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Lobsters the best bet for commercial fishermen

The drop in temperature and the rainy and bluster of the last week or so has gone a long way to knocking any ideas of fishing out of most peoples' heads. What is it about the Rugby Classic that seems to hail the onset of winter?

Quite apart form the obvious change in style and a sudden abundance of rain suits and heavy jackets, the focus, certainly of residents, is away from the beach and the boat.

This shift is even apparent in the commercial fishery where hook and line effort markedly drops off as spiny lobsters become the sole target of some operators. In fact, by the end of the year, much of the commercial effort is geared to the repair and maintenance of the craft with a view to starting the year anew come April.

This lack of effort, along with the sporadic windows of fishable weather, combine to make it very difficult to assess the offshore scene with any accuracy. A little can be gleaned from occasional hauls here and there but, more often than not, there will be some time lag before any promising input can be pursued.

But, there is a bit of value to be had about fishing in the so-called “off season” but it is limited, especially where the recognised sporting species are concerned. There always seem to be a few wahoo about and although the chances on finding an aggregation of the fishing that are willing to bite and keep on biting enough to allow you to tally up a fair haul are pretty slim, some judicious moving about can see you winding up with four or more.

A very important point here is that you have to make the strikes count, because there won't be too many of them. Doubles and triples do occur but these will be the exception; so, when a rod finally keels over after an hour or more of seemingly oceanic desert, you need to put that fish in the boat.

Well-rigged baits, sharp hooks and the simple matter of paying attention can make the difference between success and failure. The latter includes waiting for an hour or so then checking the baits only to find that, at some point, perhaps early on, an enterprising ‘hoo clipped off the tail section. Watching the rods constantly can prevent such misses as well as offering a chance at dropping the bait back for a second shot at the fish. That was a practised technique years ago but now seems to have fallen out of fashion. Put your best effort out and you should be able to manage a fish or two!

There have been some interesting comments in the media lately that refer to the advantages and health benefits to deriving our food from the sea that surrounds us. Analogies have been made that compare this Island's people with the Inuit of the far north and other societies that have evolved going back to the days of hunter-gatherer and the dawn of agriculture. Sadly, in many ways, some of things didn't really apply here.

History shows that Bermuda was settled as a company venture which was based on agriculture, initially intended to be that of tobacco, indigo and other valuable cash crops. This started off well but the soil was found to be poor and the crop yields left something to be desired. Naturally this was a disappointment to investors, but rather more of a problem for those who had found themselves living on the Island. That is when they turned to the sea; in more ways than one.

Salt trading, other merchant efforts, fishing, whaling, boat building, piracy with maybe a bit of royal blessing, all combined to add to the local product produced by farms. Most of that is pretty ancient history, dating back hundreds of years and really only of concern to those who are academically or curiously interested in how Bermuda fared in the 17th to 19th centuries. It really is a bit removed and numbers were small. Just look at any of the early photographs (from the 19th century onward) and the Island is mostly forested and there are precious few houses, suggesting that there wasn't too much in the way of population.

Just about any old-timer will tell you that, not so long ago; much of what locals ate came from the local farms: milk, eggs, and vegetables. Meat was very occasional with imports like bacon and cod fish being common because they were already preserved.

Into the twentieth century, agriculture blossomed, as it were, with lilies and onions providing an export market to the nearby east coast of the United States. Around that time, tourism entered the picture and provided a further means of livelihood for residents.

People forget that fishing here was a difficult life until the invention of the internal combustion engine and its development into marine power sources. Offshore fishing was conducted in slow sail boats. They were slow because they had to be built to contain large live wells because if you could not keep the fish alive they would be spoiled by the time the boat had reached home. By the onset of World War Two, the Island was heavily dependent on all local product because most of the materiel carried by convoys was intended for the war effort in Europe.

After that, fishing locally boomed. The ready availability of reliable engines, new technology in depth sounders and improved gear; even nylon monofilament lines were born out of war technology. Probably more important than anything else, refrigeration became a home reality — a real plus in a climate where things spoiled rapidly. Growing tourism also latched onto sport fishing as an exotic leisure activity that would lure visitors. The late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s fuelled a growth in fish catches, an interest in lobsters (hitherto largely ignored!) and saw sport fishing take a prominent place in Island affairs. That and an increase in population led to increased pressure on the fishing grounds with the subsequent changes that led to the pot ban in 1990 and the diversification of the market to include wahoo, tuna and other pelagic resources.

Much as it would have been nice to have a real Island-based food supply, the reality is that Bermuda has always been dependent on things from elsewhere and that is truer than ever today. Part of the reason for this has been the relatively scarce resources as compared with some other locations.

Imagine the Virginia settlers realising the bounty of the Chesapeake and its bay teeming with fish, replete with all sorts of shellfish, waterfowl and other animals that lived in its shores. So plentiful were those resources that no one really had much in the way of outside needs and barely needed any Tight lines!!!

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Published November 09, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 08, 2013 at 12:46 pm)

Lobsters the best bet for commercial fishermen

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