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Jones, Thomas W.,
Thomas Jones oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Robert Cardin.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (38 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (25 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted April 26, 2010.
Oral history interview with commercial fisherman Tommy Jones. Jones, a native of Fort Pierce, learned to fish as a child and started selling his catch when he was a teenager. He regularly fished Oculina Bank before it was closed and had to change fisheries as a result of the closure, concentrating on kingfish instead of grouper, snapper, and amberjacks. He also tilefished for several years, which was a profitable business, but one he eventually lost interest in. In Jones's opinion, trip limits are the best way to manage a fishery, although he does not particularly like any of the usual management tools. He argues that closed seasons only put more pressure on other fisheries, especially king and Spanish mackerel, because people will shift fisheries to continue earning a living. In this interview, Jones also describes his fishing techniques and some of the equipment he uses.
Jones, Thomas W.,
Fort Pierce (Fla.)
Saint Lucie County (Fla.)
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 Robert Cardin: Â Good afternoon, this is Robert Cardin. Â Today is April 26, 2010, and Im at Tommy Jones house conducting an oral history with Mr. Tommy Jones for the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation Project with the Fort Pierce fishermen on the Oculina Bank Habitat Area of Particular Concern. Â Welcome, Tommy. Â Would you please state and spell your name?
Thomas Jones: Thomas William Jones. Â T-h-o-m-a-s W. J-o-n-e-s.
RC: Tommy, where were you born at?
TJ: Fort Pierce, Florida, 1949.
RC: All right, Tommy, thank you. Â I guess what brought you to Fort Piercehow long was your family here, do you know?
TJ: My sons living on the river here. Â Six generations, still family.
RC: Thank you. Â Tommy, are you married now?
RC: How old were you when you got married?
TJ: Thirty years old.
RC: Tommy, do you have any children?
TJ: I have a son and a daughter, and a granddaughter and a grandson.
RC: How old are your son and daughter, Tommy?
TJ: My son isI think hes twenty-six now; hes a firefighter/paramedic. Â My daughter works in my wifes familys air conditioning business with her.
RC: Tommy, how about you? Â How much schooling do you have?
TJ: I haveI graduated from John Carroll High School, a local Catholic school, and an AA [associate of arts] degree from Indian River Community College, which is State College now.
RC: Okay, thank you. Â Tommy, do you have any other jobs besides commercial fishing?
RC: Okay, and have you had other jobs besides commercial fishing?
TJ: I have. Â Ive been in construction: both heavy construction, as in a nuclear power plant on Hutchinson Island, and a lot of residential, housing.
RC: Did you do that for short periods of time?
TJ: Short, yeah.
RC: Within your fishing history?
TJ: Yeah, a kind of fill in the blank type of thing, you know, just to hustle some money. (laughs)
RC: Okay, Tommy, do you currently own a boat?
TJ: Yes, I do.
RC: What kind of boat is it and how long is it?
TJ: Its a twenty-eight foot wooden boat with glass over, diesel power. Â I use it for mackerel fishing, king, and Spanish. Â Thats about it. Â I have a wahoo dolphin permit. Â I stay locally now.
RC: You dont know the make of the boat?
TJ: Its a homemade boat.
RC: Homemade boat.
RC: Ive seen it around for years. Â Now, Tommy, Id like to ask you some questions about the Oculina Bank. Â How familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
TJ: I was very familiar with it.
RC: Okay. Â Do you know why the Oculina Bank was designated as an area to protect?
TJ: From, I think, not so much overfishing; but according to what I could understand, anchoring and the use of lead weights, hooks, tackle tearing up the Oculina coral was the main reason. Â I think that they did it not so much for overfishing, I dont think.
RC: Okay. Â Is there anything else you could tell me about the Oculina Bank? Â I mean, what do you
TJ: I used to make some nice paychecks out of the Oculina Bank, I did, but thats about it. Â Its forty fathoms, like twenty-seven, forty fathoms. Â Big, giant rocks are almost like mountains, and its just a beautiful place for fish, fish habitat.
RC: Are you speaking of groupers and snappers, or amberjacks?
TJ: Both, not so much snappers as the amberjacks and grouper.
RC: Okay. Â Well, Tommy, what do you think about the closure of the Oculina Bank to the anchoring and bottom fishing? (inaudible)
TJ: Well, I hate to see the reefs get torn up, you know, if thats a true thing, but it kind of put me out of business on my amberjack fishin which I did pretty darn good with in certain months to supplement my kingfishing and stuff. Â I dont know. Â I lost money on it. Â As a result, I sold my permit and got out of the snapper grouper fishery, just because I thought it seemed like it was all going downhill to me, I dont know.
RC: So, the closing of the Oculina Bank to the grouper snapper fishing, you soldwhat are you speaking of, a grouper snapper permit? Â What do you mean by selling your permit?
TJ: An unlimited snapper/grouper permit, yes.
RC: Okay. Â You sold it because you didnt feel like you had a use for it at the Oculina Bank?
TJ: Yeah. Â Basically, I thoughtthe government kept coming up with different restrictions on this and that, and catch limits and trip limits. Â I just felt like it was just going to get worse and worse, and I got out of it. Â I tried to stay home more.
RC: All right. Â You kind of answered this, but lets ask it anyway. Â Has the closure of the Oculina Bank affected your fishing? Â I guess Ill use this to summarize: Did you switch efforts some, you said? Â You just fished less, or fished in other fisheries?
TJ: I went to king and Spanish mackerel fisheries, concentrated on, thats about it. Â Any incidental catch, Id take it to the market, but basically kings and Spanish.
RC: If anchoring and bottom fishing in Oculina Bank was not prohibited, would you fish there?
TJ: I dont know. Â Im older now, maybe I wouldnt be fishing there as much; but I wouldnt have gotten out of it, thats for sure.
RC: Okay. Â And how and for what is, once again, probably bottom fish?
TJ: Yeah, for mostly amberjacks. Â And Ill say that 90 percent of the amberjack fishing I did out there, I never put an anchor in the water. Â I always used motor power to hover over the fish school or whatever and catch them, and very rarely anchored up.
RC: I believe Ive heard other fishermen refer to that as power fishing.
TJ: Motor fishing, power fishing.
RC: How would you fish? Â Would you use those deck reel things?
TJ: Deck reels, snapper deck reels, thats it. Â Catch live bait, take it out there and find them and, you know, let them bite. Â Hopefully, they bite.
RC: Okay. Â Tommy, just overall, in general, how has the fishing changed since you began fishing here in Fort Pierce? Â Not just the Oculina Bank, but overall?
TJ: Well, since I was a kid, I used to go with my grandpa kingfishing, king mackerel. Â Its another world. Â I mean theresinstead of a town of 5,000, theres probably 300,000, 400,000 people in the county, in St. Lucie County. Â Just population-wise alone, the rivers changed. Â Its not as pretty as it was. Â Theres mud instead of sand; theres mud, and theres not as much grass beds. Â So Id say, basically, just population has changed everything in Florida with the big recreational fishery. Â I mean, you walk on the boats coming in on the inlet in the weekends, you know. Â Its crazy, its crazy. (laughs)
RC: The question is, how has the fishing changed, and youve noted a lot of increase in the population and fishing pressure. Â But how about the commercial fishing fleet, has is changed? Â Is it more or less?
TJ: Well, yeah. Â In the snapper grouper fishery theres less, because theyve got so many restrictions. Â Of course, that throws a lot of these people who are catching amberjacks and grouper and snapper and whatever into what Im in now, a king mackerel fishery. Â Theres a lot of boats, a lot of permits out there. Â To me, I think theres plenty of fish, theres just too much production, you know. Â The prices go down real fast.
RC: Do youthis isnt a question on here, but since you touched on production: The quick production all of a sudden is because theres a lot of people doing it now?
RC: So, you think theres more people now than when you were a kid.
TJ: In the king mackerel fishery, king and Spanish mackerel.
RC: Okay. Â Back to the Oculina Bank, Tommy: have you had any experiences with law enforcement within Oculina Bank or regarding it?
RC: All right, okay. Â Tommy, now I want to talk about your fishing history, specifically. Â Youve touched on it quite a bit, but lets go ahead and talk a little bit more about it. Â Tommy, whats your earliest memory of fishing and how old were you? Â You know, like fishing in the lake with your grandpa or what have you.
TJ: Id go kingfishing with him probably around the time I started elementary school: first grade, second grade or something.
RC: Say six years old or something?
TJ: Yeah, six, seven years old, little putt-putt boats. Â Go out king mackerel fishing, not too far, no radio, no depth recorder, no ice. Â I mean, it was pioneer type of stuff, I guess youd say. (both laugh) Â And it was a lot of fun.
RC: Yeah, I imagine. Â I guesstheres a question, how did you learn how to fish? Â Did you say your grandpa?
TJ: Yeah, family. Â Grandpa, my dad.
RC: Okay. Â Tommy, is there a pointcan you recall a point in your mind that you just decided, Im going to become a commercial fisherman? Â How did you decide to become a fisherman?
TJ: Well, Ive lived on the river all of my life, and I think basically its just in your blood, you know. Â Some people are brain surgeons and some people are fishermen. (laughs)
RC: Basically, never a decision. You didnt
TJ: Its just something [that] comes natural.
RC: Thats really cool, Tommy, thank you. Â When did you start to work as a fisherman in Fort PierceI mean, actually getting paid for it? Â Maybe selling your catch might be a better term.
TJ: When I was in high school, I caught a lot of trout in the river, and I always had a pocket full of money when I was in school. Â In high school I had my own cars. Â So, I sold fish when I was real, real youngnot necessarily ocean, but
RC: Saltwater fishing.
TJ: Saltwater fishing. Â No license, no nothing.
RC: So, if we had to pick an age or a year, are we talking fourteen, maybe, or twelve?
TJ: Yeah, Id say thirteen: teenager, young teenager.
RC: Okay. Â What did you fish for? Â You said trout. Â How did you fish for these trout?
TJ: Speckled trout. Â In the wintertime, I would troll for them with cane polls. Â Its a trout set up: you just trolled real slow for them. Â And in the summer, I did some splatter poll fishing, they call it, which is a big cane poll and youve gotta catch live baitpigfishfor bait.
RC: The definition splatter, where does that come from?
TJ: I dont know.
RC: Were you actually splattering the poll?
TJ: I think thats where it probably started, you know: you take the poll and hit it on the water, like a fish striker or something. I guess thats what
RC: Get the fishs attention.
TJ: Geech Hagen; youd have to ask him. (laughs)
RC: Tommy, who did you fish with back then?
TJ: Basically, by myself.
RC: Okay. Â Did you own the boat?
TJ: I did.
RC: Okay. Â What kind of a boat was it back in the day there?
TJ: That was a seventeen foot home made mahogany boat, had a Renault-Dauphine keel cooled engine in it with it with a dry stack. Â I bought it from my grandfather; actually, he basically gave it to me. Â It was aI wish I still had it, to tell you the truth. Â I sold it to a guy named Andy Balkner. Â He used to trout troll, and he let it go and kind of fall apart, and took it to the dump.
RC: Oh, my word.
TJ: It really upset me, but thats life, you know.
RC: Yeah. Â You get older, you want those things you had when you was a kid, dont you?
TJ: Oh, itd be beautiful stripped down.
RC: Tommy, where did you go to fish when you began fishing in the Oculina Bank? Â Can you show me on this map?
TJ: My main places were
RC: Youre pointing at the south end down towards Jeffs Reef.
TJ: I didnt catch much there. Â I caught more up this way, in this area here.
RC: Thats up in the
TJ: The wrecks. Â On the wrecks, not really on rock.
RC: On the wreck within the Oculina Bank?
TJ: There were a couple of wrecks up that way, and I always produced good fish off of em. Â It really wasnt on a rock pile.
RC: Right. Â Oh, yeah, okay; youre not even on the peaks and youre off
TJ: But it was inside the Bank.
RC: Right, it was in the closed area, not on the Oculina corals.
TJ: Some of it was 320, you know, outside the edge there.
RC: OutsideI guess thats the Chapmans Reef area youre pointing to. Â Now, did you ever come up this way?
TJ: I did. Â I fished off Sebastian. Â Its probably around the 650s or so.
RC: Right, thats an extended Oculina enforcement.
TJ: It was legal. Â I think aboutyeah. Â Well, that was before they closed it. Â Of course it was legal.
RC: They closed it to bottom long lining.
TJ: But that was on the peaks, too.
TJ: And that was anchored fishing there.
RC: Well, I guess the depths there would becan you recall
RC: In general, 240.
TJ: Yeah, forty fathoms.
RC: During what months of the year did you fish through here on your [amber]jacks?
TJ: Basically, I spent a lot of my time in the spring fishing jacks, because its usually when the king mackerel run in Jupiter. Â Being that there are a lot of boats and the prices go low, usually when theres a lot of production, Id just hang around Fort Pierce and stuff and beat on the jacks here instead of messing with all the boats and low prices and all that.
RC: Tommy, when you were doing thisI guess were calling it amberjack fishing?
RC: How long did those trips last?
TJ: Usually one day trips. Â Go out, say maybe three, four in the morning, get some bait, catch live bait, get plenty of live bait, go offshore and fish till the box is full or time to come home. Â Basically, I never, hardly ever, spent the night amberjack fishing.
RC: Tommy, how much was an average trips catch?
TJ: Average, I would sayoh, boy, let's seeanywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 a day. Â Average, 1500.
RC: So, that would be all you would catch, would be the amberjacks?
TJ: No, Id catch plenty of grey groupers, or gag groupers you call them now. Â Gags, you know, and copper bellies, mostly.
RC: Would they be thrown into a mix?
TJ: If you could get the(laughs) Oh, yeah, theyd be thrown in there, but youd get about two dollars more a pound. Â But if you could get the line past those amberjacks to the bottom, I think they sat down there and ate the scraps from the jacks, and poop or whatever. Â If you could get it past the jacks quick enough, you could catch one. (laughs)
RC: Did you have, likewould there be an average of gags on the trip?
TJ: Sometimes. Â Of course, in the springtime, I think thats a good spawn time for them, right?
TJ: Springtime here, like, to me is March.
TJ: So thats the spawn time, and of course theyd be grouped together a little bit and youd do pretty good on them sometimes. Â Sometimes you wouldnt catch any.
RC: Okay. Â All right. Â Tommy, where did you sell your catch?
TJ: Inlet Fisheries.
RC: Is that a local market?
TJ: It is. Â Fort Pierce, Florida.
RC: If youre sitting here on your porch, it looks like it cant be a half a mile away from here.
TJ: Its not very far.
RC: (laughs) Okay, Tommy. Â Well, weve talked about your childhood, your trout fishing, your king fishing up through the time you were jack fishing on the Oculina Bank, and I guess that puts us up here aboutwell, here, let me ask you another question. Â For how many years did you fish for these jacks and stuff?
TJ: Not that long, really, because I tilefished for a long time and then I lost interest in that. Â Id say maybe three years, thats all. Â It turned out to be something I liked, and easy: it seemed easy, you know.
RC: Why did you stop doing it, the jack fishing?
TJ: They closed the Oculina Bank. (laughs) (inaudible)
RC: Okay, instead of going to the What did you do next? question, I heard you mention tilefishing. Â Where did you go to fish for the tilefish?
TJ: Basically, Fort Pierce, just out of Fort Pierce.
RC: Here on the map this is the deep water out south of
TJ: Forty mile area. Â I mean, north and south, you know.
RC: But that was all outside of the Oculina Bank.
TJ: Right, 100 fathoms or better.
RC: During what months of the year did you do the tilefishing?
TJ: I could do that year round.
RC: How long did a fishing trip last?
TJ: Usually a two-day trip, overnight, one night.
RC: How much was an average trips catch?
TJ: That's tough. Â It varied. Â I did pretty good with them. Â Let's say, average, probably 1500 a trip, which is a two-day trip.
RC: Where did you sell those fish?
TJ: Inlet Fisheries.
RC: Okay. Â Tommy, can you recall how many years you fished for the tilefish?
TJ: Quite a while, and I fished with other people before I did it on my own boat. Â So, altogether, probablyI don't know, twelve or fourteen years, maybe.
RC: Tommy, I'm going to ask you this question, although you kind of already answered it. Â Why did you stop fishing for the tilefish?
TJ: Well, it was a deal where I had to have a crew. Â I didn't have to, but really they paid for themselves: a crewman would pay for himself. Â Chasing down a crewman, you know, they get paid on Friday, they go party, you can't find them anywhere. Â Just the wear and tear on the boat and my body, you know, camping out in the ocean and this and that, and I just
RC: Kind of lost interest.
TJ: Yeah, I kind of just lost interest. Â I made good money tilefishing, now, but lost interest in it.
RC: It was still a profitable business for you.
TJ: Yes, it was.
RC: It was just a business decision.
TJ: Very monotonous, very monotonous.
RC: Then would be the What did you do next? Â And that will bring us to the amberjack fishing, which we've already discussed.
TJ: Right, I got into the amberjacks after that.
RC: It would have ended in ninety-four  when the Bank closed.
RC: Okay, and then that brings us to: What did you do next?
TJ: King mackerel, Spanish mackerel.
RC: Okay. Â And how did you fish for these king mackerel?
TJ: You troll. Â Trolling the nets, hook and line fishing.
RC: Okay, do you use any certain gears or baits?
TJ: Nothing, just regular stuff. Â Cut bait and troll.
TJ: That's about it, troll.
TJ: Artificial stuff.
RC: Do you useI heard you say earlierwe were talking about bandits or deck reels.
TJ: Deck reels.
RC: Is that something you use in the kingfishery?
TJ: I would use it sometimes, like if awell, in the winter when the water gets cold and stuff, or even cold water in the summer, fish will tend to be in a little notch deeper, in deeper water. Â And you can drop your deck reel down there trolling now, you know and maybe catch a few of them. Â But basically, you're strictly a snapper/grouper reel.
RC: So trolling, some people you might think oflike some of these boats I see here parked in the river in front of your house, where they probably troll fishing polls. Â Now, you're talkingyou troll fishing polls and bandits?
TJ: Sometimes I use my bandit just to get down deeper. Â Now, you know, you could do it by hand and put down a real long cable or something to troll, but then you gotta pull it all in by hand. Â With the deck reel, you can drop it down deep as you want and you pull it in with an electric reel.
TJ: Instead of by hand.
RC: Now, I heard you use the word hand, pull it in by hand. Â Do you troll with a hand line? Â Is that what youre saying?
TJ Hand lines.
RC: Okay. Â All right. Â So, Tommy, who do you fish with when youre kingfishing?
TJ: By myself.
RC: Okay, and of course you own the boat. Â You still own the boat, I assume.
RC: Okay. Â Where do you go to fish for the kingfish?
TJ: Anywhere from forty feet to a hundred feet off Fort Pierce.
RC: Mr. Jones is pointing atwhat's that? Â It says 12 Buoy.
TJ: 12 Buoy, yeah. Â Northeast grounds, Bethel Shoal.
RC: Okay. Â So, just thisall water well within the Oculina Bank.
TJ: Basically, wherever there's rock, you got a good chance of catching king mackerel. Â They like to stay on the reefs, because that's where bait is.
RC: Okay, Mr. Jones, Tommy, on this map we got up as far as theoff the Sebastian areas. Â You fished the kingfish all up through there?
TJ: I used to; I used to travel for kings, the Gulf of Mexico.
RC: Oh, really?
TJ: Up and down this coast, the Panhandle of Florida, Naples; but I don't travel anymore, so basically for me it's whatever
RC: But since ninety-four 
TJ: structures off Fort Pierce.
RC: Fort Pierce in general, okay. Â Tommy, during what months do you do the kingfishing?
TJ: It's more or less a year-round deal. Â I mean, sometimes theyre better than others. Â I dont know. Â It's kind of likewith kingfishing, if the weather's good, you better go fishing.
RC: All right. Â How long does like a kingfish trip last?
TJ: One day trips.
RC: One day. Â Tommy, how much would an average trip be of these kingfish?
TJ: That's a tough question. (RC laughs) Â Some days you go out there and they're jumping in the boat, and other days it just seems like you don't know what the heck you're doing. Â So it's hard to put alet's see, if you can catchin the summertime you can catch 300 pounds a day, that's fair for summer fishing.
RC: Would winter fishing be different?
TJ: Yeah. Â Well, the fish are usually bigger and more plentiful.
RC: So, what would be an average of winter fishing?
TJ: At least 500 or 600, maybe.
TJ: Five hundred. Â On a fifty head limit, you can'tI mean, how high can you go?
RC: A fifty head limit, is thatwhat is that about?
TJ: That's what you call trip limits for king mackerel per trip or per day or whatever; per trip, I guess.
RC: Is it the same for everybody?
TJ: No, it's not. Â It's sectioned off. Â I don't know the exact line, but say from Dade County to Volusia County is one area, and then Volusia County north on up into the Carolinas, I think, is another area, and you go around into the Gulf. Â They go separate quota and all that; it's all split up. Â I think we're on the low end of everybody.
RC: What do you mean aboutoh, low end.
TJ: Low end of production, per trip.
RC: Low end of production, or are we talking about limits?
TJ: Limits. Â Yeah, you can only produce so many, you know, and I think we get the least of anybody as far as a trip limit goes.
RC: Okay, interesting. So, we mathematically did 300 pounds in the summer and 500 pounds in the winter; let's say maybe around 400 pounds, maybe.
TJ: That's pretty close.
RC: Educated guess there.
TJ: When the weather's good, you got a good chance.
RC: Okay. Â Tommy, where do you sell your catch?
TJ: Inlet Fisheries.
RC: Do you own stock in Inlet Fisheries? Â No, I'm joking.
TJ: I wish the heck I did. Â (both laugh)
RC: So the question is: For how many years did you fish for the kingfish, and iflet's do our math here. Â I guess from ninety-four  until here we are, 2010, is sixteen years.
TJ: Basically just king mackerel and Spanish mackerel since they closed the Bank.
RC: Okay. Â Tommy, finally I would like to talk a little about how fishing has changed in regards to the Oculina Bank since eighty-four . Â Theres been several changes. Â I will read the changes out, and maybe we can point at the map, and see if they affected you. Â So, let's start with 1984. Â Prior to eighty-four , there was no restrictions. In eighty-four , the Oculina Bankthe small area, the original Oculina Bank
TJ: Ninety-six square miles.
RC: Okay. Â It was originally closed to trawling, dredging and bottom longlining. Â Did that affect you, in 1984?
TJ: No, I was tilefishing then. Â I was in way out past that.
RC: Okay. Â Then that brings us to 1994. Â This little area that we're just discussing then became an experimental closed area, and it was closed. Â Retention of snapper grouper was prohibited, and [so was] anchoring and fishing. Â How did thisdid this impact you?
RC: How? Â I thinkhave we answered that?
TJ: Yeah, because I couldn't go in there and catch my amberjacks, which was a new fishery for me. Â It looked like a good fishery until they did that.
RC: Okay. Â Then, in ninety-six , anchoring was prohibited throughout the Oculina bank, even little areas outside of the north of the Oculina Bank. Â Did that affect you, not being able to anchor?
RC: No, okay. Â Then in 1996, trawling for rock shrimp was prohibited in the area east and north of the Oculina Bank. Â And in 1998, this was incorporated in the Habitat Area of Particular Concern. Â Did that affect you?
RC: Why would that beoh, because you already stated that you quit fishing by that time.
RC: Okay. Â Tommy, we're doing good here; we're getting close to the end. Â Now let's talk a little bit about management measures. Â The designation of marine protected areas that are closed to fishing or bottom fishing or fishing in general is being used more and more frequently as a management tool. Â What do you think of the use of closed areas compared to other types of regulations, you know, like what do you think about this Oculina closure compared to other types of regulations? You've already spoke of trip limits, quotas and stuff like that. Â What do you think of closing the area compared to limiting the amount that they take?
TJ: I don't know. Â Well, it started out as a ten year closure, and how many years is it now? Â Sixteen years now, it's been.
RC: Sixteen years.
TJ: I betyou could fish in this place without anchoring, you know, motor fish it.
RC: Yeah, you were saying you could hardly ever get it past the jacks to the bottom where the grouper were.
TJ: Right. Â I mean, when you found em, it was hard to get anything.
RC: So, you werent even fishing close to the bottom?
TJ: No, they're up in the middle of the (inaudible), you know. Â If it's 300 feet, they could be anywhere from a 150 to underneath your boat. Â I've actually free gaffed them before, when they were like piranhas. Â I mean, they would get right under the boat, you'd take a gap and jerk them out of the water; but not very often, a couple of times. Â I'd say for
RC: Which do you prefer? Â Like, you talk about
TJ: I say let em fish in the area, but just prohibit anchoring. Â I mean, nobody wants to see the coral get torn up, but I don't see why you can't still fish there.
RC: Would you prefer, like you're talking about trip limits in the kingfishery, like limiting in some way?
TJ: Not so much
RC: What kind of fishery management tools do you like best? Â I guess with the tool I'm speaking ofspawning season closures, area closures, trip limits, quotas, is there any of it you like? (laughs)
TJ: Not really. Â But one thing: with hook and line fishing, I don't see how you could ever completely wipe out a population of fish, hook and line, even when they're spawning. Â You catch so many, and with the trip limitwhich is probably a good thing because the prices get so low anyway, it doesn't pay.
RC: So youthe traditional management tool with trip limits and stuff like that is the kind of management you like.
TJ: Yeah, because its notfor one thing, economics-wise, it's notyou know, who wants to go out there and catch kingfish for fifty cents a pound? Â It's ridiculous.
RC: All right. Â So, you think that management measure not only helps the economics of the fishery, but also, does it help the biomass of the fishery?
TJ: Yeah. Â Of course, yeah.
RC: Okay. Â This isn't a question, but I'm going to ask you because you have fished a lot here. Â Have you seen improvement since theywell, if you're not grouper fishing you haven't seenhow about kingfish?
TJ: Kingfish, it seems to me like there are plenty of kingfish. Â The problem with the king mackerel was, for one thing, gill netters. Â They're people; they want to make a living, too. Â But the gill nets just mass produced, and then they came out with the drift net, which the quality of fish were horrible. Â I mean, there was a lot of bycatch waste and stuff. Â I think a lot of the gill net fishery being out of the mackerel fishery is a good thing for the population of the fish anyway. Â Not so much for the net fishermanwhich a lot of my friends did that. Â I could live with them.
RC: So you say a past management tool is they, I guess, outlawed the use of nets or something?
TJ: Well, basically what they did by making the trip limits. Â They made it where it wasn't feasible for a forty-five or a fifty foot boat to go out gill netting for fifty fish per day per trip.
RC: Okay. Â If I'm following you correctly, then through that management measure it made it not lucrative to use the nets, and since the nets aren't being used, you feel there's less bycatch and there's actually more kingfish today?
TJ: Yes, I do.
RC: So that was a good management tool.
RC: All right. Â Well, so here we are at the end, and hoping its not the end. Â I'm going to say: Thinking ahead to the future, what do you think fishing will be like in Fort Pierce in the next ten years, ten years from now?
TJ: I think the king and Spanish mackerel fishery will be strong, it's just the matter ofthe amount of permit holders in it. Â Like, as you well know, they've shut down snapper; they've got so many restrictions on tilefish now; the shark fishery's like nonexistent, almost. Â Every time one of these fisheries goes downhill, here come some more people into the king mackerel and Spanish mackerel fishery. Â So, there's more pressure, more fish on the market, lower prices. Â The more fisheries they shut downthe people are going to find a job somewhere catching something.
RC: People redirect
RC: redirect their capital.
TJ: Well, they gotta make paychecks, they say, Well, let's go catch king mackerel, I mean, they're open, we can catch them.
RC: Okay. Â Well, you covered quite bit there, and we've talked a lot about the groupers and stuff. Â So, Ill ask that question again, and ask you: Thinking ahead ten years from now, what do you think the grouper fishing will be like, if they open the Oculina Bank? (laughs)
RC: No, that was a joke. Â I mean
TJ: I think it seems like there's quite a few grouper around. Â Methods of catching them nowadays are a lot different, like shallow water stuff, you know, with divers andwhich I doverod and reel fishermen, sport fishermen who are not as always as honest as they could be about their catch limits. Â Anyway, I don't know.
RC: Well, Tommy, I'm glad to hear you've been here all these years and you still think we have a future in the commercial fishing business.
TJ: Yes, I do.
RC: I would thank you for sharing your fishing history with us, and if you're done, this will conclude the interview.
TJ: All right. Â Its happy hour somewhere.
RC: (laughs) Thank you, sir.
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