September 7, 2009

The fishboat wars

OUR LOCAL PORT AUTHORITY reports that every year they hear stories of fouled nets, crab pots, and damaged propellers due to encounters with commercial fishing gear. They’re referring to recreational boats encountering fishing gear, of course.

The good news is that new legislation now requires our gillnetters, crabbers, and purse seiners to mark each end of their nets with two large red polyform buoys. Furthermore, they have to place smaller red buoys every 50 fathoms along the lines.

It’s about time. Fishing and sailing don’t mix at the best of times but the commercial fishers – nice as they are on land – can be a menace to those of us who find their nets and lines stretched right across the most direct routes from one place to another.

A few years back I was returning to harbor just after nightfall when I came across dozens of gillnetters blockading the approaches to the marina. They literally had their nets in layers, parallel to each other, so they were almost impenetrable to any yacht attempting to make a normal entrance to the marina.

The nets were unlit except for a little glimmer at the far end, away from the fishboat. I could see dozens of these little glimmers, but had no way to tell to which boats they were attached.

As I approached under power, a frenzy of light-flashing started up on one of the boats. He wasn’t signaling morse. He was simply flashing a very bright light in my eyes. I guessed I was approaching his net but I didn’t care. I was in an ugly mood. What the hell made these people think they had the right to obstruct all traffic for their own commercial benefit? What would we say if people started setting up hotdog stands on our freeways, forcing vehicles to stop and go around them?

I kept a close watch out for his net, intending to cut it if I had to, but I couldn’t spot it in the darkness until it was too late. I had just time to slip the gear into neutral. Thanks to my old-fashioned deep-keel design, his damn net just slid under the keel and up again behind me without hanging up on anything. I went on my way, cursing.

I once saw a gillnetter set his net completely across a busy channel in Puget Sound and drift sideways with the current at two knots. It was winter, and he was probably correct in his assumption that there would not be much traffic, but I couldn’t help wondering what I would have done if I had come beating up to him under sail in my boat. Sometimes I think it’s a good job I don’t carry a gun.

Today’s Thought
Can the fish love the fisherman?
— Martial, Epigrams

“I couldn’t sleep a wink last night with those curtains wide open.”
“Why didn’t you close them?”
“I can’t reach across the street.”

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