Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Written by Adrianne Madden
April 2, 2009
Jim Clements submitted this prologue and epilogue to a longlining poem by a barefoot fisherman from Carrabelle, Fla., who wants no credit.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has received petitions and threats of suit from several environmental organizations to prohibit reef fish bottom longlining inside 55 fathoms to protect loggerhead turtles. They say longliners are exceeding loggerhead turtle takes allowed by the federal government.
Reef-fish longlining is responsible for about 0.05 percent of the loggerhead killed by all fisheries combined. Even though longliners contribute a miniscule portion to overall turtle takes, these groups are calling this an emergency, and therefore asking for your donations. There is no emergency, so keep your money.
Loggerhead turtles are classified as a threatened, not endangered, species. A biological opinion is required to determine if the take of turtles (all fisheries combined) exceeds that which is allowed without harming the population. This new BO has been initiated but has not been completed.
The Coastal Conservation Association, for misguided and selfish reasons, has tried to get rid of longliners for years in order to take grouper allocation away from the commercial sector and get it for themselves. They were instrumental in banning nets mullet fishermen used, and taking redfish and sea trout away from commercial fishermen, and subsequently the consumer. The Gulf council gave in to these misguided and selfish organizations' lobbying efforts.
Even though the Gulf council is under the U.S. Department of Commerce, which advocates sustainable seafood for this nation, by passing the motion described below, the Gulf council is denying the American consumer the right to fresh gulf grouper as well as devastating the longline fishermen who provide it.
By a roll call vote of 10 to 7 (the names of all council members and how they voted can be found at www.gulfcouncil.org), in the January council meeting, the council passed a motion to request an emergency rule that would prohibit bottom longline gear in waters less than 50 fathoms for the entire eastern gulf starting immediately upon implementation.
The Gulf council could at least wait until the new BO is completed, which will be the basis for new allowable turtle takes. There may be no need for an emergency. Commercial fishermen believe because of dubious scientific data, a declaration of an emergency by environmental organizations, so they can recruit donations, and because of pressure from organizations that are using this turtle issue to accomplish their own selfish motives, the council is trying to railroad longline fishermen out of business.
One fisherman refuses to let the Gulf council devastate any fisherman and has written this poem in defense of the gulf grouper longline fishery.
When we go the Way of the Wind on the Sea
The Plight of a Fisherman
We are bold, fearless men who venture out to sea
Our hands and faces are as weathered as can be
For our entire lives our desire has been to fish
For existing on the ocean, is our solitary wish
Although many a vessel has sunk out of sight
We continue to work in the dark of the night
When slivers of the sun rise up in indigo skies
We rise up our heads and rub our tired eyes
We arise early in the morning and prepare our tackle
Go down to our boats that are bound by a shackle
We slip out the channel and turn the boat to port
We rummage for ale under the old broken thwart
When we steer our vessels with a firm grip on the helm
We feel the excitement, knowing the ocean is our realm
We steam ahead, healing from port to starboard
Through rain and fog, we always move forward
If the seas get rough and we lash things to the post
Our concern for our families stands out foremost
When the wind is strong and the waves at their worst
We will pray to our God amidst the darkest cloudburst
As the seas become calm, and the storm has past
We thank the good Lord, who makes us steadfast
We slow down our vessels and adjust the length of the chain
We pride ourselves on being the anglers who can't be contained
When we pay out the rope to the proper depth, and scope
Even though the anchor may drag we have learned to cope
The perpetual romance of fishing exists in our minds
Because there is no other feeling like fish on our lines
Though he knows every fish is not at his beck and call
A fisherman will never let that be his downfall
Fishing is a continuous series of occasions of hope
We are thankful for any, but for the big one we grope
As always is the case, the first fish over the gunnels
Causes his mighty conqueror to get so excited he fumbles
As quickly as it happens the fisherman regains composure
His nerves calm down and he becomes as steady as a boulder
We know that a fish is elusive but attainable
Their use as food has always been sustainable
We always preserve the fish which we fought
We know our families can eat what we caught
If we are lucky and blessed, we will fill our hold
Pack them in ice and make sure they stay cold
We then plot our course to bring us back home
For a familiar coastline, our weary eyes comb
When we are safely in port and the day becomes night
We say good night to our families and wait for first light
Some say it's a hard life, but we will never complain
For it is our only way of life which we will not disdain
For the sake of a turtle which we would not offend
Some say our way of life may soon come to an end
We cherish our freedom that no kept man can understand
We stood on firm ground, which now feels like quicksand
We will remain on the water that we so love and respect
And work at our trades we have tried hard to perfect
We will simply move on to some other work on the deep blue
Always having hope and courage, even in the darkest bayou
What chance does a man have who has fished all his life
Now he can no longer fish and can't bear to tell his wife
We never received, nor will we ever ask
Refusing a handout we never will mask
We refuse to leave a sea we love, until the day that we die
And unite with other fishermen who will surely be nearby
Many say that we are truly a dying breed
But showing our sorrow is not in our creed
For all good fishermen want to be the captains of their destiny
So we will use our cut up hands until they become blistery
Even the strongest of men may fall to his knees
But a fisherman will always rise up to see the buoys
If the Gulf Council intends to cut our mainline
We will preserve our dignity time after time
We shout out to this Council, for devastation not to bring
If silence were the answer we would have said not a thing
Our only request is that after they have cast us adrift
And when we go the way of the wind on the sea
The government will build just one museum as a gift
With paintings of fishermen for generations to see.
All credit and respect is deserved and should be given to the longline fishermen of the Gulf of Mexico and this nation.
The Gulf council and NMFS should never cow down to petitions, threats of lawsuit, lobbying pressure from selfish, misguided organizations, or political influence. The reason for their very existence is not only to protect our reef fish resources, but to protect American fishermen, fishing communities, as well as the consumers of this nation who have a right to this resource for food.
The Endangered Species Act is very clear in its requirements that actions must err on the side of conservation for the species; however, there are several alternatives in Amendment 31 that the Gulf council staff proposed, and the council could have chosen, that will reduce longline turtle takes and at the same time preserve American longline fishermen.
Longliners have been fishing in the gulf in the same manner, in the same areas, and with the same gear and baits for over 30 years. Doesn't it sound reasonable that longliners may be taking more turtles because there are more turtles out there? There has been no stock assessment done to suggest that turtles are on the decline, in fact, turtle nesting counts showed a substantial increase in 2008.
The council and NMFS allowed shrimpers to remain on the shrimping grounds even though they killed tens of thousands of loggerhead turtles as well as millions of juvenile red snapper. Shrimping was allowed to continue for over 10 years while TEDs and BRDs were invented, proven to work, and required on all shrimp boats. Shouldn't longline fishermen be given the same chance?
In just a few weeks, longline fishermen came up with gear, deployment, and bait modifications they feel will reduce turtle takes to below their allowable catch. Longliners have repeatedly asked the council to give them a chance to prove that these modifications will work. Instead, the Gulf council not only denied them this chance, but voted to put them out of business. This is wrong! Of course we all should be concerned with not only preserving turtles but all marine mammals in the gulf.
Longline fishermen don't want to kill turtles. Turtles can be protected without putting longliners out of business. Longliners are hard working American citizens who don't want handouts from the government. They just want to preserve their way of life. In the upcoming April council meeting, the council can amend their motion and allow longline fishermen to continue to fish and provide seafood for this nation while the council works with longliners to reduce turtle takes. Let's see if they do!
This is supposed to be a free country. If the Gulf council and NMFS succeed in devastating longline fishermen, these fishermen will be set free of the only livelihood they and their ancestors have ever known. They will then be free to join the unemployment lines along with over 5,500,000 other Americans. At least then these fishermen will be free from federal regulators, who for decades have shown them little compassion and no remorse. These same federal regulators, who will keep their jobs, will then be free to regulate fishermen who no longer exist!
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