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Chip Shafer oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Terry Lee Howard.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (59 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (37 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted March 9, 2010.
Oral history interview with charter boat captain Irving "Chip" Shafer. Shafer began fishing in 1973 after leaving the Marine Corps and worked as a mate on a friend's boat in North Carolina. Shafer moved to Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1976 and fished his own and other people's boats until 2000. He is presently the captain of a private sport fishing boat that fishes the Pacific coast off of Central America and Mexico. Before it was closed, Oculina Bank was one of the most important deep water bottom fishing grounds, and Shafer fished there often until 1994, when fishing for snapper/grouper species was prohibited in the designated region. Were the area still open, he would continue to fish there. In his opinion, closing an area to fishing is a poor form of management due to its effect on a community's economy. He prefers daily bag limits for recreational fishing, which he believes will sustain the fisheries. In this interview, Shafer also describes some of his fishing techniques, and recounts some memorable stories.
Charter boat captains
Charter boat fishing
Fort Pierce (Fla.)
Saint Lucie County (Fla.)
Howard, Terry Lee,
Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Oculina Bank oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Terry Lee Howard: Okay, you may speak in your normal tone of voice. My names Terry Howard, and today is March 9, 2010. Were at Fort Pierce, Florida, at the office of Hans
Irving Shafer: Kraaz.
TH: Kraaz, downtown Fort Pierce and Im with Chip Shafer, also known asor his actual name is
IS: Irving Everett Shafer, III. Ergo, Chip. (IS laughs)
TH: Known as Chip. Nobody knowshes known as Captain Chip Shafer, and hes very well known on the east coast of Florida. Were here for the Gulf and South Atlantic Foundation, the foundations project with the Fort Pierce fishermen on the Oculina Bank HAPC [Habitat Area of Particular Concern]. How do you pronounce Oculina?
IS: I pronounce it Ahk-you-lee-nah.
TH: Oculina, with an accent, ah-culina. Okay. With that, I would like to begin this interview. First, your full name, please spell it for me.
IS: I-r-v-i-n-g. Middle initial, E. Last name S-h-a-f-e-r, Third [III].
TH: Okay, and you were not born in Fort Pierce; you were born where?
IS: I was born in Richmond, Virginia.
TH: In what year?
IS: In 1947.
TH: Okay, and your birthday?
IS: 12 May forty-seven .
IS: 12 May, 12-05.
TH: Oh, May 12. (laughs) Okay.
IS: I give it the military way. (laughs)
TH: All right. When did you move to Fort Pierce?
IS: I moved to theI first moved to the region and started fishing out of Stuart, Florida in 1974 from my home grounds in North Carolina. I moved to Fort Pierce physically, address in Fort Pierce, in 1976.
TH: How old were you? Are you married?
IS: Yes, I am married.
TH: When did you get married?
IS: I got married in February of 1979.
TH: Do you have children?
IS: Yes, we have two children.
TH: How old are they?
IS: I have two daughters, one twenty-two and one twenty-six. No, one twenty-one and twenty-six, Im sorry. Twenty-one and twenty-six.
TH: Twenty-one and twenty-six.
IS: Yes, sir.
TH: Schooling: how much schooling have you had?
IS: I wasI dropped out of college as a sophomore in college.
TH: Where was that?
IS: That was Duke University.
TH: Oh, you were at Duke University? Cool. Do you have another boat besides charter boat fishing? Let me preface, I forgot to mention that this is Captain Chip Shafer. Hes had a career as a charter boat captain, and right now hes working for a private individual. Again, do you have any other jobs other than charter boat?
IS: No. Just fishing; its all Ive ever done.
TH: Do you currently own a boat?
IS: No. I do not currently own a boat.
TH: What is your present job as a fisherman, as a charteras a captain?
IS: I run a private sport fishing boat that is normally in the eastern tropical Pacific. Central America and Mexico is where we fish, on the Pacific side of Central America up to Mexico. I fish from the Colombian-Panamanian border in the south to a place called Baha Magdalena, which is 150 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. Its a front of 2,200 miles from the northern point to the southern point.
TH: What kind and how big a boat is it that you fish?
IS: Right now, we own three boats. We have a sixty-four-foot John Bayliss in Stuart, Florida for sale. We have a forty-two-foot Gamefisherman that is presently in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala that were actively using right now; and we are presently, in North Carolina, building a fifty-seven-foot Spencer, which will be ready for service probably in June. Probably take it through the [Panama] Canal in July or August.
TH: Do you takedoes your employer take people or business?
IS: Nope, I only fish him or a friend.
TH: Him and his personal friends?
IS: No charter fishing at all anymore. Easiest job on Earth, and we only fly-fish for billed fish. He only fly-fishes, so its pretty unique. We just drag three Teasers around, and when a fish comes after it, try to get it close enough for him to catch the fly. Thats whats we do. Thats what Ive done for seven years. Pretty easy fishing, Ill tell you! (laughs)
TH: Compared to what?
IS: Very clean, very clean, you dont get your hands very dirty! (laughs)
TH: Cool. Id like to ask some questions about the Oculina Bank. How familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
IS: Pretty familiar.
TH: Could you elaborate on that, cause you did fish the area off Fort Pierce for how many years?
IS: I fished the area offthe waters off Fort Pierce from seventy-four  until 2000, and I did a lot ofspent a lot of time on the Oculina Bank from 1976, bottom fishing until such time as the closure occurred. After the closure occurred, I still spent a lot of time fishing over Oculina Bank trolling for pelagic fish.
TH: That was, I think, 1984 is when they first
IS: All right. I fishedit was a bread and butter fishery for me, bottom fishing in the spring in the months of February and March.
TH: So youre very familiar with the Oculina?
IS: Quite familiar with the Oculina Bank.
TH: Did I pronounce it correctly that time?
IS: I suppose so. (laughs) You know, I may have pronounced it wrong all my life. Who knows?
TH: In your opinion, or from what you know, why was the Oculina designated as an area to protect?
IS: The original story that was told to us charter fishermen and commercial fishermen here in Fort Pierce, I believe, is that Harbor Branch did a lot of diving on those things; found out what a unique structure that was; and indeed, it is that Oculina coral hills that we have out there.
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution at Florida Atlantic University conducted scientific research referenced in the Oculina Bank closure. It is a non-profit oceanographic institution dedicated to marine and ocean research and education operated by Florida Atlantic University.
And as it was explained to me, Harbor Branch or the Smithsonian or one of those groups, or a conglomeration of those groups, wanted to close that area. One, obviously, to prevent damage to it, by trawling and all that, which I thoroughly understand; but secondly, to see what would happened to fish populations in a completely protected environment. That is what I understood it to be.
TH: Now, to your knowledge, though, what damagewhat fishery did the most damage to the bank?
IS: Well, obviously, I feel that to thephysically, to the structure, I would think that the trawls, when they were bottom trawling out there, would have been the most damaging. If they made a mistake and hit the thing, it would tear it all to pieces. It was actuallyit was fragile. It was a fragile structure, I know. Ive caught pieces of it that big (demonstrates) on a weight or something like that.
TH: Hes showing me hisabout a two inch diameter, three, four-inch diameter.
IS: Yeah, Ive caught little tiny pieces of it.
TH: Go ahead.
IS: And of course, youwhen youve fished in it, you hung in it quite often, so you left a lot of lead weights and hooks down there.
TH: As the closuredid the closure or has the closure of the Oculina Bank affected your fishing and how? And I guess morethis would apply more to when you were charter fishing out off this area.
IS: Certainly. Well, it closed us out of our richest deep water bottom fishing that we had. Ninety-nine percent of our fishing that took place over twenty-seven fathoms took placewe were shut out from it, soon as they closed that thing.
TH: What was your target fish in that area?
IS: We would attempt toour biggest target out there would have been great grouper. Gag grouper, I guess, would be the book name for them. We also caught snowies in some places, scamps were often an important part of our catch; and occasionally, on some of the higher spots you would catch some nice catches of red snapper. But the red snapper were more inside than that, as a rule.
TH: Inside of the Bank, that would be what? Twenty-seven?
IS: Yeah, twenty-seven fathoms, whichtwenty-seven almost meanders down that 80 degree inside mark. You can be legal or illegal depending on where you would be along that 80 degree mark.
TH: Thats 80 degree longitude?
IS: Eighty degree longitude west. I believe thats the westthat used to be, I think, the western boundary. Maybe Im wrong on that, I dont know.
TH: If anchoring and bottom fishing on the Oculina was not prohibitedI mean, if you could still do it, would you fish there if you were fishing in this area?
IS: I never fished [or] anchored on the Oculina Bank, and I did not know of any charter boats that did. Ours was always power drifting.
TH: Okay, thats the term, power drifting?
IS: Just power driftinga controlled drift.
TH: Thats where you try and hold it on a spot?
IS: Well, you figure out what the current is, what the wind is. Its like shooting at a bird: you would lead so far up into the current, drop away your exposure time on the spot; [it] was a matter of seconds but if you hit it right, it was justthe seconds were usually enough to score.
TH: Very interesting. Okay, so
IS: Its a fascinating fishery.
IS: Continuously, Im sure.
TH: How and for what? You just said it, but could you just say it again, exactly how?
IS: We wouldit was our most important bottom fishing grounds for deep water. Sometimes fish would be in shallow water, the offshore bar, eighty and ninety feet and you would fish there. And a lot of that was anchoring fishing. Often, there would be good fishing on the twenty-seven or the thirty-one fathoms and you would fish there. But sometimes, the fish were on in those other spots and they would be out in the deeper water, and we had many, many days where we made our day on the Oculina Bank. Without the Oculina Bank, we would have caught very little on some days. Even with it, on some days (laughs) we caught very little, but thats fishing.
TH: Overall, how has fishing changed since you began fishing in the Fort Pierce area?
IS: Thenot pertaining to this, the sailfishing, if anything, which was my main target fish in Fort Pierce. The sailfishing has gotten better and better, if anything, with some fluctuations, some ups and downs in the graph, but some of the last years have been excellent, excellent. Actually this year, case in point: bad weather, but wonderful sailfishing. Kingfishingif any one fish has suffered a lot, it would be the kingfish, from the mid-seventies [1970s], that I saw, until now. I cannot speak on what the population is like now, since 2000, when I gave up fishing. But it seemed to me that even after the net ban took place, although we got a build-up of the more snake-type kings and twelve, fifteen-pound fish, the wonderful big, smoker kingfish that we had here before, I dont think has ever recovered to this day, unless someone can tell me different thats involved with it.
TH: They were targeted primarily where?
IS: They were targetedthe smoker kings, they were mostly from the bar inside. They never went into deep water that I know. And the beach, for my fishing for the smoker kings, mostly took place off of the north beach at Fort Pierce and the cove off of Vero [Beach].
TH: That would be fifteen to thirty foot offifteen to thirty foot drop; right along that drop?
IS: Absolutely, absolutely, a wonderful fishery. Wonderful fishery.
TH: What happened to the smoker fish?
IS: I watched that fishery utterly collapse in the early eighties [1980s] when the roller rigs got active on the king mackerel after they finished up the Spanish mackerel, turned their attention to king mackerel. It was within two years, that fishery was non-existent.
TH: Have you had any experience with law enforcement within or regarding the Oculina Bank?
IS: I knew they patrolled it. I have not had any run-ins with them over
TH: Who in particular patrolled it?
IS: You know, Ithere would be Coast Guard cutters sometimes. Im sure that they would try to enforce the laws out there. I saw airplanes that were official looking airplanes that would circle around; I dont know if the Florida Marine Patrol was flying them, the U.S. Coast Guard. I dont know who had the money to exhaust on that enforcement effort, but I know that there was. And I haveoff the record.
TH: This is going to be archived at the University of South Florida for researchers. Myself, I may
IS: See what us clowns sound like, right? (laughs)
TH: All right. Okay. The smokerswell, Im getting a side thing here. I know I caught my biggest kingfish right off Pepper Park. I had six fish; was it five or six fish for 250 pounds of kingfish?
IS: Wow. The biggest one I ever caught was off the cove on aI remember I caught him on a liveI mean, a dead D boat hole bunker.
TH: Oh, yeah?
IS: Floated back there, and it was fifty-one poundswhich is no great big king, but thats the biggest Ive ever caught.
TH: Thats darn big. Fifty-five is my biggest, and Ive been doing it a long time.
IS: Oh, my buddy Sam Crutchfields probably caught a sixty or something, Im sure!
Sam Crutchfield was also interviewed for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is O6-00032.
TH: Id like to get a hold of Sam.
IS: You gotta get Sam as part of this, too.
TH: I am. Im going to get a hold of Sam. Now, I want to talk about your fishing history, specifically. Whats your earliest memory of fishing, and how old were you?
IS: Actually, it would have when Im just a small child and fishing in fresh water.
TH: Where? Virginia, I assume?
IS: No, North Carolina. The Virginiaalthough Im a Virginian by birth. The reason I was born in Virginia is my father was a student at Medical College in Virginia when I was born. I lived in Virginia no length of time. Before I was a year old, I was in North Carolina and have been a North Carolinian since. But fresh water fishing in North Carolina. As a young teenager, I was introduced to the ocean, fell in love with it, had a small boat down on the coast, fished
IS: Currituck Sound.
TH: Currituck Sound in North Carolina?
TH: How old were you? How did you learn to fish? Who taught you?
IS: As far as the salt water fishing, charter fishing, I waswhen I dropped out of college, I joined the Marine Corps, and while in the Marine Corps, I wasI served as an infantry platoon commander in Vietnam. I was wounded, and they always sent you to a hospital nearest where your home is. And they sent me to a hospital in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and while I was there, the commander of the sub-unit that I was a part of really liked me. He asked me if I would stay on as his executive officer if I wanted to. Well, that was not getting sent back to the war and its [a] plush job, easy, great duck hunting, closeI had already discovered some fabulous duck hunting and great fishing, so I signed on. I spent two years at Camp Lejeune, so I ended up mating some for an old-timer at Swansboro, North Carolina and thats how I started doing somea little bit of charter salt water fishing.
TH: So you
IS: I would have been twenty-two or twenty-three years old at that time.
TH: You were a Marine Corps lieutenant?
TH: You went through Quantico [Marine Corps Base, Virginia]?
IS: I did. I went through Parris Island. I was enlisted for almost two years before I became a lieutenant, but they did send me to Quantico.
TH: Then you were a platoon commander?
IS: Mm-hm. Vietnam, 1969. But I didnt last very long; I was there about three months and I got shot. (laughs) Got out and didnt go back. (laughs) Decided I liked fishing a whole lot better than infantry.
TH: Where and how did you get wounded?
IS: I got wounded in a firefight in a place called the Que Son Valley.
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