner of the Charlie’s Pride agreed to return to Galilee with KSJ, too.
“He is up there (New Bedford) with us now. He is another one that was here in Galilee forever. He came up with us about three years ago,” said Reposa. “He’s a big part in helping us become pretty much, the biggest whiting producers on the East Coast – hands down.”
The ship crews are mostly Rhode Island residents and will be traveling back to Galilee with KSJ. The extended Reposa family has been at the Port for a long time, too, according to Reposa. Whether it be aunts, uncles, cousins, or KSJ, the Reposa family is known at that port of Galilee. A family of fishermen, market and dockworkers, the Reposas are at home in Galilee.
“I’ve had a lot of fun fishing and I’ve had my ass kicked fishing. I’m not complaining,” said the elder Reposa.