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Fish Tales: Aaron Williams carries on the 'Tradition'

Editor's note: Today we profile the captains of Stonington's fishing fleet, whose occupation, arguably one of the most dangerous, is steeped in tradition. Some of their families have been fishing for generations, and some of their ancestors' names are listed on the Town Dock memorial of those lost at sea. Some augment their income with other jobs. All of them have a calling, and a love for the open water.

Stonington — For captain Aaron Williams, it only makes sense that his family's two fishing boats are named the Tradition and the Heritage.

"That's what fishing is to us," he said one day earlier this month while sitting in the pilot house of the 55-foot Tradition. 

The 1998 Westerly High School graduate said he always knew he wanted to go fishing. But when his grades began to slip after football season, his father, Tom, told him that if he did not graduate, he would not be fishing on the father's boat.

So, he buckled down and graduated.

Williams, now married with two young children, remembers when a high school guidance counselor, knowing what his family did, asked if she should bother talking to him about college. 

"She never tried to sway me. She knew I was going fishing. I always wanted to do it," Williams recalled.

He also remembered a teacher telling him he would not be successful if he went fishing. 

"I made more money my first year than she did," he said.

The Williams' family owned the Roann, a wooden eastern-rig dragger purchased in 1997 by Mystic Seaport and restored a decade later. The 74-year-old boat, which Aaron Williams began fishing on as a child, is now on display on the museum's waterfront as an example of the rugged fishing boats that once were common in the waters of New England.  

Today, Aaron and his two crewmen run the Tradition and his brother Tom captains the Heritage. From spring through fall, the Tradition mostly fishes days trips, venturing one to 10 miles offshore. In the winter, when conditions can turn dangerous rapidly, they chase fish as far as 100 miles offshore.

Williams says they now face the impact of hundreds of massive offshore wind turbines being placed in their traditional fishing grounds, which fishermen say will not only damage the marine environment and impact their catches but create a danger to navigation.

In addition to the impact of wind farms, Williams said it's the lack of younger help that scares him the most as the crew gets older.

"We have guys in their fifties trying to act like they are in their twenties," he said. "It may come to the point where there's an ocean full of fish and no one to harvest them."


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