, Salem, MA

March 13, 2013

A living from the sea

Danvers market owner used to fish for crabs in dangerous waters

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — DANVERS — Darryl Parker knows what it’s like to work on a commercial fishing boat in the perilous, icy waters of the Bering Sea, as in the hit TV show “Deadliest Catch.”

It’s considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, as fishing crews battle 25- to 35-foot waves to catch king crab.

With the award-winning show entering its ninth season next month, Parker, 60, reflected on his fishing days before moving back to his hometown and buying Cherry Street Fish Market 30 years ago. The market is now located at 26 Hobart St.

Growing up on Riverside Avenue in Danvers, Parker was drawn to the ocean from a young age. He was working on a lobster boat off Cape Cod from 1976 to 1978 when he got a phone call from friends living in Dutch Harbor and Kodiak Island in Alaska.

“They said, ‘You got to get out here. There is so much money,’” Parker recalled. “It was kind of like a gold rush.”

So, he headed to Alaska in search of a job in what was then considered the “Wild West” of the fishing industry.

“I would see boats come in, and I would walk down to the docks asking if they needed a deckhand,” he said. “That is how I got work at first.”

Parker’s work was similar to the television show, he said, but more dangerous, because of the lack of safety regulations for the boats and a different quota system that fueled higher competition among the different crews.

There was the time on the Iron Head, a schooner-style boat, when a fellow crew member went overboard. He remembers the captain struggling to maneuver the boat closer to the man so they could throw a buoy to him.

“We thought we were going to lose him,” Parker said. “You just focus on what you have to do to get him back to the boat. There is no real preparing for a situation like that.”

Despite the danger, Parker said it was rewarding work.

“To do that work, day after day, and come in with a full load, you have a really good feeling of accomplishment,” he said.

Parker moved back to Danvers after five years of working on the Bering Sea, after large numbers of crabs disappeared for unknown reasons.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he said. “I knew it was going to do with fish or fishing. I had nothing to fall back on.”

He ended up buying the market 30 years ago from owners who had opened it only six months earlier. He moved the shop to Hobart Street in 1995.

People come from all over the region to buy fish at the market, and Parker attributes his success to his competitive nature. Many customers still recall when the shop first opened or when it moved from Cherry Street 18 years ago.

“I have a sense of pride in what I sell,” Parker said. “I want to have the No. 1 fish market on the North Shore. I’ve traveled to fish markets all around New England, and I believe I have the best in New England.”

He and manager Lyle Smith travel to Gloucester and Boston every day to pick up fresh seafood.

The biggest change at the store over the years is the type of seafood it sells. When the store first opened, most of its products came from Gloucester. Now, for a number of reasons, he buys fish from all over the world.

On any given day, there could be swordfish from Australia, tuna from South Africa or grouper from Costa Rica.

Parker said he focuses on the products that his customers want. The most popular items are haddock, salmon, lobster, steamers and swordfish.

He said he sometimes misses being on the boat in the open sea.

“It was an adventure to be out there,” he said. “It was dangerous, but it was a lot of fun.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.