Context is a funny thing. If this man were, say, working on his car in Passaic, New Jersey, we wouldn’t find him very romantic or interesting. But put him on a boat on the Adriatic Sea in Slovenia and he’s now a perfect travel photo subject, thanks to Flickr user SummitVoice1. He makes us sigh and think, “That’s the life. Just a man, a simple boat and the open water.”
He should still probably put on a clean shirt, though. Fare thee well, old salt, hope your day is smooth sailing!
French Leave, Eleuthera — Under a cloud-studded sunrise at the end of the two-and-a-half-mile long beach I watch a 14-foot plywood boat back into the morning surf. A trio of Bahamian men readies it for a day of spearfishing along the near-reef that parallels the 110-mile long island. One will drive; another will watch and stack fish. The third – a lithe, fair-skinned black man with ‘Aries’ tattooed on his upper arm, who dons a thick wetsuit while we talk – will dive and spear. They hope the day’s catch will include as many as 40 grouper, maybe another 40 lobster.
The laws for all fishermen in the Bahamas are pretty straightforward, no matter the size of the boat or crew: Boats must be 100 percent owned by Bahamians. They can use seine nets, hook and line or — ‘Aries’ tool of choice this morning — the Hawaiian sling and spear. There can be no long lines, no chemicals or explosives in the Bahamas. The small fishermen have no GPS or fish finders. Bigger boats, mostly based at the north end of the island, have set up what the locals refer to as “condominiums,” slatted wooden traps to catch lobsters.
The day will take this trio 30 miles down the coast and back and will end by early afternoon, when they will take whatever they’ve caught across the island to the port at Governor’s Harbor where they will clean and hawk it from the boat ramp. The cutting table there is close enough to the road that passing drivers can slow, observe, ask questions (“What you got today?” “How fresh?”) And decide to stop and buy … or not.I watch them motor away up the coastline and then find them later in the day. ‘Aries’ tips a white plastic bucket filled with six-pound lobster to show off his catch. “It was a good day,” he says. When I ask if fishing is his passion, he admits not. “I like being on the water, I can dive to 100 feet, I’m not afraid of anything down there, even the tiger sharks, but to be honest when construction is good here … it’s good for the fish because lots of guys, including me, stop going out.”
A forty-five minute drive to the north delivers me to Gregory Town, where a now-dimming sun lights up the harbor. On either side of the bay, fishing boats have come in from twenty to thirty miles out to sea, stacked with fin fish – mostly grouper and jacks — and conch.
There are 9,000 fishermen throughout the 700 islands of the Bahamas; only a few hundred of them call Eleuthera home. The fishermen descaling a boat loaded with grouper are happy with the small number of locals who make a living off the sea. “When my grandfather was fishing,” says one, his head swarmed by flies as he rakes a sharp knife over a foot-long grouper, “this bay was loaded with fish. Now we have to go far out to sea for a good catch. But once we’re there, there’s plenty of fish.”
Despite such colloquial wisdom among the fishermen I meet up and down the length of Eleuthera – that there are plenty of fish out there — statistics, mostly collected by NOAA, suggest that’s not exactly the case.
NOAA says the lobsters, conch and all finfish in the region have been fished “to a dangerously low level.” Particularly concerning is drop offs in the number of snapper and grouper, which are already off limits along the Atlantic coast of the U.S., especially Florida.
One fish that’s long disappeared from these waters are the Atlantic bluefin tuna. “The only tuna we see now are black tuna,” one of the Gregory Town fishermen says. “And they’re only the size of a football, when they used to be several feet long.”
The biggest, most successful, thus wealthiest fishermen on Eleuthera live on an island off the northern tip, called Spanish Wells. With a population of 1,500, mostly white descendants of the British Puritan loyalists who first settled here in the 1780s, there are a couple hundred big boats based here.
Regarded as the lobster capitol of the Caribbean, it is one of the wealthiest settlements in the region. It is also a conservative, staunchly religious place, where visitors stick out. Guidebooks advise to expect “passive displays of hospitality.”
Many of the men, even into their seventies, still dive for fish, during a season that lasts from August through March. Most use condominiums, or traps, which help fulfill big contracts with Red Lobster and several big European chains.
The near waters surrounding Eleuthera are shallow, 75 feet at the deepest, and easy to navigate. According to the men of Spanish Wells the only hindrance to success these days is not a lack of fish, but poachers, from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who sneak into the 45,000 square miles of Caribbean that is supposed to be for the Bahamians-only.
One group of fishermen in Eleuthera who don’t seem to have any complaint are the visiting bone fishermen who comes in droves to escape winter’s cold and whose silhouettes you spy throughout the day, fishing knee-deep in the salt water flats lining the Caribbean side of the island.
I stand with one, on an elevated cement wall lining the calm bay at Governor’s Harbor. Peering into the distance, he’s looking for signs of the big, opaque fish that love these shallows. He’s been coming here from New York to fish for forty years.
“There are probably a couple thousand of them within casting range,” he says. “Which never seems to change from year to year. I think because they’re mostly too smart to let us catch them.”
[flickr image via Thespis377]
Traveling isn’t just about seeing beautiful sights. It’s about experiencing culture. The little day-to-day activities we witness while away from home can be the most touching. This image of boys in the water in Rabat, Morocco transported me a bit. I heard the water splashing, the boys yelling, and the sounds from the street. I stared at the small dot of the man sitting on the rocks in the background; I wondered how long he’d been meditating there at the time this photo was taken.
A sudden realization ended my reverie: common denominators like these, like children playing in the water, drive home the fact that no matter where we go, people are more or less the same at their core.
Have a photo you’d like to submit for our POTD series? Upload it to the Gadling Flickr Pool so we can take a look.
[photo by Vanessa Brown]
Near the Alabama-Florida border, a placed called Perdido (Lost) Key, BP-contracted crews have been sifting sand for more than six months to try and get rid of tar mats buried nearly three feet beneath the sand.
Having suffered 50 percent losses in tourist’s dollars last summer, the effort is being made to insure the areas renowned white sand beaches are pure white by the first of the New Year. The idea is to next move the process west along the coastal islands of Mississippi and the marshlands of Louisiana, using slightly different systems.
But locals in Perdido Key tell the Times that while a BP spokesman says he expects to eventually get “99 percent of what’s out there,” all the sifting and shifting of sand is not getting rid of the oil, just spreading it around.
Near Harrison, Mississippi, crews have been cleaning oil and tar balls off the beach for 200 days and the work continues, with expectations that it will last through next summer. A BP spokesman there says each crew is picking up 20 to 30 pounds of tar balls a day, by hand, since machinery has proved inefficient against the “small, oily clumps.” Along with the visible tar balls scattered along the shore, there is also concern about possible sub-surface oil buried beneath a layer of sand.Just offshore Harrison, the low-lying sand barrier called Horn Island took the brunt of the oil spill; heavy machinery is still being used there to try and clean it up.
Suggestions that the oil from the spill and its long-lasting impact is mostly gone seem to be exaggerated. About 135 shrimp and fishing boats are still at sea aiding in the cleanup; another 1,200 boats are waiting to be scrubbed clean and decontaminated at more than 20 dry docks across the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 9,000 square miles of federal Gulf waters remain closed to fishing; bad weather has kept crews from getting enough species to sample and decide whether to reopen some of that area. It’s estimated that the daily cost of the cleanup has dropped to $27 million, from a high of about $67 million … a day.
Different cleanup concerns are being voiced about the Chandeleur Islands at the mouth of the Mississippi River off Louisiana. That’s where Governor Bobby Jindal and his troops attempted a quick fix at the height of the spill, bulldozing thousands of tons of sand in an effort to build-up berms to try and prevent the oil from reaching the marshes and shores.
Unfortunately, according to my friend Ivor van Heerden, a coastal restoration expert who’s been monitoring the impact of the spill since the very first day, that berm-building process buried oil as deep as seven feet. Since it was halted no effort has been made to retrieve that buried oil. He predicts normal winter erosion will unearth it and send it on to the shoreline.
He is concerned that local politicians may be purposely dragging their heels on proper clean up as a way to keep attention – and federal dollars – focused on the state.
“A few weeks back I had the opportunity to speak to some researchers at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and in their opinion Louisiana has become a ‘victim’ state. It cannot manage its resources well enough to generate sufficient income; instead it looks to get ‘payout’s’ from time to time. They also pointed out that this is a very slippery slope for a state.”
Flickr image via GT51
It might be time to add some new items to your cruise vacation packng list though. Princess Cruises recently announced that fishing would be not only allowed but encouraged on a new Alaska cruisetour option.
“Fishing is such an iconic part of the Alaska experience, that it made sense to offer a special tour especially for those who want to focus their time on the sport,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “We include a variety of fishing experiences so our passengers can get a taste of the array of fishing opportunities found throughout the state.”
Such excursion titles as “Alaska Sportfishing Expedition” or “Kenai Upper River Sportfishing” have anglers excited about infusing their sport with a cruise vacation. Alaska offers trophy-class King Salmon and Halibut, some weighing over 70 pounds.
While fishing licenses are not included in the package prices, guests can buy them on location or directly from the Alaska Fish and Game Commision in advance of sailing.
Now all you have to do is figure out how to get your fishing stuff past TSA and on the plane.
Flickr photo by Alaskan Dude