A play in multiple acts.
Cast, in order of appearance:
Chorus, infrequent fisher and loather of boat travel
Bill Poole, 85, local fishing legend, past part-owner of Poole-Chaffee Boatyard
Buck Everingham, 51, heir and part-owner of Everingham Brothers Bait Company
Frank LoPreste, 63, local fishing legend, owner of five boats, two gas docks, and three landings
Catherine Miller, promotional officer of the San Diego Sportfishing Council
Fred Huber, 45, captain and part-owner of the Daily Double, a rival half-day boat
R.J. Hudson, 24, captain of the New Seaforth, a rival half-day boat
Robert Knox, associate director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Paul Dayton, professor of marine ecology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Shelly Ehmer, 37, fisherwoman and crewmember of the long-range boat the Dominator
J.D. McGriff, 46, captain of the Fisherman III, a rival half-day boat
Jason Coz, 35, captain of the Dolphin, a rival half-day boat
Dr. Tim Radke, cardiopulmonary radiologist and expert on seasickness
Chuck Driscoll, part-owner of Driscoll Boatworks on Shelter Island Drive
Michael Hinton, senior scientist at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
Sundry San Diego sportspeople and crewmembers
Chorus, infrequent fisher and loather of boat travel: You talk to anybody who's hooked, and you know it's addictive. That adrenaline rush. Fighting and landing a whopping fish. The beauty and rhythm of the marine environment. Some folks spend their whole lives fanatics of the sport. And many pass the fishing bug genetically, down through their families. As one sea captain told me, "It's natural. I'm a Pisces."
Fishing makes me think of fate, of the powers and principles that are beyond me that determine the course of my life. Fishing makes me think from this perspective because fishing makes me think, at least momentarily, from a fish's perspective.
Imagine how fishing must seem to a fish: In the midst of a meal I always enjoy, a sharp-angled pin pierced me today and an upward pulling strained against me. I struggled and was hoisted from my element into a suffocating thinness. I could see only bright shapes there, and though I continued to struggle I was spastic and helpless. Something wholly alien to me tore at my mouth and handled my body.
Even thrown back into the water, what must fishes think? How bizarre the whole experience must seem, even to a tiny fish brain.
Fishing reminds me that even when we feel as though we have things under control, due to forces beyond us, not one of us is ever truly free. We're in a bait tank or being fitted with a hook or set loose or we're in a vast and complicated ocean where sea lions and bigger fish and other predators predate.
Is fishing fundamentally cruel? Is it wrong to manipulate bait and to force fish from their homes and sometimes to kill them?
Why do I feel foolish even asking myself these questions?
As humans, we have that old sense of entitlement. After all, we weren't just given fish, we were taught to go fishing.
Bill Poole, local fishing legend and past part-owner of Poole-Chaffee Boatyard: "The human race just likes to look the other way. You've got people who eat beef, but they won't go hunting. Or there's people who say it's okay to butcher a cow, but it's not okay to kill an elk. Or people ask me how I could shoot a cute animal like a deer. But that meat doesn't go to waste. And these animals and fish aren't stupid. You learn that over the years. You go looking for fish in their habitat and try to get them to bite a hook, then you find out how clever they are. They're smarter than we like to think. And then you hook a big one and fight it for a few hours, and you tell me you don't think it's a pretty fair fight."
Buck Everingham, heir and part-owner of Everingham Brothers Bait Company: "I've never seen a fish scream. I can't attest to the fact of whether or not they feel pain. But if you read the Bible, you see where mankind is supposed to harvest and use the things of the earth. Now I'm not saying we should go whole hog and pollute and kill everything, but what we need is there for us to use. And if you don't believe that, then what do you do? You've got to eat.
"You know, how many environmentalists go out and eat chicken or beef? And how many eat fish? Probably a lot more of them eat fish.
"What are we supposed to do, get sensitive and starve to death?"
WHAT IS IT, EXACTLY, ABOUT THIS THING CALLED "FISHING"?
Frank LoPreste, local fishing legend, owner of five boats, two gas docks, and three landings: "The anticipation of going fishing is a big part of the fun," he said. "Actually getting on the boat is another huge part of the fun. The camaraderie is sensational. Generally speaking, most guys fish with friends. But when you're actually talking the act of fishing, the presentation of the bait is very important, getting the bait into the zone is extremely important, but the biggest thrill is getting bit and setting the hook.
"To me, and to most people, the rest of it takes a weak mind and a strong back. So losing the fish -- and don't get me wrong here, there are certain fish that you really want to land, and it is heartbreaking -- but you know what? 'That's fishing,' like the man said.
"How about all these guys who go over to the Guadalupe Islands and the white sharks eat their fish right next to the boat after they've fought it for an hour and a half?
"But it's all worth it, all of it, in the end."
Captain and part-owner: Fred Huber, 45. Thirty-one years in the business, 23 as captain.
Boat: Daily Double, 65 by 20 feet, launched in 1959, built by Jack Norek, who worked at the Dittmar & Donaldson boatyard up in Costa Mesa. "Norek had different ideas on how to do things," Captain Huber said. "The Double is built a little beefier than the Dittmar & Donaldson design. A little broader across the stern and up the sides."
Charter Company: Point Loma Sportfishing
Trip: Half Day P.M.
Anglers Onboard: 27
Air Temperature: 77 degrees
Water Temperature: 68 degrees
Ocean Condition: Relatively flat
Personal Seasickness Deterrent: Bonine
Total Boat Catch: 3 sand bass, 3 sculpin, 2 calico bass, 3 whitefish, 49 rockfish
Biggest Fish: 3-pound whitefish (winner of $49 jackpot)
Personal Catch: 0
Total Cost: $52 (includes one-day license and tackle)
Captain: R.J. Hudson, 24. Nine years in the business, four as captain.
Boat: New Seaforth, 85 by 24 feet, Poole Hull construction, built in 1983. Capacity, 149, or 90 anglers. Owned by Frank LoPreste and Bill Poole. Cost, over $1 million. Cruises at 10 to 11 knots, with top speed of 15 knots.
Charter Company: Seaforth Sportfishing
Trip: Half Day P.M.
Anglers Onboard: 19
Air Temperature: 76 degrees
Water Temperature: 69 degrees
Ocean Condition: Flat
Personal Seasickness Deterrent: Sea-Band Acupressure wrist bands
Total Boat Catch: 38 calico bass, 32 bonito, 6 yellowtail, 1 California sheephead, 2 barracuda, 2 rockfish, 3 king mackerel
Biggest Fish: 9-pound yellowtail (winner of $33 jackpot)
Personal Catch: 2 king mackerel
Total Cost: $58 (includes one-day license and tackle)
Captain: Jason Coz, 35. Sixteen years at sea, ten as captain.
Boat: Dolphin, 85 by 24 feet, Poole Hull construction, built in 1988. "The biggest, nicest half-day boats on the West Coast are these Poole Hulls from the '80s," Captain Coz said.
Charter Company: Islandia Sportfishing
Trip: Half Day A.M.
Anglers Onboard: 11
Air Temperature: 75 degrees
Water Temperature: 69 degrees
Ocean Condition: Relatively flat
Personal Seasickness Deterrent: Dramamine
Total Boat Catch: 55 bonito, 6 calico bass, 3 rockfish
Biggest Fish: 4-pound bonito (winner of $22 jackpot)
Personal Catch: 4 bonito, 1 calico bass
Total cost: $62 (includes one-day license and tackle)
Captain: J.D. McGriff, 46. Twenty-nine years on boats, 22 as captain.
Boat: Fisherman III, 65 by 20 feet, Dittmar & Donaldson design, mahogany plank, built in 1959. Capacity 61. Cost, $500,000.
Charter Company: H&M Landing
Trip: Half Day P.M.
Anglers Onboard: 11
Air Temperature: 69 degrees
Water Temperature: 67 degrees
Ocean Condition: Very choppy
Personal Seasickness Deterrent: Scopolamine Patch
Total Boat Catch: 33 sculpin, 12 rockfish, 1 bonito
Biggest Fish: 2-pound whitefish (winner of $18 jackpot)
Personal Catch: 14 sculpin, 4 rockfish, 1 pinback shark
Total Cost: $58 (includes one-day license and tackle)
Chorus: Most San Diego sea captains and deckhands put in close to 200 days a year, 200 days of work, out away from steady land, out there on the ocean. Many will cram 100 of those workdays into the 15 weeks of summer weather, and then the other hundred days spread over the 37 weeks of slow season after that.
A seaman's days are long days. For overnight boat workers, there is no real rest. They're always on hand, or on call. Even day-tripping salts get in at 6:00 a.m. and work till after 7:00 at night.
Captains make about $50,000 a year, on average. Crewmen bring in more like $35,000, mostly in tips.
To become a ship captain, a seaman needs 720 days at sea on an inspected vessel, a two-week class, and passing grades on U.S. Coast Guard exams. Test questions for prospective captains cover subjects such as nautical charts, first aid, tides, radio communications, ship construction, firefighting, and navigation.
Chorus: Show up with rental tackle, and the crew on a fishing boat knows right away to help you. Crewmembers dart about on deck, fish-quick. They all seem to have big, deft hands. They're impossibly good at tying knots and stringing line through narrow eyes.
How do seamen get so good at what they do?
Crewman One: "Some people tell you they've been fishing for 20 years. But they only go out once or twice a month. Well, I've been fishing almost every single day for the past two years. You get so you've seen everything and you can deal with anything."
Chorus: I saw six seagulls hooked and reeled in on my four fishing trips. All the gulls were free in moments, unhurt except for sore beaks.
A youngster threw up belowdecks on one boat. All signs of vomit were gone before the kid was in the fresh air again.
Crewman Two: "When the boat breaks, I'm a mechanic; when the toilets don't work, I'm a plumber; when the boat needs cleaning, I clean it. You need to be able to do everything that needs to be done on a boat. You clean fish, you tie tackle, you do it all."
SPORTFISHING LANDINGS IN SAN DIEGO, A BRIEF COMPARISON
Owners: Frank LoPreste and Bill Poole
In operation since 1956, out of San Diego Bay
Number of boats: 17
Owners: Jan Kirk, Phil Lobred, Frank Kadota, William Ishibashi
In operation since 1935, since 1949 out of San Diego Bay
Number of boats: 31
Owner: K and R Properties
In operation since 1956, out of Mission Bay
Number of boats: 9
Point Loma Sportfishing
Owners: Frank LoPreste and Bill Poole
In operation since 1949, out of San Diego Bay
Number of boats: 15
Owners: Frank LoPreste and Bill Poole
In operation since 1960, out of Mission Bay
Number of boats: 17
A GLIMPSE OF HISTORY
Catherine Miller, promotional officer of the San Diego Sportfishing Council: "Sportfishing in San Diego started out at the foot of Broadway in the 1920s and was entirely in the hands of independent captains until my grandfather, Barney Miller, teamed up with three other men to form H&M Sport Fishing Company in 1935.
"Then World War II effectively shut down all fishing operations in San Diego in the 1940s, but when things got going again after the war, there was a boom in the local fishing industry. New boats were built, new landings, new harbors, and by the 1960s, San Diego really came into its own as a center for sportfishing and commercial fishing."
HERE, FISHY FISHY
Captain Fred Huber, of the Daily Double: "Some of the good fishing spots around San Diego have been passed on generation to generation.
"Changes in depth, where there's a big drop-off, those spots are obvious. Or where birds are diving at baitfish. Something big must be making those baitfish surface. Some of the things that have changed, when I started in the business, most of the fish-finders were paper graphs. So when you had your machine turned on, you used up paper to chart the bottom. As we changed to video screens, you can leave your meter on all the time and be constantly looking at the bottom without costing yourself a roll of paper that was expensive and time-consuming to change."
Captain R.J. Hudson, of the New Seaforth: "To find good fishing, you look for birds and jumping fish. Or just go meter around. A lot of the spots have been fished for over 50 years, so you just learn where they are.
"After a while, you can tell whether the fish will be biting that day. You learn to look at the current, wind, swell, water temperature, and water color and to figure out how active the fish will be and where they might be. Is the water clean or dirty? Is there a red tide? Clean blue water is the best."
Robert Knox, associate director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography: "Ocean-temperature changes that affect fishing happen unpredictably, and they can happen for a number of reasons. It's not an exact science, kind of like forecasting the weather.
"The water on top of the ocean is warmer and less dense, so it's lighter. So it doesn't sink underneath the heavier cold water underneath. But if that warm water gets pushed offshore, and if you bring a slug of cold water that comes to the surface near the shore, then it displaces the warmer water elsewhere. And that sort of thing can be driven by wind or changes in ocean circulation; it's all sort of variable over time; it doesn't persist as ocean currents ad infinitum.
"For fishermen looking for fish, how much nutrient-rich, deeper, cooler water there is versus how much relatively warmer, more sterile, less productive water there is is probably a significant piece of the puzzle."
Frank LoPreste: "A big part of finding fish when you're out in the deep sea is reading your temperature charts, your satellite charts. They give you edges, temperature edges, where you're going to find the baitfish stacked up. And that's where your fish are going to be, where there's a change in temperature, where there are current breaks and warm water edges and cold water edges. And they might not always be on the warm side; they might be on the cold side. I couldn't tell you why that is, but fish like the temperature changes. Then a lot of it also depends on past experience too. 'Okay, the fish have been here before, well, where did they go next, and where do they usually go?' And once in a while, you get surprised too. The biggest mistake any fisherman can make is thinking that he's got it down pat. Because, at my age even, I'm constantly learning. When you think you've got the whole system down, you're in for a rude surprise."
Captain Huber: "Every year the kelp canopy changes. Some years, the canopy goes all the way out to where the bottom drops off to a hundred feet. And some years, like this year, the canopy is a lot smaller. And you just try different edges of it. If there's a big rock on the bottom and it's on the edge of the kelp, then that's multiple structure -- you've got the canopy plus you've got the habitat of the rock. That's a pretty good bet for fish."
Paul Dayton, professor of marine ecology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography: "Usually when we talk about the kelp forest, we're talking about the giant kelp. That's the stuff we see up on the surface. But on the bottom there are many other species of kelp. So the giant kelp that we see most often is usually what laypeople refer to as kelp.
"Anyhow, the giant kelp is really dynamic. People worry about the kelp when they don't see the giant kelp around, but the giant kelp comes and goes. It comes and goes with the ocean climate and sometimes with overgrazing by sea urchins.
"Kelp only grows on hard bottoms, and here it's mostly in water that's 70 feet deep or shallower. The kelp moves back and forth with the currents, so fishermen can read currents by reading the kelp.
"But the combination of kelp and fish is mostly a myth. There's a few species of fish, like the kelp bass or calico bass, that's pretty closely tied to the kelp, but for the most part the fish we associate with kelp are more interested in the rocky bottom habitat where the kelp thrives. But fish, even the kelp bass, will live quite happily even when the kelp population goes down."
Anonymous Sea Captain: (overheard on the New Seaforth radio) "There's no kelp up here." (Pause.) "I heard there was a kelp fire."
WHAT KIND OF BAIT ARE YOU USING?
Chorus: It's said that the San Diego fishing industry has relied on one family for over 55 years. Today the head of that family is Buck Everingham.
As the owner of Everingham Brothers Bait Company, Everingham oversees the operation of three bait barges: one in Mission Bay, one in San Diego Bay, and one up in Dana Point.
Buck Everingham: "My family's been in the fishing business in San Diego since 1951. It's a tough job, running a bait business. We fish for anchovies and sardines. It's an extensive operation. It's not an easy job. It's not an easy life. Most people don't have the fortitude for it, I guess. I've got arthritis and a lot of back pain. But that's how it goes. Really, you have to love fishing. A lot of our guys'll work 90 or 100 days straight in the height of the season, and then the first thing they do when they get a day off is they go out fishing."
FISHERMEN ARE MOSTLY MEN
Frank LoPreste: "Fishermen are mostly men, yes. But the women we have are generally sensational anglers. It's not as many as I'd like to see, but quite often the gals are better anglers than the guys."
LoPreste: "They listen.
"It's very simple, when you think about it. Guys might say their dads used to take them fishing, so they know a bit about it, and they'll say they've fished for maybe 24 years. So there's the ego thing. Whereas a woman, her dad didn't take her fishing, and maybe this is one of the first times she's ever held a rod in her hand, so she's a little scared maybe, and she listens to every word the captain and the crewmembers say."
Shelly Ehmer, fisherwoman and crewmember of the long-range boat the Dominator: "I've been in the industry off and on for six years, but I've been fishing since I was a little kid. Both of my parents fish. My daddy got me into it. I got hooked and just fell in love with it.
"But I think most women are just intimidated. It takes a lot for a woman to go on a sportboat when she's by herself. And for women who didn't grow up with fishing, who weren't raised with it, they might have no interest.
"But there's a lot of new chicks I'm seeing who are getting into fishing. Their husbands bring them out, or their boyfriends, or a lot more younger gals are coming out with their dads, and once they get into it, they get a little more comfortable. My daughter's 12, and she fishes hard.
"But a lot of chicks do get grossed out. It's pretty funny."
FISH TALES 1
(That's why they call it "Fishing," not "Catching")
Chorus: In 27 feet of water off the coast of La Jolla, one angler, Russ, hooked a yellowtail in the 25-pound range on light tackle, 15-pound test, and he fought it for over 15 minutes, back and forth, up and down, over the prow of the New Seaforth three times, three-quarters of the way around the boat. When his line eventually sheared on a float of kelp, Russ had no visible or audible reaction. He immediately turned and headed back to his tackle box to change to heavier line.
You lost it!
Russ: "That's fishing."
FISH TALES 2
Fisherman One: "I've been out for nine days in a row. Got a freezer full of fish. I'll be eating yellowtail and bonito and rockfish for months. Fish tacos, fish burritos, fish barbecue, fish and rice and beans... You saw Forrest Gump, right?
"I also save a lot of the heads so I can use them as bait in my lobster traps. I've got six traps. That's the best in the winter. You go out and you've got 20 or 30 lobster, so you just call your friends. 'Hey, guys! Lobster!' "
FISH TALES 3
Chorus: A guy right next to me on the New Seaforth, Bob, hooked something big. His rod bent into a taut "r."
The crewmen rushed over and started guessing.
Crewman Three: "Is it a yellowtail?"
Crewman Four: "Looks like something big. A halibut?"
Bob: (Pulling mightily, fighting, but his voice keeping an easy tone) "It's a black sea bass."
Crewman Three: "A black sea bass?"
Crewman Four: "I bet it's a really big halibut."
Bob: (Says nothing. He fights.)
Crewman Three: "A white sea bass?"
Chorus: Suddenly, right there in the water, flashing to the surface with a hook and line in its awkward, curved mouth, was a monstrous black sea bass, an endangered fish, easily a 100 pounder.
Bob's line broke, and the protected fish, which would have been released anyway, returned to the depths.
Bob: (Says nothing. Not even "I told you so.")
FISH TALES 4
Chorus: In 130 feet of water, four miles off the point of Point Loma, under cloudy skies and a chill wind, on choppy gray seas, Fisherman III got into multiple schools of bottom fish. I brought a new fish into the boat on nine out of ten casts for almost an hour, including the second-biggest catch of the day, a two-pound sculpin. That was the good news.
The trade-off for my good fortune was a queasy stomach. Fisherman III pitched up and rocked. Bobbed over and swayed. It was pure hell. I puked twice. Three other folks "lightened their lunch," as Captain McGriff gently joked.
Today, the next day, sitting here typing at my shaky computer, my whole room wavers too. Shuddering, trembling. My ugly stomach. Ugh.
FISH TALES 5
(It's Raining Fish)
Chorus: On our best day, on the New Seaforth, we were in a free-for-all, blue clear water, a warm morning, two stone's throws from the jutting coast of La Jolla, and thousands upon thousands of baitfish in multiple schools swam wild around us. Birds were everywhere, seagulls and pelicans, cormorants diving, small private fishing boats, anglers in kayaks, dozens of sea lions, and us, the New Seaforth, pulling up bonito, mackerel, and barracuda boatwide, nearly every cast.
The baitfish, schools of anchovies and sardines, were the main attraction, of course. They caused the rest of the frenzy. Baitfish everywhere, baitfish breaking the water and boiling by the thousands. Baitfish like raindrops falling upward, breaking the ocean surface, making a loud whoosh. Whoosh. Little tails breaking. Little flips. Whooshes all around. That many baitfish.
FISH TALES 6
Chorus: You're onboard and you've got your tackle and the boat's at the right spot. You reach into the outer bait tank and you grab a lively baitfish. You hook the big sardine or the little anchovy through its bony nose, and then you drop it fluttering into the water and let it swim.
At this point, one of three things happens: (1) it swims and gets tired, in which case you reel it in after two or three minutes and get a new anchovy or sardine; (2) it swims and gets bitten in half by a sea lion, in which case you reel it in and get a new anchovy or sardine; or (3) it swims and attracts a bigger fish, which bites and, hopefully, gets hooked, in which case you fight to get the big fish on the boat.
FISH TALES 7
Fisherman Two: "I went out for the trifecta yesterday. Morning, p.m., and twilight. Didn't keep anything either. Just wanted to get out of the house."
Chorus: And now he was out there again the next afternoon?
Fisherman Two: "I'm living the good life, huh?"
FISH TALES 8
Chorus: When it comes to getting my bait "into the zone" (out and down to where the fish are), I adhere to the "watched pot never boils" school of thought. I cast it out of sight, and hope.
REGARDING "FISH TALES"
Captain Huber: "Lying about what you catch does more damage in the long run than telling the truth. You know, bringing in a few extra people tomorrow because I lied about my catch today, that's great for the short term, but in the long run it's suicide. Because people are going to realize what's going on. The fishing world is too small. It's too easy for someone to go home and check the Internet and see what was caught, and maybe they were on the boat, and someone will know if you're lying. And word of mouth is everything in this business. You can't have people who think you're a liar. It does more for business in the long-term if you tell the truth, I think, even if you didn't catch anything on a particular day."
Frank LoPreste: "I would consider lying about catches to be sacrilegious. I would just be right down a guy's throat for doing something like that, if I found out."
Captain J.D. McGriff, of the Fisherman III: "I don't see much benefit in lying about what you catch. We're checked by Fish and Game anyway. And people call your bluffs when you embellish. You always end up getting caught in the end. Because if you lie once, then you've got to lie all the time to keep up with your lie."
(Other Kinds of Fish Tales)
Captain Hudson: "Last week this guy came up to me and said, 'Are you the captain?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And then he said, 'You suck!'
"He was serious. We weren't catching any fish.
"I thought it was pretty funny."
Captain Huber: "In '83, we had one of the best El Niño currents and warm water from the south, and it brought in all these exotic fish. Lots of yellowfin tuna that year. We got a marlin just a few miles off the point of Point Loma. We had some big 70-pound tuna that year.
"But this one trip, we had about 60 people on the boat. And we were doing three-quarter-day trips. And we got out into a big school of yellowfin tuna right away. And in just a few hours, we had something like 240 tuna that ranged from 10 to 15 pounds on the boat. And it was just as good as you want it. Very, very good fishing. And it got to the point where there wasn't the deck space to handle the fish that we had. All the bags were full. The entire area between the bait tank and the hatch was full of fish. We had probably one of the most impressive catches that the boat had ever had.
"So the decision was made, you know, we were going to have to fillet a lot of that, and process it, and we decided to call it a day. I don't remember exactly what the hours were -- those are things I'm very aware of now as a captain, but back then, as a deckhand, I just don't know for sure -- but anyway, we ended up coming in at least three hours before we were scheduled to. And I'll never forget this one couple, who had bags and bags of fish, and they were appalled that we were depriving them of their last few hours of fishing. They started telling us that it was wrong and that we were cheating them and ripping them off.
"And then they started convincing other people on deck -- and most of them had caught a lot less fish than they had -- they started whispering that everyone should have a chance to catch as many fish as they had caught. And it really started a big problem. Everyone was complaining, and everyone was getting angry, and it was crazy, because we'd had one of the best days in the history of the boat. I think we ended up giving away some free passes."
Captain McGriff: "Years ago, long-range fishing, when I was just starting out, I was a deckhand on a boat where the captain was clearly unbalanced. He was always throwing things, yelling, pushing people. Actually, I think it was a good character-builder for me. Getting chewed out right in front of passengers -- it's not professional, but it does make you a stronger person."
Chorus: So did McGriff ever coordinate or become part of a mutiny?
Captain McGriff: "No. No mutinies. All you really could do was quit and go work for another captain. After a while, the word gets around about the bad captains, and then no one wants to work for them. You just learn to avoid those guys."
Chorus: How would a mutiny work, nowadays?
Captain McGriff: "A boat's just like any on-land business. If you're being physically abused or put in danger, then you can sue, I guess."
Captain Jason Coz, of the Dolphin: "We had these three big Marines onboard once, just back from Iraq. And you could tell they'd been drinking before they even got onboard. And even after we went out, it seemed like their whole goal was to get drunk. And they were big guys, all three of them.
"So after a while, they were getting loud and obnoxious, and I went and explained to them that pretty soon I was going to have to shut them off. But they just got louder and kept drinking more.
"So I did shut them off. And they really didn't like that. They were giving me a stink, calling me names, almost ruining the whole trip for everyone with their antics.
"Except that we were catching fish that day full speed: yellowtail, calico bass, barracuda. So finally this one Marine, a big dork, a big jarhead, whatever you want to call him, goes back to the bait tank, and his friend goes to cast, and he hooks his buddy right through the nose.
"So I looked at him, and he looked at me, and this big hook was hanging down right through his nose, and there was blood, the whole bit. And he just reaches up, before I can say anything, and he yanks the hook right out of his nose. 'Arghhh!' Just like that, pulling straight down. He definitely was going to have a scar. But everyone got on them after that. Those Marines quieted down pretty good then."
SEA LIONS 1
Chorus: Sea lions suck. There, I said it.
Reeling in the entrails-trailed head of your baitfish is an inconvenience, yes, but fighting up a sweat for ten minutes only to reel in the disembodied mouth, eyes, and gills of a prize yellowtail can ruin your whole day.
But that's what sea lions do to fishermen.
They wait, lolling on buoys, lounging in the mouths of the bays, until a fishing charter zips by. Then the chase is on. It's like when we were kids: "Ice cream man! Ice cream man! Wait!"
Captain Coz: "Here come the dogs!"
Captain McGriff: "They're a lot cuter at SeaWorld, aren't they. They're like little kids who've learned what they can get away with."
Captain Huber: "The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 pretty much protected sea lions. And now, there's an awful lot of them. They've grown outside of their traditional boundaries, and they're more numerous now than they ever were before.
"There are a lot of sea creatures that make their living off of party boats and off of fishermen. You talk to the bait guys, there's 40 or 50 animals that spend the day chasing them around. You talk to the lobster guys, there's animals that know about finding their traps at the bottom of the ocean, ripping them open, and getting the bait out of the traps.
"Sea lions are a nuisance, and they are a problem, but for every trouble animal, there's probably a hundred that go out and do their own hunting in a natural way where people aren't involved."
SEA LIONS 2
(Potential Deterrence Methods for Pacific Harbor Seals & California Sea Lions, revised May 2006, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Potential methods for use by fishers to deter Pacific harbor seals and California sea lions
from damaging gear or catch (anglers must be actively fishing with gear deployed).
Visual Repellents/Noise Makers:
- boat hazing, circling
- pounding on hull
- pyrotechnics (e.g., bird screamers, bangers, underwater firecrackers, cracker shells)
- starter pistols
- horns, bells, whistles
- paint ball guns
- nonlethal ammunition (e.g., rubber bullets, sabot rounds, game stingers)
Methods to Avoid — The following methods and techniques have an increased likelihood of causing injury or death and should be avoided.
- No Firearms with "live" (lethal) ammunition
- No Devices with Injurious Projectiles (e.g., archery gear, crossbows, spear guns, bangsticks)
- No Sharp/Pointed Objects (e.g., harpoons, spears, gaffs, nail studded bats/poles/clubs)
- No Entangling Devices (e.g., loose webbing, snares, concertina wire)
- No Aggressive Tactile Methods (e.g., striking animals with bats, hammers etc., impact with vehicles or boats)
- No Tainted Baits or Poisons
Act Responsibly and Use Common Sense! -- Regardless of method or intent, the property owner or fisher may be subject to prosecution should a marine mammal be seriously injured or killed as a result of deterrence efforts for the protection of property,
gear, or catch.
SEA LIONS 3
Captain McGriff: "We've tried all that deterrence stuff, like paintballs and slingshots, but it doesn't really work. So we don't do it at all. The sea lions just get used to it. They don't seem to care.
"What we should do instead is invite the Eskimos down. Or we could introduce orcas and great whites. Except that would put a damper on the swimming and surfing. Or maybe we should show the sea lions some video from up in Alaska. You know how these sea lions will steal a big fish and then swim out and toss it up in the air and catch it, and toss it up and catch it again, and flop it around and play with it before they eat it? Well, we should show the sea lions some footage of orcas up north doing the same thing to them. That might help."
Bonine: Relatively effective, but it put me to sleep, literally. I was exhausted and hungover all day.
Dramamine: Hardly worked at all, but no aftereffects except for a strong case of landsickness.
Sea-Bands: Actually worked well, although the ocean was quite flat. The only side effect was two round indentations on my wrists.
Scopolamine Patch: I tore this little patch off my neck right after I threw up for the second time. In all fairness, the ocean was very choppy, and perhaps no medication would have helped. I was one of four anglers who got sick over the side of the boat that day.
Bill Poole: "A lot of it's whether you hit a rough day or a calm day. Sometimes the medications don't matter. And for some people it's just mental, and nothing else matters. I've got a buddy who lives in Wyoming, and he'll come out here to fish, but I joke with him that he starts to get seasick around Salt Lake City. He's got such a thing built up in his mind about it."
Captain Huber: "I used to get seasick as a kid, growing up, and I swore I'd never go on a boat again. But I overcame it. Getting seasick and having to work was awful. But I just beat it."
Dr. Tim Radke, cardiopulmonary radiologist and expert on seasickness: "Seasickness, or motion sickness, is caused by the disruption of spatial orientation. Our brain gets orientation signals from three places, basically: from our sense of sight; from very sensitive nerve-sensing organs in our tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints called proprioceptors; and also from the vestibular system, which is a series of semicircular canals in our inner ears that are filled with fluid.
"Now, if the signals reaching our brains from any one of these sources disagree with the signals coming from other sources, then our brains become confused. We lose our sense of orientation. And the symptoms of this are sweating, anxiety, dizziness, and nausea.
"For example, if you're a passenger in a car, and you're reading a book, then your body is sensing the motion of the car. You're bouncing up and down, and your muscles are sensing that. You're being propelled through space, and your semicircular canals can sense those changes and your body knows that it's moving. But you're reading a book. You're focused in your visual cortex on something really close, and that's not moving relative to everything else. So then your brain starts to get nervous. It knows something's wrong."
Chorus: So was seasickness just psychosomatic? Was it all in our heads, literally?
Dr. Radke: "That's a good observation. Yes. The brain is creating an illness. It might be a classic instance of that. People think that 'psychosomatic' means there isn't really a problem. But what it really means is that something arising from within the brain is causing you to be physically ill.
"Fresh air might feel good, but it doesn't help with the motion sickness. It just helps to have fresh air because you're sweating and you feel nauseous, and fresh air always feels good when you think you're going to vomit. What we really want to do to get over motion sickness is try to bring all of the senses and signals reaching our brains into agreement.
"And the medicines basically deaden our senses. They tell our brains to ignore the extra input. And they also serve to settle our stomachs.
"Acupressure might work as well. In many ways acupressure operates similarly to the proprioceptors I mentioned. It stimulates these neural pathways that we don't usually pay attention to. The Chinese have known about that for a very long time. It's not really well understood, but it's not a total crock.
"But our brains can get used to any experience if we have it enough. Our brains and bodies get used to the feeling. They call that 'earning your sea legs.' But then the irony is once you return to land you'll probably have to adjust to the stillness all over again. You've overcome seasickness, but now you've got landsickness."
Fisherman Three: "You're going to keep your mackerel?"
Chorus: Why not?
Fisherman Three: "Because only Asians eat mackerel."
Crewman Five: "Don't waste your time. You can just go to Vons and buy some Puppy Chow for 89 cents."
Chorus: Ironic, I think, that when most people say they want fish, what they really want is something that doesn't taste very much like fish. Halibut? Sea bass? Sole? Half-flavorless fillets. Something that comes from the ocean ought to taste like the ocean.
At any rate, I cooked side by side the five fish fillets I had, exactly 22 hours after they were caught. Each was baked in aluminum foil with salt and pepper for ten minutes at 375 degrees.
My tasting notes:
King mackerel: Very fishy, gamey, robust. Dark meat. Chunky texture. So oily it holds onto your mouth and gets caught in your teeth almost like canned fish.
Bonito: Oily, dense, flavorful, rich. Darker meat. Relatively fishy.
Barracuda: Meatier texture, firm and stringy. Light in color. Quite mild flavor.
Calico bass: Flaky, white meat, very light, very mild. Delicate flavor, feathery in the mouth.
Sculpin: Firm, flaky, white meat, mild, slightly sweet, savory and rich, moist. Surprised we don't see sculpin more in local restaurants.
Chorus: Fishing is a game of legends and royalty. Barney Miller. Eddie McEwen. Bruce Barnes. Bill Poole. It's passed on through families, and great fishermen seem to be born, not made.
Bill Poole: "Maybe in the old days there were big names associated with fishing, but not so much nowadays, I don't think. But back then, back in the early '60s, when we had 50 boats going to fish the Coronado Islands at the height of the season, along with a bunch of private boats and yachts, back then, the guy who consistently produced the best catches developed a name. And he was called the Highliner. And the Highliner caught more fish than anybody else. And, of course, that's who everybody wanted to fish with. If you built that kind of reputation, it was like money in your pocket. It was also pretty good for your pride. Like my original boat, the Polaris. It seemed like every time we went out, we'd get more fish than anybody else. That's just how it was."
Jason Coz: "I saw a picture of Bill Poole in a magazine once with a gun in his hand and his foot on the head of a lion."
Chorus: Bill Poole's been to Africa 25 times on safari. His prowess as a fisherman is legendary.
Today's reigning fisher king is almost certainly Poole's protégé, Frank LoPreste. His name is pronounced with a long last e, like "LoPrestee." When people say Frank LoPreste's name, they whisper.
Frank LoPreste: "I started fishing up in Newport Beach, and I came to San Diego in 1965, when I was 22 or 23, and I called Bill Poole. Now, Bill Poole is one of the most successful men in the local fishing industry. I think he's about 85 years old now. And he knew of me, and I called him one day, and I told him I wanted to come to San Diego, and I was in the market to buy a boat. And he said, 'Well, do you have any money?' And I said 'No.' And he said, 'Well, how do you expect to buy a boat?' And I said, 'Well, I figure if anybody would know of an opportunity where I could get into a boat for nothing and do sweat equity, then it would be you.' And Bill Poole helped me. That's where I got started."
Chorus: LoPreste, 63, owns five boats, holds liens on dozens of others, has two gas docks, and is the majority owner of three of the five sportfishing landings in San Diego -- Point Loma, Fisherman's Landing, and Seaforth. One of LoPreste's boats is the fastest long-range fishing boat in the world, the Royal Polaris.
But can LoPreste fish?
LoPreste: "The biggest fish I ever caught, well, I'm not sure how big it was because I threw it back. But I've caught black marlin that were huge, well over 600 pounds. The biggest fish I ever had weighed back at the docks was a bluefin tuna: 299 pounds, 6 ounces."
Captain McGriff: "I get along with R.J., Fred, and Jason, the other half-day captains. So we all work together, for the most part. Plus, we work different areas, generally. Although we do hold back maybe a little in the summertime, when the fishing's really good. But in winter we help each other as much as possible. It's a mutual thing. We all want to be the best, but we don't want to put anyone else out of business."
Frank LoPreste: "You can work with each other, but you can also compete with each other. There's no doubt that one landing is always trying to do better than the other. And the staff wants to be better than the other, and I consider that healthy competition. It's better for the industry, and most of all, it's better for the customer, and that's what our entire focus is on."
Captain Huber: "If the weather's bad in the wintertime, or if we don't have enough customers, then H&M Landing is right next door to us at Point Loma Sportfishing. So if we cancel, then we send our folks to them, and if they cancel, then they send their people to us. We're in competition, but we still help each other out. It's better for the boat, for the passengers, for the fishing business. It's better for everyone if you're not too cutthroat about things. We have to share ideas and share information. It can be a win-win situation. We need to work together.
"But, of course, I'm just talking about the half-day boats. There's only four half-day boats in town, two out of San Diego Bay, and two out of Mission Bay, and we all work pretty well together. But when you start getting into the overnight trips, that's a whole different story. They have code groups and fleets, and there's a lot of competition there. It's very political. Often, those boats won't share information at all. There's dozens of those boats."
Frank LoPreste: "A code group means you work with certain guys and you don't work with other guys. In general, our cooperation is extremely high. Although you have to differentiate. You don't want to have to share information with anyone who only works half as hard as you do. Why do I want to help a guy who doesn't do his share of the looking and going out and taking chances? Why help anyone who just goes wherever we're catching fish and who never does anything to help find fish?
"You've got to understand. To be successful in this business, you're essentially brought up in it. You get involved from the time you're in high school. In my case, I started on boats when I was 8 years old. And now I'm 62. And there's a lot of training, a lot of learning, and when you get some guy who, excuse me, but who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground, as they say, then he has to earn his way into the code group. He has to show that he belongs in the code group. And it's not only that. It's the ethics of fishing. Responsible angling. Not catching over limits. A willingness to work with other guys. That type of thing."
Bill Poole: "In the old days we used to use code words, and you knew if certain things happened, you used the code word, and then you'd switch to an old-fashioned radio with your code group. Now, yes, there's some greediness among the sportfishing fleet, and you know, that's great, some competition is good for the business, but one of the major reasons for the codes was because of the purse seiners that might be listening in. If you came upon a big area of fish and started blabbing your mouth, well, the seiners would be there the next day. Now, the seiners had to make a living too, I had nothing against them, but I'd just as soon not guide them to the fish!"
Frank LoPreste: "To me, the difference between long-range sportfishing and the half-day trips around the shore is like this.
"It's very similar to you having a son -- or daughter, for that matter -- who really likes baseball. And he starts off in Little League, and pretty soon it's Pony League, and then he's thinking about high school, but then he goes to a summer baseball camp. And just like that, he's twice the player he was. And why does he excel at a summer camp? Because he goes away, and he gets to play baseball in the morning, he gets to play in the afternoon, and he gets to play under the lights.
"So long-range trips are a fulfillment of everything, in the sense that you can fish 24 hours a day. Not only are you having an opportunity to catch fish all day, but you also have some of the very best people in the industry. Because if you work one of those boats, you've got to love it. You can't do it for money. So you've got nothing but pros out there helping you."
Bill Poole: "The boats that we use here in San Diego are top-of-the-line fishing boats. A lot of them have staterooms, where most of your open party fishing boats north of San Diego are just open pans you fish off of -- 'pumpkin seeds,' we call them. So there's a lot of difference in the cost when you start to add staterooms and refrigeration and showers and the like.
"My boat, the Excel, has a fish hold that holds somewhere around 30 tons of fish. There are two separate brine tanks, one around 0 to 15 degrees, way below freezing, which freezes the fish solid as a rock. That's for fish that go to the cannery. For table fish, there's another well that's down around 30 degrees. Freezing for saltwater is about 28 degrees, so that is regular saltwater going through the system, kept just above freezing, so that fish is kept almost fresh. This is all stuff that's been innovated over the years.
"When I started going out on long-range trips in 1951, we had about 90 gallons of freshwater onboard, and that was it. You had a saltwater shower, or you just dove over the side or they'd turn the hose on you. And there became more and more demand on those long-range trips, more and more demand for comfort. Now we have showers, yes, and we have water-makers that convert saltwater to freshwater, because some people like to take two showers a day. They get a little fish blood on them and they've got to clean off. Air-conditioning in the staterooms, meals three times a day, hors d'oeuvres at about ten in the morning and again about two in the afternoon. Long-range fishing is a class act nowadays."
LoPreste: "We've got it all on the Royal Polaris. You can sleep, eat, fish, read books, watch movies, play cards, and hang out with your buddies on a boat. First-class accommodations."
THE SHIPWRIGHT IS NO MORE
Chuck Driscoll, part-owner of Driscoll Boatworks on Shelter Island Drive: "No one's building sportfishing boats anymore. The market's full. The boats out there now have lasted 50 to 60 years, some of them, and they're still in pretty good shape. And then when someone does need a fishing boat, they convert other boats, oil rig supply boats maybe, into sportfishers. But Poole-Chaffee's gone. Dittmar & Donaldson's gone."
Bill Poole: "Todd Chaffee was the brains of our operation. We had a good partnership for years. I took care of the bidding and the money, and he took care of designing and building the boats. He was a genius without much education, but he was a genius with fiberglass or steel or aluminum or wood. He could work with anything. But he was poor with figures. He couldn't make money at it, so I came along and took care of the money, and we did well.
"Several things have happened now to slow down the boat-building market. For one thing, the cost of building boats has gone up so much more than what we can charge for our ticket. So it's almost impossible to build a new boat and make it pencil out. There have been some individual boats built recently, but no one's turning out boats anymore the way Dittmar did and the way we did back in the day.
"Dittmar & Donaldson was a very good builder. They made all-wooden boats out of Costa Mesa. And our boatyard, when we were running to capacity, we had about 15 to 20 men on each boat. It took maybe a year to build a very simple boat, up to over two years for a boat that was pretty fancy, with a lot of woodwork in it, and refrigeration and air-conditioning and whatnot. Although sportfishers of old didn't have all that special stuff.
"The cost to build a fishing boat could be as little as $75,000 and as much as over $3 million. My particular boat, Excel, cost $3.5 million. And that was 16 years ago. It would probably cost over $5 million to replace it now."
THE SAN DIEGO TUNA SEINER IS NO MORE
Chorus: For many years, and as recently as 1980, San Diego was the tuna-fishing capital of the world. The big boats used to net these prized fish are called seiners (pronounced "SAY-ners"). In 1981, at the height of the industry, 90 seiners were stationed in the harbors of this city, according to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. Seiners use gigantic nets -- as much as a mile long and 400 feet deep -- to catch hundreds of thousands of fish every year.
One preferred method of catching tuna is to look for these fish under schools of porpoise, since the two often swim together. Of course, this means the porpoise are often caught in the nets as well, and, because porpoise breathe oxygen, these mammals would often drown.
Today, we've gotten the total mortalities of porpoise down to levels approaching zero. But the battle to reduce their mortality rates doomed the tuna industry here in town.
It took over 20 years, but the numbers paint the picture. From a high of 167 seiners and pole-and-line tuna-fishing boats in San Diego in 1978, only 1, a seiner called the Connie Jean, remains in San Diego today. From 1980, when San Diego brought in 54 percent of the U.S. tuna supply, and over 5 percent of the world's total, our local take today is down to zero.
So the seiner days are no more in San Diego, although many of the major tuna companies, like Chicken of the Sea, still have their headquarters here.
Captain Huber: "The American fleet of seiners that used to fish porpoise schools and catch tuna underneath porpoise, they got put out of business, in part, because of government legislation. And now these foreign fleets fish our waters, and a lot of them aren't even as careful as the American fleets were.
"I went to Catholic school in Point Loma with a lot of the Portuguese kids who made the decision to go into commercial fishing, and they were conscientious fishermen. They jumped into the nets with the tuna and the porpoise and the sharks, and they kind of put their life on the line to make sure there wasn't incidental kill on the porpoise.
"But foreign interests don't care. Some fly-by-night third world country doesn't care. Now they've got the boats, so they do the fishing. And American companies won't buy tuna that was caught near porpoise schools. So it closed an opportunity for the American fleet, and now third world countries are picking up the slack."
Michael Hinton, senior scientist at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission: "When I came here in the 1970s, in the Navy, to be stationed down here, I just loved looking at that tuna fleet. It was beautiful. It was really impressive. The bay was full of those big seiners. Then, when I came back to work for the commission, they were pretty much gone.
"Seiners go up to 1200-metric-ton carrying capacity. They can be over 300 feet in length. A seiner may have a crew of about 20, and they drag these huge nets called 'purse seines' to catch literally thousands of tuna in a trip.
"So the net hangs down straight. They drop a skiff off the back end of the seiner, and it has, tied to it, the free end of the net. If you can imagine, stacked up on the deck of the seiner, this huge net, and the skiff has the top end hooked to it. And then the seiner essentially drives away from the skiff, and the net just falls off the back.
"The seiner drives in a big circle, and then comes back around to the skiff, hoping to encircle as much of the school as it can. We use a little shallower nets here in the eastern Pacific than they do in the western Pacific, in general, and here the nets get down to where they reach the thermocline level, and the cooler waters keep the fish from wanting to go out the bottom. So then they close the bottom by pulling a wire rope through these big steel purse rings; they pull the wire on a huge winch system, and it purses the net, it purses the seine.
"And once the net's closed, then the fish can't get out. And they start bringing in the float line. And as they bring in the float line, they make a smaller and smaller space for the fish. There's a very involved process called a 'back-down process' that they go through now to release porpoise and dolphin from the net, and there's all these things they go through to get the fish in close.
"But then, once they get the fish in close to the boat, then they have what's called a brail, and it's essentially like a big kitchen sieve, and these brails can hold about a ton of fish at a time. And then they bring the fish in, a brail at a time, and they dump the fish straight into a set of hoppers or directly into a well, and sometimes they sort these fish as they're running down these chutes into the loading area down below. They've opened up and readied these tanks of cold brine, down below, so that they're ready to receive the fish at the right temperature, and it's all set for how much they think they'll need for the school they're catching. And then they're frozen solid real fast. Sorted for size and frozen. And then when they get back to shore, the fish are unloaded for processing.
"It's kind of a judgment call about these other countries being less conscientious than we are regarding porpoise. Every country that fishes for tuna participates in a porpoise-and-dolphin-reduction program. If they don't, they can run into problems with selling their fish.
"At this point, there's no conservation that I know of, no conservation issue with respect to extinction of the species, when it comes to porpoise or dolphins. So you get down to the question of exportation of morality from our country to others. And what constitutes as wise use and what doesn't. You see that in the international whaling community as well. There are stocks of whales that are perfectly capable of sustaining a use harvest, but the judgment of many says that we shouldn't be able to do that. And the judgment of those who've always lived on them forever, like the Inuits, say, 'Yes, we should.' So it's like that."
Buck Everingham: "The loss of the tuna fleet was kind of a negative thing for me. It hurt us and our industry because there's nobody around to supply the stuff we used to be able to get right off the shelf, so we have to stock our own netting and rope and twine. I have to buy those things now in larger quantities and then hold on to it. If we're in the middle of our season and we rip our net up, and I don't have enough #18 twine to sew the net, then I'm out of business. Now I have to keep that going myself.
"I watched it all unfold, and it turned into a mess. I mean, you know, I know tuna fishermen who've been eaten by sharks getting porpoises out of the net, and I know Harold Medina pretty well, who invented the Medina Panel, or the Porpoise Panel, as they call it, to help get porpoise out of the net, because they could see themselves that they didn't want to kill the porpoise. The Medina Panel is a heavier part of the net, so when they roll to that part of the net when they reel the net in, they back the boat up and sink the cork line down and pull it out from under the school of porpoise to free them, and leave them the tuna. So, you know, 20 or 30 years before it ever became an environmental issue, they were already dealing with it. And their own sons and brothers and fathers were dying to get the porpoise out of the nets, and then they come up and make one decision and put the whole thing out of business.
"I remember back then, the news organizations were running a propaganda film on all the channels, this film that was 20 or 30 years old at the time, and it was a Panamanian tuna seiner, it wasn't even an American boat, and it was this footage of a seiner setting nets around some spinner porpoise, just to prove that they could catch them, and they were running this film on all the stations saying that this was what was going on. It wasn't even authentic footage of what was going on, but they were showing it on all the channels. And that was only one example. There was all this stuff everywhere about 'Save the Dolphins.' Everybody got all hot on it, Greenpeace and Congress, and they were able to fire it through legislation to stop the tuna industry in the United States.
"Now, from what I understand, the tuna industry is all in foreign ports, where they have no regulations, so I don't know what it really did to help the porpoise. All it really did was hurt American industry, which seems to be all the environmentalists want to do anymore. Cutting our noses off to spite our faces.
"A whole big group of family businesses, just like mine, got shut down and put out of work.
"So it is a touchy issue with me. I'm worried about some environmentalist whim putting me out of business one day. And if the bait business goes, then the whole thing's going, since it all starts with the bait.
"Anyhow, that's why I tell my kids to make sure to get a college education."