Mail Buoy: In honor of a Highliner

We grieved when we learned of the passing of Luis Ribas, 60, in January. We met as scientists and fishermen on his boat Blue Skies while finishing up an experimental fishery for whiting in Provincetown in the fall of 1999. That effort led to a collaboration, initiated by Luis, to test trawl modifications to reduce cod bycatch. The gear ideas were mostly his, and they were good ones, later adopted into regulations as a cod-avoiding alternative for trawls in New England, after he advocated for them on his own before our regional council.

This work and more on behalf of his port and his fleet earned him National Fisherman’s Highliner of the Year in 2002, a well-deserved honor. By then, we had become friends and even extended family members, enjoying dinners at his house. Despite our differences but because of our common loves of fishing, the sea and family, a mutual respect and admiration for each other grew and deepened. A highlight of our careers was to be his guests at the Highliner banquet in Providence, R.I. We will always cherish the memory of celebrating the Blessing of the Fleet on the Blue Skies, rigging decked out with flags and fresh paint everywhere, loud Portuguese music and tables and tables of delicious food — especially herring, grilled on the stern — as we steamed around the harbor, generations of family and friends together, enjoying the sunshine and good times, and hoping for the blessing of a similar future.

Luis eventually left fishing, but didn’t go far. He joined the Provincetown Harbormaster’s office full time, where he continued serving his and all fleets in that community. As assistant harbormaster he helped out our agency by periodically securing berthing for our inshore trawl survey vessel when it came into port. He continued to be prominent in his church and the local community, and we didn’t know (we only learned from his obituary) that he also served as a volunteer firefighter for Provincetown, and was recognized for his bravery and his courage saving lives.

We kept in touch, and were alarmed and then relieved to know he had and was cured of lung cancer, which we thought and hoped he had overcome permanently, and that more good times were ahead. Maybe we would be old men together some day, swapping stories and laughing together on Macmillan Wharf.

Cancer sucked the hope out of that dream, the rough reality of his death sinking in instead. We didn’t know when we stepped on board to do our work, how hard it would be to leave it behind.

Michael Pol and Mark Szymanski

Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

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