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Blended Waters: It’s simply unbelievable!

It’s safe to assume that most of our population enjoys seafood and it’s likely that if you’re reading this, you do as well. I know I do. But not everyone who enjoys a plate of fish, shrimp, crab etc. realizes what goes into retrieving the delicious seafood we eat. Please let me enlighten you just a bit.

On any given day, most Americans prepare for work by charging up their laptop, preparing notes for a presentation, organize their briefcase etc., but there are enormous considerations a commercial fisherman must make to prepare for his work. He must consider safety first; the safety of the vessel and the crew and returning safely back to the dock is paramount.

He studies weather patterns, ocean currents, wind velocity and often calls out to his watermen brothers already “outside” to hear the conditions first-hand. If the report he gets from his buddies is favorable, he finalizes the last details and heads to the dock. Always, his work day (or week) is dependent primarily on the weather. His hope is always that the forecast won’t change drastically within a couple of days of leaving home, especially after adding up all the expenses for bait, ice, fuel, tackle and groceries for crews of 2 or more. Always, he wonders if he’ll have a good chance to make that money back and then some . . . maybe even good money to support his family.

Most of the fishermen I know are very serious about what they do. They work hard . . . always, but when the weather’s against them . . . they hardly work. It isn’t because they’re lazy or irresponsible, it’s because no vessel owner or operator in their right mind will venture off shore if he/she feels the risk is too great; not to mention the expenditures just laid out for the “trip.” If a nor’easter is headed our way, leaving the dock isn’t wise. Sometimes, because weather has already presented challenges for days and even weeks before departure, long line boats will push forward and attempt a few “sets” at least planning to get back in before the weather gets too bad. After all, a few sets are better than nothing, right?

Of course, all things considered, if the weather doesn’t look favorable for at least a few days, a captain and his/her crew must consider other factors namely the current condition of the boat; does anything need repair that can’t wait? are the hydraulics good? Nobody wants to be caught off shore with faulty hydraulics and no ability to steer or steam home safely! But sometimes things happen when you least expect it . . . you just hope for the best, stay on top of your boats functionality and take the best care you can to ensure when you leave the dock at least . . . everything’s good to go . . . its critical!

Watermen aren’t whiners. They do what they do because they love what they do and even though the long, hard and stressful hours on the water carve deep creases in their foreheads, calluses on their hands and contribute greatly to serious back problems, they press on enduring relentless wind, driving rain, thunder storms and lightening . . . again, all because they love what they do. They are watermen . . . they are farmers of the sea.

They provide healthy, fresh seafood that visitors and locals alike buy at our local seafood markets and grocery stores; they leave the dock countless times with weather uncertainty vs. staying at home spending precious time with their families. But, knowing they risk skipping a pay check that may not come again for weeks or longer, they push forward. Hopefully they’ll have a safe and somewhat profitable catch. If he/she is the only breadwinner in the family or a single parent, options are limited even further – they must provide for their children and pay the businesses they’ve acquired fishing equipment/supplies from.

Depending on what type of fishing they do, and if they’re an ocean fisherman, he’s typically conversed with other captains off shore to re-verify conditions; are the fish biting that he hopes to catch? if he’s long lining, how abundant are the sharks that literally destroy their gear? are the whales still chasing and eating the boat’s catch before they can retrieve it? Between sharks and whales, it’s a race to even get allowable catch over the stern and into the boat before the head is all that’s left still on the hook. No joke! Seriously! Sharks that many falsely believe are so threatened are hungry and they see the small family owned fishing vessels as “eye candy.” It’s a race against time, weather and over populated species. Besides that, while the boat is off shore, they are watched . . . literally watched. At times during the year the boats are required to take an assigned “observer” for that very purpose – to be observed, hence “watched.”

In addition, the “observers” are required to sail out with the crew to notate what’s being caught, how much is caught and nearly every aspect of the “trip” is documented. The observers? They are both male and female and they are onboard for the whole trip, not only days at a time, sometimes even a week to oversee what takes place and to scrutinize every move a fishing vessel makes collecting data. I must wonder if the “data” adequately depicts the massive shark population that follow the boats and gorge on the fisherman’s catch creating more hardship for the fishing industry. Do the reports reflect the benefit of hard-working watermen and women and good, fresh seafood or do they favor   conservative quotas? I think the answer is clear.

Oh, and by the way . . . the “observers” aren’t the only means in which our watermen are scrutinized . . . they are also required to install video tape equipment to tape the catches; then, the tapes (the watermen are required to pay for each time) must be mailed (usually certified) within a limited time frame along with additional relative paperwork to the National Marine Fisheries Service (N.M.F.S.) and not only that, but tracking devices are also required. What in the world? How have we gotten to this point? Why? These commercial fishing boats aren’t the huge (what I call) vacuum tankers, for goodness sake! Commercial boats vary in size but can only hold so much yield and only store so much ice AND . . . even further . . . the boats are not allowed to leave the dock if the tracking device isn’t working or if the cameras aren’t working. W-H-A-T? this is ridiculous!

Think for a minute about how the industry relates to those at the dock who own or manage the fish houses, cull the fish, weigh it, ice and pack it, load it on the trucks, the truck drivers who deliver it near and far in a timely manner and  other jobs that depend on the fishing industry; the boat builders . . . ohh, wait a minute, am I crazy? . . . did I really reference that? I forgot for a second how few commercial boat builders there are nowadays . . . guess all those regulations have diminished the industry so much so that many have changed their profession, craft or expertise . . . hummm . . . what about the diesel mechanics, electricians, welders, divers, marine suppliers, electronics specialists that depend on the industry? Oops . . . hold the phone! I forgot about the fees that fishermen are required to pay for permits, licenses, etc. also.

Our fishing families are a proud lot. They know it’s their choice to do what they do; they know too that with so many unreasonable restrictions placed on them, they can either “keep on keeping on” or give up, look for a whole new career . . . and at what age? Lose everything they’ve sacrificed so much for or stay on course and hold to family tradition, their heritage, their ability to sail the ocean blue simply in a quest to catch and deliver quality seafood that we know is property handled and made available to consumers.

Anybody who reads Blended Waters who wants to believe that commercial fishermen are oblivious to the fact that we need to protect our beautiful oceans and the bounty it holds is foolish. Fishermen depend on fish being out there, they don’t want to see species depleted and they are more scholarly than given credit for. They have years and years of experience, they observe daily. They have great knowledge about what REALLY goes on in the ocean and – no offense to those who tally data all day at a desk – watermen are the real deal.

The waters below their vessels and the sky above talks to them . . . these watermen have eyes in their head – they see over population of some species of sharks that threaten other species. They endure weather, loss of expensive gear that is destroyed literally due to the massive population of shark and all they want, all they need, is fair and responsible fisheries management and adjusted allowances as warranted.

The Outer Banks is the most beautiful place in the world to most of us who live here. We love our men and women who are true watermen. We value people like Capt. Marty Brill and members of North Carolina Watermen United who celebrate our fishing families, whether commercial or charter fishermen and who support our coastal communities.

Blended Waters is solely my opinion based on what I’ve observed throughout my life. My hope is to help good people understand more clearly the value of our watermen, their contribution to our society in conjunction with our appreciation for and our love of fresh seafood. Again, fair, reasonable and justifiable conservation – not overkill and regulations that strangle the very craft itself would be wonderful.

In the columns ahead, I’ll acknowledge the women, as well, who not only support their husbands and fathers who fish for a living but who work beside them on the waters wide and blue. My column will honor our seafood business owners, their value to our communities and our state and to tell stories that are true. How you are inspired to open your eyes and heart to what our watermen have been dealing with is up to you. I do, however, ask one thing of you: remember the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I wish I knew who said that, so I could thank them because they get it!

If you wish to write to me, I’m happy to hear from you. My email address is hookedonwatermen@gmail.com. God bless you all and stay tuned – there is more to come!

READ MORE IN OUR ON THE WATER SECTION.

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