Newport Lobster Shack Connects Fishermen and Customers

The co-op allows them to sell their catch to the public.

There’s something about buying directly from a lobsterman. When you wander over to a fishing boat, it feels almost as if you landed the catch yourself. Down at Newport Lobster Shack on Long Wharf pier, you can purchase straight from the source during set business hours, rather than tracking down lobstermen at the end of a work day. The Newport Lobster Shack is a fishermen’s co-op that allows twenty-five to twenty-six boats working out of Newport to pool their licenses under one roof and sell to the general public through its market and casual outdoor restaurant. Colorful buoys are displayed outside the shack, each representing a different local lobsterman.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management had the vision to create the co-op, says lobsterman and co-op manager David Spencer, who has been fishing since 1973. “They have been extremely supportive as we’ve grown,” he says. “They recognize this as a strategy for smaller fishermen surviving in challenging times.”

It’s a win-win for lobstermen, residents and tourists. “It’s a much more level playing field for everyone here,” Spencer says, adding that lobstermen are paid as much as 30 percent more for their catch by the co-op than by a dealer. The public can also enjoy cheaper prices. Though the Shack can’t take everything brought in by boats, it makes an impact on income. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened in terms of integrating the fishing community into the city of Newport,” he says.

The Shack’s market is starting its seventh season, while the food trailer is welcoming its second full season, serving lobster rolls, steamed lobsters, lobster nuggets and more through the counter and enjoyed at picnic tables overlooking the waterfront.

“Fresh is exactly what you get,” says Newport Lobster Shack director of marketing Laura Blackwell. “It’s not fancy; it’s fresh, simple seafood on the waterfront. My favorite part is when kids are down. The first time someone eats a lobster — that burns in your brain.”

The view frames the same lobster boats that landed the seafood. Lobstermen simply go out and fish, then return with their catch, and the Shack will buy as many lobsters as it can handle. Most participants drop their crates of lobsters in the tanks, tag them with their name and go about their day. A Shack staff member (oftentimes a family member of a fisherman) sells the lobsters and food seven days a week in the summer, and three days a week in winter at the market. The restaurant opens seasonally on a limited basis starting in May and continues through the fall.

Parties can order live or steamed lobsters in advance for take-home dinners or big events, and live lobsters, crabs and conch are always available for purchase by the public in the market. The Shack can also ship anywhere in the continental United States.

Not only do the lobstermen make a better living by participating in the co-op, but it also helps make the industry more sustainable. “We get a better return for the fisherman, that’s for sure,” says longtime lobsterman Dennis Ingram, who has been fishing for twenty-six years and quahogging for another ten. “It’s easier, safer and saner.”

As more high-end residences, timeshares and luxury boats take over Newport’s waterfront, the Shack survives. “If you were to take a snapshot of this place even twenty years ago from what it is today, it’s completely different,” Ingram says. “The most important thing about the Shack is it’s going to keep us here.”

150 Long Wharf, Newport, 847-1700,