An aspiring waterman’s journal. This blog journal will encompass my outdoor ocean experiences for the month of June 2020. I’m a commercial fisherman, spear fisherman, and surfer. These are my stories. Enjoy.
This year marks my fourth season as first mate on the F/V Taylor Mae. Out of Rye NH, it’s a beautiful glossed black 32′ DownEaster. It’s design comes from a refined template that has been used in the waters off the gulf of Maine for centuries. It’s built for a multitude of conditions and its sleek keel design that allows for sharp turns paired with a wide bow keel that allows for maximum stability in rough conditions. This boat’s is a work horse, it is equipped with a hydraulic lifter wheel, Gin pole, high deck rails, and net rails. This makes it a highly versatile commercial vessel, run under Captain Jon Savage, and it utilized as such.
The F/V Taylor Mae operates under three different methods of commercial fishing extraction: benthic gill netting, bait seining, and rod and reel blue fin tuna fishing. This blog will encompass my entire benthic gill netting season , and what an exciting season to share with you all.
Nuts N’ Bolts – Benthic gill netting.
Since this is my first post, I thought it would be advantageous to explain how gill netting works and why it’s so cool. Benthic gill netting consists of a string of seven nets (500ft in length) anchored between two end lines. The nets themselves are ten feet tall and are bordered with a lead line (that holds the net to the ocean floor) and a float line (floats at 10ft above the ocean floor in the water column). This allows the capture of a multitude of ground species and causes minimal by-catch as nets are checked within 48 hour rotations.
A usual June morning – 4:15am my alarm wakes me in the pitch dark, I look at wind, weather, and swell reports, stretch, and hustle down to the harbor. By 5:15am my crew and I are steaming out as the sun screeches across the horizon. A fisherman’s universal call to action. A daily inspirational pastel created by the colors off the water reflected by sunlight, and varied by simple things such as cloud arrangement and weather/wind conditions. Drinking a hot coffee, chewing on a granola bar, and looking at a view that only few see. A true feeling of bliss for me as I know there is nowhere else I would rather be. By 5:35am we pass through the isle of shoals (a small shoal of islands 11mi. offshore in NH and is used as a landmark boarder of NH & Maine waters) a view unique to NH offshore fisherman. Pictured below:
By 6:00am we are hauling our first string of nets. Captain Savage pulls up to the side of our buoy and with a gaff (Hockey stick with a sharp hook on the end) hooks the buoy and slings onto the boat with swiftness and machine like accuracy. Savage then wraps the line attached to the buoy around the hydraulic wheel locking it in place.
Captain Savage then hands me the buoy and hauls up the 275ft end line, eventually the anchor, then finally the gill net. I have to neatly organize the buoy, end line, and anchor. On a boat neatness and organization is key for a successful operation. Once the net is hauled up to the side of the boat, it’s game time. I take my place on the port (left) side of the table, Captain savage in positioned in the starboard (right) corner pictured above, and then a deckhand at the end of the table. The net is hauled by the wheel and sorted at the end of the table by the deck hand ‘flaking’ the net (spreading it between his feet) into two neat piles. While the deckhand is flaking, Savage and I are ‘picking’ (Picking the hauled catch out of the net). I know this sounds like a piece of cake, but, it is extremely hard to have a smoothly running operation and sometimes can take years of experience and curated coordination to haul a net in a timely manner. It can take anywhere between 1h30min-4 hours depending on weather conditions, species abundance, and trouble shooting with net entanglements. The net is then set off the ship’s stern (back end) and only goes out smoothly if everything is neatly organized. We usually finish two strings a day with a lunch break in between, to achieve our daily limit. Here’s a link to a similar gill netting operation for a more visual look on how it all works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTxXgJoVg6s
Our daily catch includes a multitude of different commercial species all with different quota’s and prices that make up our daily pay. This is precisely the reason I love this method of fishing. You really get a sense of what species are making up certain local ecosystems and their abundance. Everything we pull up, we pull out alive, by-catch is a rarity. Gill netting is always full of surprises, which keeps things interesting and fun throughout the day. The species we keep and sell include: Lobsters, Halibut, Cod, Haddock, Pollock, Whiting, Monkfish, and Flounder (Yellow tail, Black=back, Grey-soul, & Dabs). We sell our lobster to the local seafood restaurant Petey’s and our fish goes to the Seabrook fishing cooperative. The multitude of other species is shocking and really have shown me first hand how ecologically diverse soft-bottom ecosystems in the gulf of Maine can be.
June 1st 2020 marks the start of the common water gill net season in NH. Throughout June I will be giving two synopsizes on our weekly trips as well as talk about some off-time ocean activities and the stories that it all ensues. It will serve as a wild and exciting body of reading content for anyone interested of learning about life on the sea. It will provide digital pictured/videoed content and daily anecdotal catch reports. Since learning some background knowledge on the fishery it will be an easy and interesting read, in hopes to inspire any and all to get out and experience nature.
A Surfing fisherman ~ Waterman
The term waterman has been coined into many outdoor clothing brand marketing techniques, but it isn’t a title earned by wearing an article of clothing. It’s earned through years of dedication and stewardship to the ocean environment. It’s a deep understanding and a respectful homage to the all deciding forces of the ocean. Its a human who stores a wealth of knowledge that encompasses natural human interaction with the ocean and how our physical systems connect. It’s a shared title of both men and women that diminishes more and more by the century, and the rise of the age of technology, a dying way of life. In my opinion the ultimate example of someone who holds this title is surfing pioneer Reynolds Yater. Yater was a Californian trap fisherman who took his understanding of hydrodynamics from boat design and incorporated it into his surfboard design. Trial and error refinement, working from dusk til dawn. His designed contributed to the 1960s short surfboard revolution, and his surfboards are still manufactured and used today. Yater lived in a time where surfing was first branching out into subtle design changes to improve riding performance, and Renyolds led that charge. Here’s a quick interview of Yater explaining his surfboard shaping career, he’s one of my greatest influences and one of the pioneers of the surfing waterman’s way of life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxAsgx7M7Xw
For some modern day sources of waterman & women can be sourced in Patagonia’s film fish people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vejz78dhfZk it includes Kimi Werner one of my favorite spear-fisherwomen. Her ability to dive is unrivaled and her stewardship towards the ocean is admirable.
In my own life I am trying to encompass the experiences of those before me who hold the title of a waterman. To chase their journey on my own path, in order to fill my life with experiences that will eternally connect me to the ocean so I can whole heartedly protect it to the best of my ability during my lifetime. I’ve found these connections through diving, fishing and surfing and will continue to cultivate these activities to build my personal wealth of knowledge of the ocean.
Thanks for reading my first post ! Check back later this week for the start of the 2020 gill netting season with weekly updates !
Links of concern: Bristol Bay pebble mine; http://www.savebristolbay.org/ educate yourself, take action to prevent irreversible damage to special ecosystems.