Forty years ago, any commercial fisherman in Maine heading out to groundfish for days would’ve had to load up on ice. Lots of it.
It was a backbreaking process: big blocks were crushed on the dock and shoveled onboard—into a boat’s “fish hold”—to preserve a fresh catch. On a hot day, it was a race against time, as much of the ice would melt.
Then and now Vessel Services on the Portland Fish Pier has proudly served the fishing industry. We provide not only diesel fuel, fishing gear and apparel—but as for that bulk ice? Now we send it by air and blowers through hoses: up to 30 tons an hour!
To share stories like these regarding the spectacular history of the Portland waterfront—as well as Vessel’s story— General Manager Mike Foster and President Alan Tracy developed a new fishing podcast series called “Fish Pier Perspectives” in March. Our first episode is “The History of Vessel Services”—with many other episodes in the hold.
In the coming months we’ll introduce listeners to a cast of characters, lend insight into the status of commercial fisheries and provide the latest news affecting the Portland, Maine waterfront. Our story is about the community that’s fished here for generations and what is going on now in Portland fishing.
As Mike says, we’re lucky we get to sit in the middle of the action, here on the Portland Fish Pier. Each day we watch the Maine lobster and commercial fishermen and visiting yachts pass by. There’s so much we hope to share by showcasing our waterfront community.
As we’ve evolved, our work has changed too. It’s more than about our commercial vessel and yacht services and marine goods—it’s about the people.
Tuning in to the Fishing Podcast
With visitors finding their way to the end of Portland Fish Pier, many coming to our marine shop on the edge of Casco Bay are intrigued about the area and the industry. It’s the nature of their questions that gave birth to the fishing podcast.
In our first episode, we share how Vessel Services began. The idea was hatched by a group of local commercial fishermen who needed bulk ice and marine diesel fuel. We’ll talk about key players in Vessel’s history and how they transformed this unique organization into a mainstay business on the Portland Fish Pier.
Mike and Alan also share their journey to Vessel Services. Mike started working the docks 20 years ago, delivering ice and setting up Vessel’s retail store. He also worked alongside his father Robert, who started Vessel’s Gear Division in the early 90s, selling items like wire rope and shackles.
As president, Alan came aboard in 2010 as a practicing attorney, taking a leadership role during a time of transition. For the past 10 years he’s been busy managing stakeholder relations and working with Mike to develop Vessel’s future on the waterfront.
Ice, Ice Baby
A major aspect of our business is ice. In our first episode we take an in-depth look at Vessel’s ice supply and delivery business. From its inception, we’ve offered ice in all forms including: bulk, bagged, dry, specialty, boutique and event ice.
The bulk and bagged ice business has become red hot in recent years: we produce 100 tons of ice a day at our Portland, Maine waterfront facility. As the only bulk ice retailer in Maine, we’re selling and delivering ice throughout the region via our fleet of refrigerated trailers, or freezers for rent.
For commercial fishermen, Vessel can pump up to 30 tons of bulk ice per hour in the holds of ships via an efficient air delivery system. Harvesting fresh fish is what Maine’s ground fishery has been all about—as opposed to commercial fishermen freezing their catch at sea.
The name of the game at Vessel is adapting to customer needs—whether a person requires a specialty ice cube for a high-end cocktail, or a shipload. We keep busy delivering bulk ice for weddings, beer festivals and 300-pound slabs of specialty ice for carving. During COVID-19 we even were contacted by the government to potentially ship temperature-sensitive vaccines on our dry ice of -110 degrees. We even learned clients used dry ice to eradicate bedbugs!
To support our ice delivery service throughout southern Maine, Vessel added refrigerated trucks and trailers to our delivery fleet, with specially-made white refrigerated boxes.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Vessel’s ice business isn’t the only aspect of our operation we’ve modernized.
As Mike says, commercial fishermen these days want to proudly “brand” themselves as members of the working waterfront—without having to advertise themselves with the scent and slime of a day’s hard work. The tell-tale bright orange Grundens Commercial Fishing Bib Pants, (considered the best waterproof bibs for fishing) offer a great first step in protection.
Later, to reach more folks interested in fishing gear and apparel, we’ve bolstered our in-shop offerings with an online store. There we’re selling trendy hoodies, sweatpants, hats, Maine anchor sweatshirts, and t-shirts. Custom printing and embroidery is also an option, more on this soon!
True fishermen need never fear: Vessel will forever keep the store fully stocked with fishermen supplies, including: fishing jackets, fish processing gloves, boating supplies, boots, knives, and everything else that they have come to expect.
And Vessel donates 5% of all online store sales to support commercial fishing organizations including the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, NOAA Fisheries and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. While we’re developing a new business, we honor our clients and the legacy our founders envisioned. It’s who we are.
Check out the full first episode here: “The History of Vessel Services” .
Want more? Sign-up for fishing podcast alerts and our monthly newsletter, here. And be sure to check out our additional episodes including: “The Different Fisheries of Portland” and “Seaspiracy and April Council Meeting” on iTunes and Spotify.