Working as a deck hand on a boat during the early to mid seventies was rewarding in many ways. It allowed me to be around the water which was always a top priority while I was growing up. The job paid well and while we were out to sea I was unable to spend any of the money so saving was easy. Little did I know that working with scientists would provide such an assortment of humorous events for my brother Bill and I to reminisce about over the years. Many of our trips were for the purpose of doing bottom grabs which consisted of picking up, with our deck crane, what looked like a giant clam upside down, and free spooling it to the ocean floor.
Prior to releasing this (Smith-McIntyre) bottom grab, it had to be cocked with a steel bar while a second person had to put a pin in the triggering mechanism. Upon retrieving this bottom grab, the sediment would then be analyzed. This was surely hazardous duty for the people who sorted through the muck, for the smell was hard enough to take at my station twenty feet away operating the crane. Lighting on deck at nighttime was certainly adequate, but some of the scientists had some trouble putting the pin in while someone else pulled hard on the spring mechanism with the steel bar. On one of those occasions I heard some one say, “Is the pin in yet?” as he was pulling down hard on the lever, and again he said, “Is the pin in yet?” to which the reply was, “I think so.” It wasn’t…the steel bar hit the guy who was suppose to put the pin in right on the top of his head and he went down for the count. We had to immediately stop the bleeding and took him to Sandy Hook, which was not too far away. He survived his injury and the next day he was back on the boat ready to resume his duties as chief mud expert, only this time everyone had brand new bright yellow miners helmets with adjustable head lamps.
Adjusting to their new equipment was somewhat problematic. Apparently no one read the instruction manual concerning the light. The educated idiot who was suppose to put the pin in the bottom grab had his light beam shining up and to the right, but instead of adjusting the light he kept tilting his head down and to the left in a fruitless attempt to focus the light on his target area. You can’t make these stories up! We, as fisherman, are suppose to trust that the information we receive from their studies are factual, but I have seen first hand their bumbling ways and I can’t believe that most of their research isn’t as flawed as the people who obtain it. My distain for the NMFS as you can plainly see is a learned behavior.
Many years ago, during the mid seventies, I worked on a boat named the Atlantic Twin that was chartered by the NMFS to do trawl surveys up and down the east coast. I’m not quite sure how they chose the exact place to tow a net to retrieve their samples, but they assured us that the spots that we had to tow the nets were “Scientifically” predetermined. Before each watch, (which were 6 hours long 24 hours a day) the captain and the first mate were given the coordinates. (Loran “A” back in those days) and it was up to them to put us on the exact spot.
We departed Sandy hook and went from the end of Long Island to St. Augustine Florida over the next month making 15 minute tows in an attempt to get real information on fish stocks. Some of the planed sample areas were clearly in areas where it was impossible to drag nets on the sea floor because of wrecks, rocks or other obstructions. Many nets were torn up (rim wracked) and lost. One such encounter brought forth the first bit of genius from a scientist that truly floored me. After loosing two complete rigs on the ocean floor the head scientist asked if we could make the same tow but instead of north to south try it from east to west! …So we did…Yep, one more lost rig!!
In the fall of the year commercial fluke fishing is usually pretty good down around Cape May and the Delaware river and we looked forward to catching some so we could fillet some for ourselves to freeze and take home, although everything that came up in the net was thrown back after measurements were taken by the Scientists. We were determined to bring some home to eat. I asked the head guy if maybe we should go near one of the commercial boats and try a tow or two for they surely knew where the fish were. I was reminded that the spots were predetermined and we could not vary. We were, probably the only boat in that area that couldn’t catch enough for dinner. A couple of days later I overheard two of, “Them,” say that they thought fluke stocks were in serious trouble since they didn’t see many of them, yet there were 20 to 30 commercial boats in that same area that were making a living. One of those boats was from Point Pleasant and we later found out the fishing was terrific.
It became clear to me that common sense was not then, and is not now part of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Only a few years ago a government research boat was doing the same kind of trawl surveys and their results were very poor on some fish. When questioned on their research they became very arrogant and said their surveys were sound science. A local fisherman challenged their research and and convinced them to tow next to each other and the results were nothing short of astonishing. The local fisherman caught many times more than the research vessel. It was later found out that the towing cables on the research boat were improperly marked which made it impossible for the net to open properly! You can’t make these stories up. More to come on NMFS incompetence….remember, “Hookemandhackem.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service keeps telling the fishing public that the information they use to justify fishing quotas is, “The best science available.” Why is it that I have asked over 400 of my customers this past year, two questions:
1) How many times have you caught the limit this past season?
2) How many times has anyone from NMFS or any other government agency, asked you how many fish have you caught on any given day, week or month?
The answer to question number one was under twenty but that doesn’t mean everyone on the boat caught the limit.
The answer to question number two was …NEVER ! That is correct, not one out of 400+ people that I personally asked ever had any kind of contact with NMFS about how many fish they actually caught.
It is odd to me that the NMFS can claim that we have over fished the quota when few people are catching their limit.
In conclusion, the information that is used to establish fishing quotas has to be not just misleading but utter nonsense. It is impossible to get anywhere close to an accurate count if you don’t ask the participants in the fluke fishery ???