Joel and Anne Fox
Joel Fox goes to Alaska's Kenai Penninsula for two weeks a year and brings back 40 pounds of salmon and halibut. In winter, he visits family in Florida and fishes the Keys. But for more than a quarter century, Joel has made his living as a Wellfleet shellfish farmer. At 74, he's the senior member of the village's aquaculture community, and a very familiar face around town.
Joel and wife, Anne, have been in this, their second marriage, for 32 years. Between them, they have seven children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
As a long-time Wellfleet resident, and summer vacationer since the 1950's, Joel has seen many changes in the village. "Wellfleet has changed, it's more complex now, not the quaint little fishing community it used to be," Joel observes. "What used to be enough money to live on for a month, now would only last a week."
But he emphasizes that whatever the changes on land, the waters around Wellfleet remain justly famous for producing delicious oysters and clams. "Shellfish are stationary animals," Joel explains, "the tide brings the food to them. Anything you can do to assure the flow is like watering your garden at home. Wellfleet has good movement of water, the tidal flow changes from 0' to 9' in some places, and that's what makes the shellfish so good."
Having seen the ebb and flow of the aquaculture business for many years, Joel applies no sugarcoating. "It's not an easy business. Like most things with nature, it's a gamble. Just when you think you know all about it, Mother Nature throws you a curve."
He moved to the Cape from Naugatuck, Conn., where he was a tool setter in a manufacturing plant that made hinges. He met Anne, who also worked there, when they were in their 40's. When they came to Wellfleet in 1978, Joel fished for bass commercially for the first two years and Anne worked with the Friends of the Council of Aging.
They both quickly fell into rhythm with the Cape. Anne underscores: "We are homebodies and creatures of habit." They love to garden and grow their own fruits and vegetables. Anne puts up her own jams, as well as making zucchini relish that she brings by the quart when she visits their children in Alabama. Anne also loves to knit and do crossword puzzles: "I'm more addicted to my house than anything."
Joel's favorite hobby is tying fishing flies. Each winter he hunts and provides venison, which he lauds for its health properties--"no artery-clogging stuff". Another of his interests is birds: "I'm about to take them as dependents on my income tax," he jokes.
Knowledgeable and very free with his advice, the longtime shellfisherman has this tip about ordering clams in a restaurant. "I'd only order them where there's lots of turnover. When shellfish are in a cooler, they can't filter, and so they are stronger-tasting. That won't hurt you," Joel adds, "but you can taste the difference. It's a little bit like the difference between prime and choice steaks.