Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Early Boats – A mini-essay

I was up early this morning, breaking the cardinal rule of vacation. The combination of an hours difference in my home time zone and going to bed somewhat early the night before — much to my nineteen year old son’s dismay — made it impossible to sleep in. After tossing and turning for some time listening to the seagulls chastise the dawn I gave up on more sleep and went to make coffee.
I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and made the obligatory check of my phone while waiting on the pot to indicate its completion. Then poured my first cup and settled onto the balcony to watch the morning from my tenth story perch. The sun was rising behind the building so most of the beach was in shadow. Most of the early sand fleas — the elderly and those with young children — had yet to arrive. The heat of spring is late this year, leaving a chill to the morning breezes. The ocean is fulfilling its obligations: surface rippling, waves crashing, a perfect blue stretching to the horizon.
Half way through my first cup I notice a stream of boats heading out, fishing boats heading to their respective captain’s favorite spot. These are not fishing boats in the sense that they derive their income from the resulting sale of their catch. No. These are the tourist boats. Charters which have probably been booked weeks, perhaps months, in advance for the sole purpose of taking vacationers out into the gulf to ‘go fishing’. I did not count them, but there were at least a dozen, probably more, and I know the same scene is at marinas up and down the coast. None of the catch from the day’s efforts will be sold. No local residents or restaurants will be waiting at the dock to buy the fresh catch. The owner, and usually captain, of the boat is paid strictly based on headcount. How many people can he take out on the water and make feel like fisherman?
I have been on one of these charters. I did not much feel like a fisherman afterwards. Allow me to explain how it goes. Once checked in, loaded and under way one of the deck hands gives you the safety lecture and basis instructions as to how the day is going to go. The first stop is for bait fishing. The boat stops along the shore somewhere and all of the miscellaneous bits left from the previous day’s trip are used as bait to catch the small fish you will be using as bait for the larger ones you are hoping for later. When there is a sufficient amount you head out to sea and all of the ‘fishermen’ find a place to relax. The deck hands proceed to slice and dice the bait into the appropriate sizes. A fairly impressive skill set actually, to be able to wield a sharp knife with precision on a fast boat bouncing through the waves.
After forty-five minutes or so the captain slows, makes minor adjustments to the boat’s position and cuts the engine. Then the deck hands get busy; assigning positions along the rails handing out rods with hooks already baited and yelling out instructions, the main one being not to hook your neighbor. From this point on it is mostly a matter of drop and pull. The only skill on display is the captain’s ability to position the boat over the school of red snapper. Almost every hook dropped — no casting per se, just dropping it into the water — comes back up with a fish, which the deck hands deftly remove. I am sure there is an insurance policy in place which discourages having the patrons handle to hooks, someone might jab themselves and sue after getting an infection. You don’t even have to re-bait your hook if you don’t want to. The deck hand will happily come by and take care of it. You probably will not even catch him laughing at you.
This continues until the fish stop biting, then the boat is moved to another spot and you start dropping again, until the time you have paid for has elapsed and the captain heads toward the shore. On the way back the deck hands clean up, stow the rods and get everything ready for the next days excursion. Once back at the marina they clean and filet the catch and provide you with nice little bags of ready to cook red snapper to place in your cooler. They graciously collect their tips for a job well done and you head back to your vacation rental to nurse your sunburn and check one item off of your relaxation to do list.
Such is the nature of our evolved society. Activities which were once required for survival have become sport and recreation. The fathers and grandfathers of the fishing boat captains once did the fishing themselves and supported their families by selling their catch. Their grandfathers learned to fish as a way to put food on the table. Now the fishing is done by large companies with commercial fleets, and if we want fish we buy it in the markets instead of off the docks. We now work for the means with which to buy our food, as opposed to actually working for our food.
The same concept applies to most of our sources of sustenance. I know many hunters, and for the most part they are responsible outdoorsmen who either consume what they kill or donate the meat to food banks. But it is not a necessity for them to survive. Most of their food still comes from the local grocery store, and their families tend to prefer the plastic wrapped product from the meat department to the wild game in the freezer. Hunting has also become sport and recreation for the vast majority of us.
Farming and raising livestock have also gone by the wayside for most of us. Some may have a garden, some raise a chicken or two, but like the fishing and hunting it is no longer required for survival. There are some exceptions, especially among rural communities, and we are seeing somewhat of a revival of local farmers markets and roadside produce stands. However, our convenience driven society still drives most of us to the one stop grocery store to grab our meats, produce, milk, eggs, dry goods and cleaning supplies all in one handy buggy and a cheerful bag boy to help us get it to the car.
Depending on where we live, many of us are limited on being able to revert to a level of self sufficiency. If, like me, you have made a housing decision based on good schools for our kids, a ‘good’ neighborhood, etc., then you probably live in a world ruled by homeowners associations and covenants. Most of these types of neighborhoods have some kind of prohibition against livestock of any kind and gardens are probably only allowed if they cannot be seen from the road. Along with giving up our ability to feed ourselves without a grocery store, we have relinquished the right to if we so chose.
This losing of rights has extended well beyond the confines of a neighborhood HOA. These acts of self sufficient survival are now almost all controlled in some manner by government. You have to have a license (government permission) to hunt, often a different one for each type of game. You have to have a license to fish. You may be able to plant a garden and eat what you grow, but if you wish to sell the excess you are supposed to get a business license and a health inspection. And, of course, pay taxes on the income.
We have reached a point in society where it is easier, and, for most, more desirable, to be dependent on the institutionalized food chain than to provide for ourselves. It is also a skill set which is lost to most. We are a service based economy driven by keyboards and screens, and the vast majority of us, me included, are much more comfortable tapping on those keys than having dirt under our nails. Additionally, we have allowed ourselves to become subjects to governments which make it difficult to hunt and fish and farm, but easy to buy (and pay sales tax).
Happily, we are seeing many reversals, or at least acknowledgments of this state of being. The fashionable trend in restaurants is ‘farm to table’ and ‘sourcing local ingredients’, which will hopefully lead to same mentality in homes. Although, I have my doubts about the willingness of large portions of our society to give up our conveniences. There are also price considerations. Sadly, it is typically more expensive to buy from the local small farmer than from the grocery stores who are buying in bulk from the massive farms and facilities of major corporations.
Our food chain has become global like our economy. We don’t buy corn from down the road, we get it from Iowa. We get our pork from Virginia and our beef from Texas. Most of our fish come from farms instead of the ocean. Grain is sold across oceans. And doing it ourselves — whether it be fishing, hunting, or berry picking — has become sport and tourism.


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