I decided to tag along with a couple of co-workers over at the commercial docks. These guys work the docks during the week, interviewing captains and sampling catch to obtain crucial information about what is pulled out of the ocean. Commercial fishing docks are a different place. A place not too many people think about or get to see up close. A place that to most people...would smell like a fish thats been baking in the sun for a week. To fishermen, it's the smell of money. Tempers flare, ice is flying, and fish are being thrown around. If you're standing in the way, you'll get pelted by a grouper and then get yelled at.
Men with grisly beards and leathery skin, all wearing fishing bibs and rubber boots. Some of them still have most of their teeth. But all of them look about 15 years older than they actually are, and the women...lets not talk about them. They can be the most intimidating bunch you'll come across, or the most friendly. Sometimes, it just depends on the day. The mood can be pretty unpredictable. Tempers will explode one minute...yelling, kicking tubs around, cursing. The next minute, everyone can't stop laughing.
I've also noticed that no two fish houses are the same. Some are decent establishments. Others have been the most shady corners I've ever stepped foot in. Places where you keep an eye on your back. Places where pirates live.
We pulled up to our first stop of the day. It was a clean place that looked to be well kept. The dock was in a touristy part of town and right across the street from the beachfront condominiums and tanning out-of-towners. We unloaded some equipment and set up before the fish started flying. A bottom longliner had pulled up with a catch of reef fish: Red grouper, black grouper, yellowedge grouper, kitty mitchell, scamp, amberjack, porgies, mutton snapper, and blackfin snapper.
We got to work, weighing and measuring, pulling otoliths, and keeping things timely as to not piss anyone off for holding up the line. There's a guy packing fish and slinging ice. You'd think he'd stay the coolest standing above an enormous vat of ice on a 90 degree day, but he's sweating the most. Some restaurant buyers were hanging in the periphery, probably looking to pull a few fish to cook up for the night's dining vacationers at 30 bucks a plate. After 12,000 pounds of catch, we decided to move on to the next fish house.
Our next stop was a little less clean, a little more smelly, and a lot less friendly. As we walked up to a beat up rusty fish house, I figured out where the smell was coming from. A shark boat was unloading, and we saw several fisherman cleaning some sharks. They all glared at us with a "What the hell are you doing here?" sorta look. They were finning the sharks, probably to ship off to Asia for shark fin soup. Most of them were wearing bloody smocks and elbow length rubber gloves. The butchers were all holding some sort of weapon: large fillet knives, gaffs, and hand hooks...and they all looked like they wanted to hurt me. I decided that my job was to stand there, not make any sudden moves and refrain from making eye contact. While my colleague was failing to make conversation, one guy was hacking away at a sandbar shark dorsal fin. He proceeded to slice off every fin on the shark (even the smallest ones), then cut up the body in large pieces...all while smoking a cig with about an inch of ash hanging off the end. We asked them if they had any bycatch that we could sample. They told us they didn't (I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have told us anyway), and I was glad to peace out of there.
Interesting morning. So, what do you typically do before lunch?
On the weekend, I decided to poke around a huge annual spearfishing tournament they creatively call the St. Pete Open. If you've been to a saltwater fishing tournament before,
you've been to them all. It's crazy crowded, especially towards the end of weigh-in time. Most people are chugging down Budweisers and are about 6 or 7 deep at this point.
"Damn man, that fish is huuuuuuuuge!
The fishers come in sun-burned, exhausted, but excited to see where they show up on the board. And when they're in the money, grown men will hug each other on stage.*
I came to take pictures. I have this new camera, so I'm trying to shoot more. Plus, there's a photo contest I'm thinking of entering. I thought I'd share a few pictures with you. I was playing a little bit with aperture, with mixed results. I like to get creative with depth of field. Here are some of the better shots of the day.
While I was walking around, I witnessed a rare bird. Something you may only see once in a lifetime....if you're lucky. It was the most glorious mullet I've ever seen. Behold.
*not that there is anything wrong with that