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Don Raffensberger oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Terry Howard.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (43 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (33 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted March 22, 2010.
Oral history interview with recreational fisherman Don Raffensberger. Raffensberger is the owner of White's Tackle, which his family has operated since 1973. He moved to Fort Pierce as a child and grew up fishing, but he has not fished much in recent years due to work and family health problems. Raffensberger seldom bottom fished Oculina Bank but did troll the area frequently. The area's closure has had a negative effect on his business since the sales of bottom fishing equipment have declined; some fishing tournaments no longer even have bottom fishing categories. Each additional regulation to Oculina Bank has decreased his sales. He believes that closed areas are not a good way to manage a fishery since they are difficult to enforce and affect the local economy; he prefers quotas or bag limits. In this interview, Raffensberger also discusses the history of Fort Pierce's fishing industry.
Fishing tackle industry
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 Howard: Hello, good afternoon, my names Terry Howard. Â Today is March 22, 2010. Â Im at Whites Tackle Shop in Fort Pierce, and Im conducting an oral history with Don. Â Don, would you say and spell your name, please?
Don Raffensberger: Raffensberger, R-a-f-f-e-n-s-b-e-r-g-e-r.
TH: Were here with Don for the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundations project with Fort Pierce fishermen on the Oculina Bank HAPC [Habitat Area of Particular Concern]. Â And with that, welcome, Don. Â Pleaseyou just stated your full name. Â Would you state it one more time and spell it one more time, so well be sure to have it?
DR. Yes. Â My name is Don Raffensberger. Â Its spelled D-o-n R-a-f-f-e-n-s-b-e-r-g-e-r.
TH: And you were born where and when?
DR: Lewistown, Pennsylvania. May 8, 1952.
TH: Okay. Â When did you move to Fort Pierce?
DR: In 1957.
TH: In 1957. Â What brought you to Fort Pierce?
DR: My mom and dad. Â (laughs)
TH: Why did they pick Fort Pierce?
DR: Warmer temperatures and the fishing.
TH: Fishing was one of the main
DR: Main things for my dad.
TH: Okay, you married?
DR: I am.
TH: How old were you when you got married?
TH: Okay, and do you have children?
DR: No, we do not.
TH: Okay. Â How much schooling do you have?
DR: High school education.
TH: Okay, and what do you do for a living, or what have you done for a living?
DR: The fishing; sold fishing tackle.
TH: Thats been your primary?
DR: All my life, pretty much.
TH: Okay, and you and your father ran Whites Tackle?
DR: From 1973 to 2007. Â We were the owners.
TH: Okay. Â Other jobs that youve had?
DR: Minor stuff, justyou know, sales and paint. Â I worked for Sherman Williams right out of high school.
TH: Okay. Â Have you worked in the fishing industry? Â So your experience with the fishing industry is mostly with commercial, recreational, or recreational and
DR: Recreational, with some commercial.
TH: Okay. Â Dealing with the fishermen, mostly?
TH: But you do fish yourself?
TH: Okay. Â And you currently own a boat?
DR: I dont now, no.
TH: Okay. Â You dont have a canoe or anything?
DR: No, dont have anything like that.
DR: Go with friends.
TH: Okay, there you go. Â Now, Id like to ask some questions about the Oculina Bank and then well get back into your personal fishing history. Â First, how familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
DR: Pretty familiar.
TH: Was the Oculina Bankdo you know why it was designated as a protected area?
DR: No, I dont.
TH: Okay. Â Do you have an opinion as to why?
DR: Yeah, I do have an opinion as to why, because the coral out there was beingthe Oculina coral was being destroyed.
TH: Okay, and what do you know about the Oculina coral?
DR: I dont know much about it. Â I know its fairly delicate, and thats about it. Â (telephone rings)
TH: Okay. Â What do you think about the closure of the Oculina Bank to anchoring and bottom fishing?
DR: I think its ridiculous.
DR: Cause the anchors are not tearing up the Oculina. Â And not many people anchored in the Oculina in the first place, and the guys drift fishing across there are certainly not gonna tear up the Oculina.
TH: Okay, the Oculina coral. Â Has the closure of the Oculina Bank affected your fishing and how, or your fishing business, and how?
DR: It certainly affected the fishing business. Â Weve seen a decline in bottom fishing tackle that weve sold in the past.
TH: Can you elaborate?
DR: Yeah, the electric reel sales that we had. Â Typically, we would sell into summertime a dozen of those units in one month; and now we sell em mostly for fishing in the Bahamas, and not nearly as many as we used to. Â Plus, all the deep jigging equipment that weve sold in the past: that is all tapered off to just about nothing. Â The deep jigs themselvesI dont know many people that even end up talking about deep jigging anymore.
TH: When the Oculina was open to bottom fishing, you did have a lot of business?
DR: Absolutely, a lot of bottom fishing business.
TH: So, the closure has affected your business.
DR: Yeah, to the extent where weve seen, even in some of the fishing tournaments, where theyve eliminated the bottom fishing categories.
TH: And youveokay, if anchoring and bottom fishing in the Oculina was not prohibited, would a lot of your customers fish there?
DR: Yes, yeah.
TH: How and for what?
DR: Grouper, mostly, and they would deep jig again.
TH: Deep jigging for grouper mostly, or
DR: Deep jigging for grouper.
TH: And snapper?
DR: Yeah, they deep jig for snapper as well. Â Its not as common as grouper jigging.
TH: Okay. Â How has fishing changed since you began fishing in the Fort Pierce area, overall? Â Now were getting away from Oculina for a while.
DR: Ive seen the rule changes a lot that have, you know, just closed down fisheries. Â Ive seen a lot of big decline in the fish in general, in just about all the species over the years. Â Im not sure as to what to attribute all that to. Â Certainly has hurt our sales. Â Weve seen a decline in our sales over the years. Â [Its] a little hard to tell right now because were in a new location and our sales have increased.
TH: All right. Â Overall, you dont know what to attribute the fishing
DR: I think
TH: decline in fishing?
DR: You know, the longer Im in this business, the more that I realize that I think itstheres a lot of cycles in the fishery. Â And, you know, there hasnt been any real history as to what those cycles are. Â I dont know that there have been a lot of logs kept by the fishermen.
TH: Has more water been released into the river as the years have gone on?
DR: Yes. Â Theres no question that there has been a population increase, which has affected it. Theres been a lot more water runoff into the lagoon. Â Ive seen satellite photos of the nutrients coming out of the inlet, so Im sure that thats hampered it a little bit. Â Ive seen a lot of the reefs that have been covered or uncovered during the hurricanes and things of that nature. Â So, its really hard to pinpoint what causes the changes in the fisheries.
TH: So, you have seen cyclical as much as decline?
DR: Yes, absolutely.
TH: What species are in an upswing right now?
DR: Genuine red snapper. Â I hear that is becoming big numbers there. Â Also grouper, actually. Â Thats whats a little bit curious about why theyre having the closure on grouper in the Atlantic, because divers are telling me that the reefs are covered with grouper.
TH: Okay. Â Have you had any experiences with law enforcement within or regarding the Oculina Bank?
DR: I have not, no.
TH: Now, I want to talk about your fishing history; then well come back to some of this, to the Oculina Bank history. Â When did you begin fishing? Â Your earliest memory of fishing, how old were you?
DR: Well, six years old, six or seven.
TH: Your father took you?
DR: My father took me.
TH: Where was that?
DR: Mostly in the river, at that time.
TH: Here in Fort Pierce?
DR: In Fort Pierce. Â Oh, yeah, yeah.
TH: Okay, so how did you learn how to fish?
DR: My dad. Â My dad taught me everything that he knew.
TH: What kind of fishing in the river did you do? Â What did you fish for?
DR: Primarily trout and snook.
TH: Okay, when you first started. Â With live bait or with
DR: Artificials; my dad was an artificial type of guy. Â He taught me how to fish with artificials. Â Rarely in my lifetime have I used live bait.
TH: All right, where did you go to fish when you began fishing? Â You said the river, like
DR: The lagoon. Well, we fished
TH: Be more specific. Â In the river?
DR: Yeah, there was a radio station on Melody Lane that my father worked at, and we fished on that seawall. Â [That] is where I first started, at the seawall.
TH: I remember going to that tower, the tower right there, radio tower. Â Youd fish around that. Â That was the hot spot.
DR. Well, yeah. Â Dad hadDad was the manager of that radio station, so he had keys to get out on that dock that went out to the radio tower. Â So, we would fish out there, and along the wall itself. Â I mean, at that time, there wasit was very healthy. Â There was sea grass, and it was great trout fishing in there.
TH: Okay. Â Where were talking about is right in front of Fort Pierce Hotel, I thinkand its not even there now. Â Part of the old hotel is there; its right at the waterfront of Fort Pierce proper, the old Fort Pierce. Â And I will tell you, we used to come over from Causeway Trailer Park in a small boat with my grandfather and I fished with smallwith shrimp right there. Â That was a hot spot.
DR: It was a hot spot.
TH: I would catch sheephead, little sheephead.
DR: That was the main reason we fished it. Â We didnt have a boat at the time.
TH: Mangrove snapper.
DR: Mangrove snapper. Â But back then, the old South Bridge was linking the mainland to the South Beach, and when they built that bridge, there were changes that that bridge affected. Â There was a sandbar that was deposited south of it, and Im not sure if that was just from the currents or the eddies of the bridge or how it happened, but that whole area from the city marina down to where the radio station used to be, out front, changed completely, after that bridge was built.
TH: The new bridge, the new South Bridge.
DR: The new bridge, South Bridge, which isnt all that new anymore. Â But when I was a kid, wed fish on the South Bridge. Â It was an old wooden bridge with a turnstile type thing, is what they called it. Â And that was like going to the aquarium, you know, youd just stand up and see leopard rays and all kinds of sea life at that time.
TH: Yeah, it was a hot spot, it really was, to fish snook. Â You caught snook there?
DR: Snook there, oh, yeah.
TH: Yeah, I remember that, too. Â So, at first, you mostly fished from bridges and seawall.
DR: At that time, the south jetty wasnt capped, so it was a little treacherous to get out a lot.
TH: By capped, it didnt have the walkway?
DR: Didnt have the walkway.
TH: On top of the south jetty, okay. Â So, you actually had to climb over the rocks to
DR: Yeah, my dad wasnt gonna take me there.
TH: Okay, it can be dangerous. When did you get your boat? Â When did you and your fatheryou ever get a boat?
DR: Yeah, we had boats in the sixties [1960s], but our main boat we bought in 19Im gonna say 1971.
TH: Okay, and what kind of boat was it?
DR: It was a Mako.
TH: Okay, and can you describe it?
DR: A seventeen foot Mako with a Mercury outboard. Â Had it six months and it had gotten stolen, so we had to replace it. Â Insurance company didnt replace all the money that we spent on the boat, so we had to change the brand a little bit. Â We went with a T-Craft [Thundercraft]. Â I think the T-Craft was like a nineteen foot T-Craft. Â We ran that boat for a couple years and then we bought a twenty foot Mako, again.
TH: What engine?
DR: On theI dont remember what was on the T-Craft. Â What powered the Mako was a 115 horsepower Mercury for three years, and then we repowered with a 140.
TH: Okay. Â During what months of the yearokay, who did you fish withmostly would be your father?
DR: My dad and friends.
TH: Okay, and friends. Â And during what months did you fish for which fish? Â Which fish, you know, did you target throughout the year?
DR: Well, we would troll offshore, weather permitting, for dolphin in May, and that was always a good time for that. Â The weather was starting to settle down from the winter. Â And then, of course, all summer long, wed troll for dolphin and wahoo. Â Then, we were always fishing for kingfish beginning about March. Â Usually fished the beaches for kingfish, for the smoker kings there in March.
TH: Smoker kings?
TH: Smoker king is a big kingfish. Â Its smoked and dried right on the reel.
TH: Is that how they got the name smoker kings?
DR: I think its a lot of things. I think its the fact that people would smoke emtheyre too big to eatand then theyd smoke and dry on the reel as well.
TH: How big a kingfish have you caught?
DR: Fifty pounds would be my biggest one.
TH: Okay, thats a big kingfish. Â So, that was kingfish in March and throughout
DR: Throughout the springtime, or early summertime.
TH: Okay, and then dolphin?
DR: Dolphin, wahoo, in the summertime, Spanish mackerel in the fall, bluefish from time to time. Â Of course, wed fish for tarpon, too, on the beaches.
TH: Okay. Â So, the bluefish were on the beach?
DR: Bluefish on the beach.
DR: Spanish mackerel on the beach, tarpon certainly on the beach and in the inlet.
TH: How big a tarpon did you catch?
DR: Im going to say 120 pounds.
TH: Youve caught em and
DR: Yeah, Ive released em at that size.
TH: Okay, how long did it take you to fight a tarpon? Â What did you use for it?
DR: Well, we allback then, we used Penn 4/0s for just about everything we did.
TH: Penn 4/0 reels?
DR: Penn 4/0 reels. Â That was a Penn Senator, and it was referred to as a 4/0 for its size. Â That one that youre holding in your left hand is a 6/0 step pedal, little step pedal.
TH: Step smaller than that.
DR: And we fished thirty-pound test line.
TH: Okay, and thirty pound test line. Â Which was it, mono[filament], or
DR: Oh, we fished mono, yeah.
TH: Before mono, did you fish nylon?
DR: Did Dacron, we didmy dad fished a little Dacron, yeah.
DR: And that was something that he liked to do, fish light tackle sailfish.
TH: And then you went out on your Mako for sailfish with your father?
DR: Oh, yeah.
TH: What did you use for bait for that?
DR: Ballyhoo, mullet. Â He showed me a special technique on rigging mullet that George Archer, a charter boat captain, long, long time ago, showed my dad how to rig. Â Theres an easy way to take out part of the backbone, not the whole backbone of the mullet.
TH; How far back did you break the backbone off of it?
DR: Wed actually take and cut out a little rectangular piece of meat and backbone right where the dorsal fin is. Â So youre literally taking out a section of its backbone.
TH: So, you leave the rest of it in?
DR: Yeah, yeah.
TH: Ive never heard that. Â Is thatand thatsand you use that foryou put a hook in the front and back?
DR: Just one hook. Â Take it and come up through the stomach cavity, run the eye of the hook up through its mouth, and then run a piece of wire through its chin, through the eye of the hook, and then through the head, this way through the (inaudible). Â And in some cases, wed put a lead sinker on it for swimming mullet. Â My dad liked to skip mullet. Â And that technique that he had, when the boat speed was just proper, the mullet would just sit there and kind of flip along with their tail flapping this way. Â Its pretty cool. Â I mean, it really was.
TH: So, itd be on the surface, where you would see em around the surface?
DR: Yeah, and its a technique thats pretty well forgotten about now. Â I mean, its amost of the guys that are fishing mullet today, they go to a great extreme to take out the backbone. Â Just split tail of the mullet, and do all the other things. Â And its a goodits an effective way, but so is that way that George Archer did it, too.
TH: Okay, its here right now, George Archer. Â Okay, fascinating. Â Now, how bout, again, bait for the various fish? Lets go with tarpon.
DR: Tarpon, thatd bethere, we would use live bait, and youd use croakers or live mullet.
TH: Okay, and for kingfish, smoker kingfish?
DR: For the smoker kingfish, our pick back then, our choice of bait was a Rebel plug, a seven-inch Rebel plug.
TH: Okay, and thats what Samoh, who was the African Queen?
DR: Stan Blum.
TH: Stan Blum; he used to fish the plugs.
DR: Yeah, and we literally had people that would buy those from us by the dozens. Thats howtheyd come in and order a dozen seven-inchers just for the
TH: Smoker kingfish?
DR: Smoker kingfish.
TH: Okay, and for Spanish mackerel?
DR: Spoons. Â Clark spoons, primarily.
TH: And bluefish?
DR: Again, spoons.
TH: Clark spoons.
TH: And what other fish did you mention for the ocean? Â Cobia and
DR: Dolphin. Dolphin, you can catch a dolphin with just about anything, artificials or ballyhoo.
TH: Did you find em and then cast into em, or troll?
DR: Just trolling along to em. Â I mean, occasionally, youd come upon something floating, some debris that youd see a dolphin underneath. Â You can cast to em that way or troll past the debris.
TH: And youd troll ballyhoo, or
DR: Yeah, wed troll ballyhoo. Â You know, interestingly, the ballyhoo really didnt make it into Fort Pierce untilIm gonna say maybe the early seventies [1970s]. Â They were just becoming pretty popular in this area, or just starting to become popular, right around 1972, seventy-three , Id say.
TH: Interesting. Â Now, before that, was it mullet strips?
DR: Mullet strips, and mullet.
TH: Now, when you say mullet strips, you quarter them, or you fillet the mullet?
DR: You literally fillet the mullet, and then fillet them fairly thinly, and then take thetheres a way that you can take the mullet, and when you come down with your knife, you can actually split the tail so both strips have tail on it. Â Youve seen that?
TH: Yeah. Â Okay, and then youd make those into four different baits?
TH: Uh, yeah, thats what the kingfish are. (DR laughs) Â Lets see, and the months of the year? Â Youve gone through that, pretty much.
DR: Sailfishing was pretty much a wintertime thing, although the biggest sailfish that I caught was during a tournament, the Fourth of July weekend.
TH: Oh, yeah?
TH: And how big was that?
DR: That fish was sixty-five pounds, which is interesting because it, at the time, was a record. Â It beat the record that was caught in the tournament the year before, which was only forty-five pounds. Â And the following year, Dom Sianos son caught one, eighty-five pounds.
TH: How do you spell that name?
DR: Siano is spelled S-i-a-n-o. Â And his first name is D-o-m.
TH: S-i-a-n-o. Â Okay.
DR: And I know that, at that timeI think the one time that Dom Siano caught his, that was the last year the Sport Fisherman Club kept sailfish in their tournament.
TH: Okay, why do you think that is?
DR: Well, because of the peak of it, its becoming more popular to release fish and the popular outcry wanted everybody to release sailfish. Â The reason the sailfish were incorporated in the tournament in the first place was they had a thing called the Fort Pierce Sport Fishing Club Slam, or Fort Pierce Slam, which included all the fishes that were in the logo of the club, which was sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, and kingfish.
TH: And a grand slam was when you caught one of each?
DR: Caught all four of em.
TH: One of each.
DR: When you got your Fort Pierce slam.
TH: Okay, cool. Â When was your last fishing outing, fishing trip?
DR: Oh, a year.
TH: Been a year since youve gone fishing?
TH: Now, I do know, too, that in some of the last few years youve gone freshwater fishing.
DR: Ive done some of that all my life, on and off. Â Bass, bluegills; I like to fly rod for bluegills.
TH: Okay, and your last fishing trip, do you remember a year ago?
DR: I suppose it was at least a year ago, yeah. Â Working more is a reason. Â I just spend a lot of time at the store.
TH: Okay, how much would you catch on an average trip? Â I know as a recreational fisherman, this is kind of kind of a hard question, cause you dont know what youre fishing for.
DR: Yeah, its hard to answer that question.
TH: I know.
DR: How much would I catch on an average trip? Â I mean, it just depended on the season and what was going on. Â I mean, if the kingfish wereif the smaller kingfish were offshore, you could fill a box up.
TH: And lets see, back when you fished in the river, did you ever fill a cooler?
DR: Oh, yeah, yeah.
TH: Of what? Â Of mangroves?
DR: Ive done that, and Ive done it with sea trout.
TH: Sea trout?
DR: Sea trout in the wintertime.
TH: Wow, thats hard to do. Â Whats your biggest sea trout?
DR: Biggest trout for me is ten [pounds].
TH: Thats a big fish.
DR: Yeah, but itsIve seen bigger. (laughs)
TH: I caught a thirteen-and-a-half [pounder].
DR: Right. (laughs)
TH: Thats why (inaudible). Â I havent caught as many as you, Im sure. Â How much do you fish for, for how many years? Â Do youokay, so all your life. Â Thats pretty much it. Â Okay. Â So, youre mostly running the store now, youre not fishing as hard, not as much as you used to.
DR: No, lot of health issues with family that weve had to deal with since 2004, really.
TH: Okay. Â Now, how long has your father been
DR: He died in 2007, July 16.
TH: It hasnt been that long. Â Where else do you go fishing in the Fort Pierce area? Â You pretty much covered that: all over the river.
DR: All over the lagoon, out front on the ocean, offshore in the ocean, freshwater, any freshwater I can find west of town thats open.
TH: Now, have youthe Oculina Bank, have you spent any time there personally?
DR: I trolled over the Oculina a lot, but notIve never done any real grouper jigging out there.
TH: What do you troll over the Oculina Bank for?
DR: Believe it or not, thats where I caught those two big sailfish, to the north end of that.
TH: North of the
DR: Or to the northern end.
TH: Okay, interesting. Â Well, they follow the other fish that are
DR: Im sure that the Oculina holds some bait over it. Â The fish are there for a reason, and its mostly food-related.
TH: Okay. Â And you already talked about fishing the river and the inlet. Â Have you spent much time fishing the inlet?
DR: Spent a lot of time fishing the inlet.
TH: Okay, and weve talked about the different gear, different baits. Â Do you usually go on your own boat when you go fishing now? Â I guess you havent gone for quite a while. Â And how long has it been since youve had your own boat?
DR: Mm, a couple years.
TH: Okay. Â So, you usually fish with friends. Â We already talkedyou usually go in your own boat. Â What months of the year do you fishokay, weve covered that. Â How much would you catch in an average tripstill fishingand, once again, repeat why you no longer fish very much, cause youve moved the store, Whites Tackle?
DR: Yeah, we moved last February, so weve been here just a little over a year.
TH: How long had the store been in its previous location?
DR: From 1945 until (telephone rings) 2009.
TH: Now, it pretty much was an institution or a local
DR: Well, it was started in 1925 and moved to the location that we owned it in 1945.
TH: On Second Street?
DR: On Second Street.
TH: Which used to be the center, the head for all the commercial fishermen that used to live on that street.
DR: All that. Â The whole street was full of commercial fishermen, and it was known as Edgartown for some reason. Â They hadyou know that Fort Pierce was broken up into these little
TH: A-c-r-e, Acre?
DR: Edgar, E-d-g-a-r.
TH: Edgartown. Â Okay, that was Second Street?
DR: The Second Street was sort of the Main Street of Fort Pierce back then.
TH: Okay, and it was, you say, all the commercial fishermen. Â Anything else you want to share on that? Â Cause this will bethis is history.
DR: I mean. that whole area there is historical; its been declared historical. Â Most all the commercial fishermen lived right there. Â Just down the road was Backus Boat Works; it was on Moores Creek, and they built a lot of the commercial boats. Â And there were even pictures that Ive seen, you know, drawing nets and stuff, near that area there as well.
TH: Painted by?
DR: Painted by?
TH: The pictures.
DR: Gosh, I couldnt tell you the artist. Â I mean, theyre mostly drawings.
TH: Oh, okay.
DR: And photographs.
TH: And which Backus was it that built the boats?
DR: Beanies brother, I believe.
TH: But do you know his name?
DR: I dont know his name.
TH: Well try to figure that out today. Â Okay, and his first boat works was on
DR: Moores Creek.
TH: Moores Creek, cause later on, it was moved over to the causeway.
TH: On South Beach, by where the museum is today, is that correct?
The A. E. "Bean" Backus Gallery and Museum houses the art work of the establishments namesake, a renowned artist who created rural Florida paintings.
DR: Thats correct.
TH: Okay. Â And how farhow close did the river come to Second Street? Â Well, early on, its before you came here, even.
DR: Well, the houses across the street from the tackle shop that were
TH: On the east side of Second Street.
DR: They were waterfront. Â They tied their boats right behind their houses. Â So, that fill was pumped in at some pointit was before my timebehind those houses out to where it is now, to the east of Indian River Drive where the community center sits.
TH: Which would be about a half-mile?
DR: Id say its not quite, yeah.
TH: Almost a half-mile. Â Its more than a hundred yards. Â Its more than 200 yards.
DR: Yeah. Â Well, its probably, Id sayyeah, its more than 200 yards.
TH: Okay, interesting. Â So, that was the Edgartown, and that was the headquarters of fishing.
DR: That was the headquarters for fishing.
TH: Historically, lets see, I guess the early part of the twentieth century, what were the three main industries in Fort Pierce?
DR: Back in the old days, it was known as a trading post, and the fishing was a big part of it from the very beginning. Â Citrus was another big part of it because of the port. Â And the third industry? Â Gee, I dont know. Â Maybe (inaudible).
DR: Oh, the cattle, yeah. Â I missed that.
TH: And I dont want to be telling you it was cattle. (laughs)
DR: No, no. Â I understand.
TH: Seems like it was cattle, citrus, and fishing, essentially.
DR: Oh, yeah, thats it, yeah.
TH: Yeah, early on. Â A lot of theslip this in there, this question, but a lot the land that was prime fishing, or fisherman land, today is used for what?
TH: Just before we shut off, you were talking about how the waterfront has changed.
DR: Well, Ill give you an example. Â First off, the old-timers told me years ago that when you got to the end of Orange Avenue, where it became Orange Avenue Extension, basically that was allthat property was all drained. Â It was all pretty much swampy land out there. Â It was all drained for development, and for citrus and for cattle.
TH: Thats west of town.
DR: West of town. Â One of my customers, whos basically born and raised here, and who was a fairly old person at the time, told me that when you got to the end of Orange Avenue, there was a dike, and youd walk up on the dike and look out into the swamp. Â Thats as far as it went.
TH: Thats like the Everglades down south.
DR: Right, and then it became Orange Avenue Extension after they drained it and turned it into to property. Â Of course, eventually, as citrus changed, I believe some of the big developers came in and bought the property, and the population boomed around here. Â The population has impacted a little bit.
I was gonna tell you a story about the roundabout in downtown Fort Pierce. Â When they first built the roundabout, you know, there was a lot of controversy about the roundabout in the first place. Â And then they got it built, and then the folks who built it went around town and gave slide presentations as to why they built it and how they built it. Â And I was at one of those meetings and asked the guy at the end of the meeting, when he described the traffic. Â They wantedthey were trying to encourage walk-around traffic rather than cars speeding up and down Indian River Drive, and that roundabouts have a tendency to do that. Â It was all very fascinating, but then I just asked him a question that people in my shop had been asking me about: the need for more boat ramps, because the boat ramps would swell, the use would swell during the summertime. Â It was chaotic at the boat ramps, and they needed more high-volume boat ramps.
TH: And this was a city planner.
DR: This was a city planner that I was talking to, and he said to mewhen I asked the question about boat ramps, he said, Thats the problem with boats in Florida: they either want to put up a parking lot, or they want to use the waterfront property to put in a boat ramp.
TH: And boat ramps in Fort Pierce are well used?
DR: Oh, yeah. Â Oh, yeah.
TH: On a weekend, when the parking lots full?
DR: Its insanity on the weekends.
TH: Okay. Â So, they could always use more.
DR: They dont necessarily need more, they need to be able to handle the traffic better; maybe better designed, but certainly more would help.
TH: Okay, interesting. Â Now, back to the Oculina Bank: Finally, I would like to talk (telephone rings) about how your fishing has changed over time in regardsor the fishing of people, your customers, has changed over time, in regards to the Oculina Bank. Â Since 1984, several changes have been made in the regulations of the Oculina Bank. Â Id like to know if any of these changes affected your fishing, or the fishing of your customers, and if so, how? Â In 1984, it was initially closed to trawling, dredging, and bottom longlining. Â Did this affect your business?
DR: Yes, it did affect our business.
TH: Even the longlining?
DR: Yeah, not as much as later on.
TH: Okay, and how so?
DR: Justwe saw the sales of bottom fishing tackle changing slowly, you know, not selling as much tackle.
TH: Okay. Â In 1984, it was designated an experimental closed area where fishing for and retention of snapper grouper species was prohibited. Â This was 1994. Â Snapper grouper fishing boats were also prohibited from anchoring. Â Was your fishing impacted, or your sales?
DR: Our sales were impacted even further at that point, because there were smaller areas for people to go bottom fishing. Â And that was a popular spot for bottom fishing.
TH: Okay. Â In 1996, all anchoring was prohibited in the Oculina Bank. Â Did this impact your fishing, and if so, how?
DR: No, that didnt impact the fishing so much, but every little regulation that they added did affect it.
TH: Okay. Â In 1996, trawling for rock shrimp was prohibited in the area to the east and north of the Oculina Bank, and then in 1998, this area was incorporated into the Oculina Bank HAPC. Â Fishing with a bottom longline, trawl and dredge was prohibited in the expanded area, as was anchoring of any vessel. Â Was your fishing impacted by this regulation?
DR: Absolutely it was. Â There again, it decreased our sales.
TH: Okay. Â And?
DR: No, thats it. Â Thats all.
TH: The designation ofokay, heres where youits a little open-ended here. Â The designation of marine areas that are closed to fishing is being used more frequently as a fishery management tool. Â What do you think about the use of the closed areas to fishing compared to other types of management regulations like quotas, closed seasons, et cetera?
DR: I would rather see a quota system used more, and bag limits, more so than the closed areas, because theyre limiting the people access to areas where they can catch fish. Â And that certainly has impacted our sales, and its impacted everybodys lives around here.
TH: How so?
DR: Well, I mean, there are people that have actually gotten out of fishing altogether. Â I know some bottom fishermen that simply dont go anymore. Â Regulations are too strict, and there are areas where theyre trying towhere they used to fish, or where theyd like to fish, have closed. Â Another part of this thing that Ive always wondered about is, you know, the actual enforcement of the closed area, and how well they actually work on the enforcement. Â They keep adding regulations in closed areas rather than working on the enforcement. Â I know thats an issue thats been brought up before.
TH: Okay, well, lets elaborate a little bit. Â So, if you were managing the fisheries, you would notyou dont think the closed areas are the best and fairest way to manage the fisheries. Â But you areyou do believe that the fisheries should be managed?
DR: Oh, I think they should be managed, but I think there are better ways of doing it than closed areas. Â And another thing that I would like to address here at this point would be why the impact is driven so much on the recreational fisherman, and Im not hearing a lot of regulation on the diving industry. Â There might be some changes there. Â But keep in mind, too, divers can stay outside of the Oculina preserve. Â (telephone rings) You know, they can anchor their boat outside of that, or a boat can drop em off and swim into the Oculina preserve.
TH: Its 190 feet.
DR: Is it?
DR: Well, then, theyre not doing that.
DR: Theyre not doing that.
TH: But, again, what about closing a season on fish?
DR: Closing the season on the fish?
TH: Yeah. Â For example, the closing of the snapper/grouper, and closingsnook, I guess, is closed right now for six months.
DR: Thats very hard on the charter boat guys. Â Its hard on our business.
TH: Over here?
DR: I kind of lost my train of thought.
TH: The closures.
DT: The closures. Â Yeah, I think the charter boat business has changed dramatically. Â I mean, a lot of the guys that used to bottom fish out here now havethey literally take their boats to Mexico and sailfish during this time when everything is closed. Â You have to remember that the local
TH: You were just talking about the closure of the Oculina Bank, and youre not in favor of closing areas because?
DR: Im not in favor of closing areas because I think its a little difficult for them to police those areas in the first place, and expanding it even further is gonna make it even more impossible to do that.
TH: Okay, and has it affected local fishermen?
DR: It has definitely affected local fishermen. Â The charter boat industry has been affected by it, the tackle shop business has been affected by it, thereby marinas, fuel, hotel sales; you name it.
DR: All of that. Â Yeah, boat sales, boat manufacturing, is all affected by it.
TH: So, if the area was expanded to cover other areas that are commonly fished off Fort Pierce
DR: Its gonna affect the local economy. Â I mean everybodys lives here that make a living with regards to the lagoon and the offshore area is gonna be affected by it. Â Its gonna be affected negatively.
TH: How bout closure of fisheries or closed seasons, lengthy closed seasons?
DR: I dont like the idea of that. Â I think that the bag limits are probably the best way to go, and quotas.
TH: Bag limit and quotas on the fish, they are the most what, fair?
DR: Yeah, theyre the most fair, and I think it makes for a healthy fishery, to be honest with you. Â I mean, youre still catching some fish, but the population isnt just allowed to go unchecked.
TH: Okay, and are there any user groups in this scenario? Â Now, nets are pretty much out of the picture at this point, other than cast nets. Â Are there any other user groups? Â Commercial kingfishermen that troll primarily for just kingfish, and once their quota is met, theyre shut off. Â And they have trip limits, and bag limits for commercial fishermen. Â Are there any other fisheries?
DR: Oh, the divers. Â Yeah, the divers are
TH: Commercial divers or recreational?
DR: Theyre commercial divers, but the recreational divers do a pretty good job at stirring things up as well.
TH: Can you elaborate on that?
DR: Yeah, I mean, they can go dive down and pretty much pick whatever it is that they want to shoot, and they dont seem to have the regulation on the divers that we have on recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen. Â I know they do have bag limits, and the closure of the grouper now has affected divers, and they are all upset about it, but
TH: How many fish can a commercial diver [keep for] grouper and snapper?
DR: I mean, Ive seen it in the day when one single diver could harvest 1000 pounds of grouper.
TH: Okay, and is that still legal today?
DR: No, its not legal today.
TH: Whats the commercial limit?
DR: I dont know what the commercial limit is on diving.
TH: For grouper and snapper. Â Youre concerned that theyre not regulated enough?
DR: I dont think they are, no.
TH: Okay. Â And again, just be very specific. Â If you were regulatingif you were in the National Marine Fisheries and you could regulate the fisheries, what would be the fairest and best way to maintain a good level of fish?
DR: Quotas and bag limits. Â I mean, if I had to sum it up, thats what I would sum up.
TH: And strictly enforced? Â You mentioned enforcement.
DR: Enforcement, yeah.
TH: Thinking ahead to the future, what do you think fishing in Fort Pierce will be like in ten years?
DR: Gee, thats hard to really know at this point. Â I mean, I didnt think Id see the kind of closures that were having now ten years ago. Â So, if theres an agenda, I certainly dont know where were gonna go from here, other than more restrictions. Â More restrictions are gonna make it more difficult for people to earn their living here in Florida, especially here, which this is a fishing community.
TH: Okay, have you ever heard that Fort Pierce was the fishing capital of the world, was billed as that at one time?
DR: Yeah, I think I have. Â I think I have, because I have some old chamber of commerce books that go back to 1950, and I think its stated in there at that time, that Fort Pierce was the fishing capital of the world.
TH: Okay. Â Is there anything else youd like to add about, you know, the regulations or how fishing regulations affect tackle shops and whatever, anything else at all youd like to add?
DR: Well, in collecting the data that National Marine Fisheries collects, or whoever is doing the regulation, I would like to know how, or if there is a better way to collect the data. Â I mean, Ive been in the tackle business for the better part of my life, and Ive never been asked questions about the fishery out here from somebody collecting data from one of those groups. Â And you would think that if theyre collecting data, theyd be collecting data from fishermen, from people who are in the trade
TH: The industry?
DR: The industry. Â And none of them that I know of actually has told me that they have been asked those kinds of questions. Â So, where are they getting their information from would be the question that Id have. Â At one point, I heard it was random telephone calls around the state, and they may call somebody in Lake Wales and ask him if he fished. Â Did he catch a kingfish lately? Â And of course, hes living in the central part of the state. Â No, he hasnt caught a kingfish lately. Â So, his answer would be no. Â How do they collect the data, and is it fair and truthful?
TH: Okay. Â Well, with that, Id like to thank you very much, Don, and its been a pleasure. Â And with that, were gonna turn this off, and thank you very, very much.
DR: Well, thank you for including me today.
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