Tag: fishing

The Dory Men

Denny was born up Pubnico way in eighteen and ninety two,

In nineteen eleven to Boston he came, a dory man tried and true.

He fished from a dory for thirty two years till the war put an end to the trade

Moved to Chatham and fished alongshore in good weather, not much, but a living he made,

At age seventy-two he fetched up on the beach in a shack in the woods by the Bay,

Rigged gear for the fleet and cleared our bad snarls, recoiled in a tight perfect lay.

A master, was Denny, rerigging our gear, each bundle a near work of art,

With his help all that summer we landed huge trips and a half share we left in his cart.

Denny was tiny, a lone quiet man, no family he had of we knew,

We’d leave him some beer and groceries to hand in the winter when gear work was few.

Then one day next winter Denny was sick, in his shack stone cold and in pain,

To a hospital bed in Hyannis he went not far from our boat on the bay.

We’d travel to see him, kids twenty five years, he’s lost in the bed, thin and pale,

Hated that hospital food, he did, wouldn’t eat and was wasting away.

So we went to the fish store and bought us some haddock which we cooked on our boat at the dock,

Wrapped it in foil and raced to the hospital, still hot when he reached for his fork.

Oh that fish he did eat, every bit, every bite, and a smile we’d see in his eyes,

So each day we’d cook and bring him his lunch, hear his stories which Denny called lies.

Later he moved to an old people’s home in South Chatham for hospice care,

The food there was better, but Denny was failing, companionship was all he could share.

And always with Denny, those last weeks he had, three men sat with him for hours,

Old dory mates all, telling tales of the days they all shared in their youth and their power,

Harold and Peter and Edward their names, first sailing then steaming offshore,

From their dories through years of weather and waves, saw men lost in the fog evermore.

I can hear those four men, all old, one quite ill, in that pale late afternoon light,

Their memories and laughter of days now long gone when from dories they worked with such pride.

Denny came to Boston a century ago, a dory man he and his mates,

I was lucky to know him, see his art working gear, he was small but to us he was great.

His lies now all lost, the memories too, but I hold in my heart that rare sight,

Four dory men true, gathered together, keeping real their lost way of life.

Now Denny’s long gone, it’s nigh forty years since the kid in me brought gear to his shack,

And just as his memories are lost now forever mine soon will fade in the black.

When you see an old fisherman, hands like burled wood, skin pale and eyes watery and dim,

Unshaven, clothes rumpled, slumped deep in a chair, never judge there’s no glory in him,

His story not written, his memories mist, his whole way of life but a dream,

Whaler, salt banker, dory man he, now one with the unchanging sea.

Earliest Evidence of Offshore Fishing

This article discusses evidence found off Timor that humans went offshore after fish a long long time ago. I’ve always thought humans were capable seafarers right from the start, I mean, the very start. It’s not an easy thing, to head offshore miles after fish in deep water, but people did it tens of thousands of years ago. This leads me, at least, to think that humans traveled all over the word along the coasts well before overland.  Marine conditions can be bad, but if I had to choose between wandering the uplands being stalked by short face bears, dire wolves, saber tooth cats, and huge lions, or heading to sea in a well made big canoe, with line and some hooks for food, I know what I’d do. What wuld you do?

Oldest evidence for deep-sea fishing found

The world’s oldest evidence of deep sea fishing has been discovered by an Australian research team, showing that our regional ancestors mastered the skill some 42,000 years ago.


Example of one of the shell fishhooks found. Credit: Sue O’Connor

Jerimalai cave

The Jerimalai cave in East Timor. Credit: Sue O’Connor

FAREHAM: The world’s oldest evidence of deep sea fishing has been discovered by an Australian research team, showing that our regional ancestors mastered the skill some 42,000 years ago.

For decades archaeologists have wondered about the maritime skills that early humans possessed when they reached Australia by sea 50,000 years ago. Now, Sue O’Connor and her team from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra have reported the earliest evidence that these first colonists were skilled at pelagic, or deep sea, fishing.

The team excavated Jerimalai cave in East Timor, uncovering thousands of well-preserved animal and fish bones as well as stone tools and shell beads. They also discovered the world’s oldest fishhook, made from a shell and dating back to between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago.

“We believe this is the earliest known example of a fishhook and shows that our ancestors were skilled crafts people as well as fishermen. The hooks don’t seem suitable for deep sea fishing, but it is possible that other types of hooks were being made at the same time,” said O’Connor, lead author of the study published in the current issue of Science.

Fish on the menu

O’Connor’s team found more than 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 individual fish during the excavation. They showed that fish was the staple diet of the earliest dwellers of Jerimalai, making up 56% of the animal remains uncovered and the majority of the fish bones were from deep-sea species such as tuna. Other fish on our ancestors’ menu included parrotfish, groupers, triggerfish and snappers. There is also evidence that they ate sharks, marine turtles and a wide range of shellfish.

“What the site in East Timor has shown us is that early modern humans in Island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills. They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today – fish like tuna. It’s a very exciting find,” said O’Connor.

What’s still unknown is how these ancient people were able to catch these fast-moving deep-ocean fish, but it is clear that they were using sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore.

“These discoveries provide important evidence that the earliest colonisers of Australia had advanced knowledge and skills in stone, bone and wood technology,” commented Nina Kononenko from the University of Sydney. “They were able to build reliable water-crafts, manufacture fishing gears and other tools, as well as items for their subsistence and maritime adaptation as early as 40,000 to 45,000 years ago.”

Solving an enduring puzzle

The team’s findings also indicate that the proportion of deep-sea fish in the diet steadily declined over the millennia, making up just 24% of the total by 5,500 years ago, implying that this type of fishing became less common over time.

These findings may also help shed light on how Australia’s ancient ancestors originally arrived on the continent. It has long puzzled archaeologists that the boats used by indigenous people in Australia when the first Europeans made contact were very simple rafts and canoes. How did they make sure a daunting crossing using such simple boats? The research suggests that the early colonists had advanced maritime skills and technology when they arrived, but that these were gradually lost. “In Timor there was very little in the way of large land-dwelling fauna for the early colonists to eat – mostly rats and bats, snakes and small lizards – so this could have honed their maritime skills,” O’Connor said.

“But the sites that were on the coast 50,000 – 40,000 years ago became submerged as sea level rose at the end of the Pleistocene. And, when they settled, the early Australians would have found a wealth of marsupial fauna – an easier food source than deep-sea fish. So perhaps coastal resources would not have been as attractive to them and over time people lost their maritime skills.”

Capacity to invent technologies

The finds from the Jerimalai cave site demonstrate that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had high-level maritime skills, and by implication the technology needed to make the ocean crossings to reach Australia. It also helps to show how modern humans may have travelled to the Sahul, the landmass that was made up of Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Aru Islands during the Pleistocene epoch.

This is a very exciting find indeed,” said Nick Barton, professor in palaeolithic archaeology at the University of Oxford in England. “It provides some of the oldest tangible evidence for sea fishing using line anywhere in the world and offers growing support for an early southern route into the Sahul by seafaring modern humans. It also stokes the current controversy over Homo floresiensis. Why did modern humans apparently not use Flores as a stepping stone island en route to Australia?”

“The humble fish hook discovered by the ANU team is testimony to the extraordinary capacity of our direct ancestors to invent technologies and develop new behaviours to deal with unfamiliar environments as they encountered them,” added Graeme Barker, professor of archaeology at the University of Cambridge in England. “This ‘adaptive plasticity’ appears to have been the main reason why they were able to out-compete other hominin species, such as the Neanderthals of Europe and the ‘Hobbits’ of Flores, so successfully.”

More information:
Original paper in Science

Tuna Fishing – Another True Dowsing Story

Every fall the bluefin tuna run into Cape Cod Bay and people go out with their boats to harpoon them. The boats are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long, there’s a stand on the bow you go out on to “stick” the fish, which can be seen on the surface sunning itself. These fish are BIG up to 1,000 pounds and worth big money. One fish can be worth $ 20,000 and is sold fresh in the Tokyo market after being flown there overnight. So this is a short but big money fishery. One year my first skipper Sten was out there trying to get tunafish, with one sternman, but he got nothing. Not a thing, and he was a good fisherman.  Meanwhile my friend Gerry, who like me was first taught by Sten, was with one Elmer Costa on his big black boat the Columbia, and Gerry and Elmer had two fish. Sten was dying of curiosity, what was Gerry and Elmer doing that Sten was not? It bothered Sten. A lot. Meanwhile the season went on and Elmer and Gerry got another fish, and by this time Sten was sort of following them around, hoping to see their trick. Their technique.

This was the same year I had shown Sten with a dowsing stick where his well was, and found his gold coin, and this also perplexed him greatly, but not as much as being outfished by someone he had trained. Gerry and I had a discussion one afternoon because we both wanted to further excite Sten, and then I called Sten and said to him, “Listen, Sten, if you want to see the trick Gerry’s using, you follow Elmer tomorrow, close, get up right by their stern and take a look.”

This Sten did, it being a foggy morning so he was able to nose in real close, and he came around the stern of the Columbia and peered through the mist and saw Gerry on the stern of the Columbia holding in his hands a dowsing stick, facing aft, the stick standing upright and held in his two hands. Sten peered closer and realized that on the end of the stick Gerry was holding was an empty Bumblebee tunafish can.

This incident gave us much amusement, but then a strange thing happened. Sten began to catch fish and Gerry and Elmer were skunked, as we used to say. Sten ended the season with one more fish than Gerry and Elmer. This confused Gerry, and me, too, and one day that winter in the coffee shop we saw Sten and asked him, what changed for him? Sten gave each of us a long heavy-lidded look and cracked a slow smile.

“You were using the wrong can,” he said. “I caught my fish not with Bumblebee but with Chicken of the Sea.”

Sten passed away in 1998, brain tumor, but until he was across the bar he always said, with a perfectly straight face, when we asked, “Of course it’s true.”



Small World, Sometimes

A long long LONG time ago when we fished for lobster we worked Lydonia Canyon east of Nantucket, maybe 150 miles from land, on the edge of the continental shelf. In December 1972 we lost most of our gear to the Russian fleet, and in 1973 lost other gear to Polish and East German vessels.  It wiped us out. We switched to sword fishing. Back then the fishery was illegal so it was a black operation, smuggling the fish we landed past weigh stations. We fished in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, fast forward 40 years to January 2013. I was aboard a container ship returning from Singapore via the Suez Canal and as we approached New York I realized we were transiting exactly over Lydonia Canyon. There was even lobster gear – buoys – in the water exactly where we had fished years ago. When we reached New York some of the crew shifted and our bosun Norm was replaced by Ziggy, from Poland, former fisherman with the Polish Fleet.  I’m an Able Body Seaman and nearly ancient and Ziggy was getting up there and he tells me on the way in to Charleston his first time in the Atlantic was fishing Georges Bank as a kid in 1973. He said they’d torn their nets with lobster gear. I said, were the traps wire and red coated? He said they were. Turns out his boat was the boat we watched tear through our gear that summer. We probably saw each other, him cursing this little wooden boat messing up their nets and us cursing this big rusty Communist ship ignoring our marker buoys. Back then I was running the boat, relief skipper, and Ziggy was the green man. Now years later he’s the bosun and I’m working for him. We went together twice New York to Singapore and back. He gave me a hard time. Finally I told him I had forgiven him. It may be a big ocean but it’s a small small world.036

What goes around….

When I worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in the 1980s, I don’t recall them being entirely political or filled with political appointees, like in the papers these days, but that may be because I was way too low in the food chain to know any better. I didn’t know what I was doing there anyway, coming off the back deck of a red crab boat, in a suit, working on the 64th floor of Tower Number One. I was trying to help them rebuild an old steamship terminal in Brooklyn, Erie Basin,  into a fishing center. They had their own cars in the basement,  a special lot. That basement was huge. The first time I took a car to go over to Brooklyn, to check out the site, when I returned I could not find the Port Authority lot. I had no idea where I was. None.  I was lost in a garage, talking to electronic plates attached to swing arms. I went to work there in 1984 which was just about when the first stack trains started carrying containers from the west coast to New York, avoiding the Panama Canal. Now of course there are over 100 trains a day bringing Asian cargo across the United States. In 1988 APL built the first container ship too big for the Panama Canal, the first Post Panamax ship, at the time the biggest such ship in the world. I remember being in a meeting back then in my suit when someone said that eventually such ships will take cargo from southern Asia, Singapore, to New York by going the other way, west, through the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Suez, Mediterranean and Atlantic. Everyone else scoffed and laughed, declaring such a concept absurd and ridiculous.

In 2012 I flew to New York and joined the APL President Truman at Port Newark as an Ordinary Seaman, and the next morning, early, we left with the tide, cast off, carried through the channels leaving Port Newark, past Staten island, passing under the Verrezano Bridge, bound for Singapore. As we left I thought of those people laughing all those years ago and here I was taking that very run, a route that had now been traveled for years. Shortly after that I learned from the other sailors that the Truman was the first Post Panamax container ship that ever carried cargo, that it was this very ship that had been the subject of such laughter a quarter century before. Then the ship had been state of the art, the largest in the world, carrying 4300 TEUs. Now, a quarter century later, she was tired, rusty, on her last legs, and passing newer ships holding 6,000, 8,000, 12,000 TEUs. It was a gray morning, that morning. The Staten Island ferry crossed our stern and beyond, at the tip of Manhattan, the twin towers where I had worked all those years ago were gone. I knew, even then, that the Truman was probably on her last legs, and in 2013 I was aboard when she took her last trip to the breakers. Just before we arrived in Singapore and handed her over to the new crew to take her to the beach we passed an 18,300 TEU double engine, double stack 1300 foot long Maersk ship on her maiden voyage. I know what we all thought, looking across at her. It sure felt like the passing of an era.