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Chuck Hawkins oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Robert Cardin.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (50 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (32 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted May 25, 2010.
Oral history interview with commercial fisherman Chuck Hawkins. Hawkins moved to Fort Pierce in the 1970s and began working for various local fishermen. Prior to coming to Florida, he had done very little fishing. He began bottom fishing on the Oculina Bank in 1981, and it became one of his preferred fishing spots, especially in the summertime. Hawkins had to stop fishing there in 1994 when the area was closed to snapper and grouper fishing. Shortly after, he sold his grouper permit. Hawkins does not have a high opinion of closed areas, the scientists who argue for such areas, or the reasons cited for creating them. He favors quotas or closed seasons, which also provide data by which to assess the state of the fishery. In this interview, Hawkins also recounts his personal fishing history, describing how he became a fisherman and mentioning several of the captains with whom he used to fish.
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: Good morning. This is Robert Cardin. Today is May 25, 2010, and Im at my residence conducting an oral history interview with Chuck Hawkins for the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation project through the Fort Pierce fishermen on the Oculina Bank HAPC [Habitat Area of Particular Concern]. Welcome, Chuck. Will you please spell your name?
Charles Hawkins: Charles E. Hawkins. Thats C-h-a-r-l-e-s E. H-a-w-k-i-n-s.
RC: And, Chuck, when and where were you born?
CH: I was born in Wilmington, Delaware, 1947.
RC: And what was your birth date, Chuck?
CH: January 24, 1947.
RC: Okay. When did you move to Fort Pierce area, Chuck?
CH: Early seventies [1970s]. Nineteen seventy, seventy-one , somewhere in there.
RC: What brought you to our area?
CH: My parents went overseas to do a contract for Allied Chemical, and I came over tomoved over here with my wife to look after their property.
RC: Okay, Chuck, and are you married?
CH: Not anymore.
RC: I guess that means you were. How old were you when you got married?
RC: Chuck, do you have any children?
RC: Can you tell me how many you have and how old they are?
CH: I have one daughter; shes thirty.
RC: All right. And, Chuck, how much schooling do you have?
CH: Associates in arts degree, associates in science degree.
RC: In what field? Do you mind me asking?
CH: I have a science degree in criminal justice.
RC: Okay. Chuck, do you have any other jobs besides fishing?
RC: Have you had other jobs besides fishing?
RC: Could you tell me a little bit of history about your other jobs?
CH: Well, when I first moved here, I managed an ABC Liquors for a while. Actually, I still was an assistant manager there. Then, I was on the sheriffs office for a number of years there.
CH: Had my own business in town here for a few years.
RC: How did that go?
CH: It was fine, ya know? I mean, it was my wifes business and I was fishing at the time, and she decided she didnt want to do it anymore, so I ended up with the business.
RC: Did she start fishing?
RC: Chuck, I heard from the grapevine just yesterday you sold your boat, but Im gonna ask you a question: do you currently own a boat?
CH: Well, I dont own a commercial boat now.
RC: Did you recently just sell it?
CH: I did. Yeah, was end of the month. I blew the engine in it. I was working on it and somebody came by, after Id been in the bilge for about a week, and said, You wanna sell it? And I said, Why not? And they gave me a price, and I said, Okay, so(laughs)
RC: Thats not fair. Thats not right. During the interview, were gonna be talking about different boats. Whichwhat length was this boat, just so?
CH: The one I just sold?
CH: Thirty-two foot.
RC: What was that, the Gambler?
CH: Yeah, Gambler.
RC: Okay. We might talk about that a little later. All right, Chuck, now Id like to ask you some questions about the Oculina Bank, and heres a map in front of us, here; we can use this for references, if you like. But how familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
CH: Well, that was our summer fishery, and thats where we bottom fished up until the time they closed it.
RC: Do you know why it was designated as an area to protect, or why they closed it?
CH: Well, supposedly, it was the Oculina coral and that was the only place in the world that it grew, and they were gonna protect the coral.
RC: Is there anything else you can tell me about Oculina Bank?
RC: You mentioned you fished there.
CH: It was a great place to fish. There were a lot of fish there, theres a lot of structure, bottom, wrecks, and what we call peaks, little fifty-foot high mountain-things that come off the bottom.
RC: And you mentioned wrecks; what, you found some wrecks in there?
CH: Well, therewe fished areas where there was a plane wreck and things like that. Just diverse habitats.
RC: What do you think about the closure of the Oculina Bank to anchoring and bottom fishing? What do you think? Whats your personal opinion of it?
CH: I didnt care much for it. I didnt care much for it then, but I think theyve already got that on record. I was on one of theI was on the councils advisory panel for king mackerel at the time, and they invited me to a workshop to speak on the Oculina Bank when they were closing it. So, I had plenty to say that they didnt want to hear at that point.
RC: So, youve both fished and worked on the (inaudible). Youve got a lot of knowledge of it. Chuck, has the closure of the Oculina Bank affected your fishing, and how?
CH: It certainly affected our summer fishery. That was what we did for the summer, we bottom fished it. And basically, it shut down that fishery, you know? You couldnt, from Fort Pierce. I never bottom fished much in the shallow water, I was always in the deeper water, and the Oculina Banks is the deeper water. Thats where the structure is, in the deeper water in that 300 feet area. And we fished it from the south end on past to the north end; but generally, where we started was in the Oculina Banks. That was where our start place was off of Fort Pierce.
RC: Right. And, so, you mentioned that you didnt shallow water fish much and you deep water fished, and that the Oculina Bank closed and stopped your deep water fishing. So, basically, does that mean that it stopped your bottom fishing?
CH: It stopped my bottom fishing, yeah. Thats exactly what happened. And it wasnt long after that we sold the permit. I mean, there wasnt any point in keeping the permit when we werent using it.
RC: So, if I understand you correctly, without the use of the Oculina Bank, you had no use for your grouper permit, in other words. Is that what you
CH: That would be pretty well true.
RC: You were mentioning your summer fishery. What would your winter fishery be if it wasnt shallow water grouper or something?
CH: King mackerel.
RC: King mackerel. And where on this map, where did you king mackerel fish? (referring to map) Up in here?
CH: Jupiter, Fort Pierce, Sebastian.
RC: Okay. Later on, well talk a little more about maybe the months that you did fish in the Oculina Bank. If anchoring and bottom fishing in the Oculina Bank was not prohibited, would you fish there? If it was never prohibited, would you still be fishing there?
RC: And, of course, for what; can you name some of the species that you would catch in there?
CH: Black sea bass, porgies, grouper, snapper. There were lotta gray grouper there, snowy grouper; occasionally youd catch a grey tile[fish] there. Porgies was one of our mainstay fish, and then grouper.
RC: Chuck, did you say one of our mainstay fish?
CH: Im talking about the people that fished for bottom fishing on the Oculina Bank.
RC: So, you had first-hand knowledge of other fishermen that would, I guess, fish the same area as you did?
RC: So, overall, how has fishing changed since you began fishing in the Fort Pierce area? Overall, not only the Oculina Bank, but is there any other changes youve noticed?
CH: Well, theres a lot more regulations. I mean, when we first started fishing it, you had no quotas or anything like that on the kingfish. Theres a lot quotas now, theres a lot of government involvement in the fishery on anything. You cantone of the bad things that I think of as a fisherman, and many of us do, is that with all the regulations and the qualifying for each permit, instead of being a fisherman, youre now a king mackerel fisherman, or youre a shark fisherman, or youre a sword fisherman. And if you have a bad year in one those fisheries, you cant move laterally to goif Im having a bad year king fishing, I cant go grouper fishing because I dont have that permit now. I mean, I sold that permit, but a lot of people couldnt go grouper fishing cause they didnt qualify for it. They hadnt caught it, so they couldnt move it.
For instance, I had a shark permit when the shark permits came out. I got it simply as an incidental permit, because occasionally Id catch a shark while I was bottom fishing, and without a permit you couldnt sell it. Well, then they decided, if you havent caught so many sharks between this time and this time, you dont have a shark permit. Well, I was never a big shark fisherman, but it still cost me my incidental catches of shark when I was bottom fishing; its a fish that I couldnt sell.
RC: So, you were able to fish across the fisheries
CH: Well, sure
RC: But because you didnt have the exact qualifying period of this permit or that one
CH: Well, whenever they did any of the permits for limited entry, you had to have caught so many fish in the years that they picked to qualify for that fishery. For instance
RC: A timeline thing. You had to be lucky enough
CH: For the grouper fishery, you had to have caughtI forgot how much it was in that period of time, but a lot of the fishermen got what they call a limited grouper fishery at 225 [pounds] and unlimited.
Under Amendment 8, to the Snapper-Grouper Management Act of 1998, a vessel was eligible for a limited access commercial permit for South Atlantic Snapper and Grouper if the holder owned a vessel with a commercial vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper grouper at any time from Feb. 11, 1996 through Feb. 11, 1997, and that vessel had at least one recorded landing of snapper and grouper from this fishery from Jan. 1, 1993 through Aug. 20, 1996. An owner whose permitted vessels had recorded landings of snapper and grouper from this fishery of at least 1,000 pounds in any of the years 1993 through Aug. 20, 1996 was eligible for a transferable permit. All other vessels received a non-transferable permit with a 225 pound trip limit.
You had a limited bottom fishery that you could not sell, and an unlimited one that you could transfer, and that was just a matter of how many fish you caught.
RC: That was in a year time period. That was, like, the year or two after the Oculina Bank
CH: I think it was three years. It was a three year time period, and out of that three yearsin one out of those three years, you had to catch a certain amount. Ive caught a certain amount.
RC: And you had to have an active permit between February 18 and December 18. Yeah, there were several different qualify periods withinqualifying factors within that three-year period. So, if you happen to be fishing for something else at that time, you lost out. Do you know if anyone that wasnt grouper fishing at that time because of the Oculina Bank closure lost their permits or got limited?
CH: Well, I think George Kaul got a limited permit because he wasnt, you know, a regular bottom fisherman, so didnt quala lot of people got limited permits because they had caught a grouper. Like, theyre king fishing, they catch a grouper, so they qualified for a limited permitbut didnt get an unlimited permit, so they couldnt have decided, Well, now Im gonna go catch a thousand pounds of bottom fish, because they didnt qualify for that anymore. So, its a limiting factor in the fisheries, for anybody. If they have a bad year kingfishing, Well, well go bottom fishing. Cant do it, cause you dont have that permit anymore. I mean, they did that to all the fishermen.
RC: Yeah, it was ninety-five  and ninety-six  in the grouper fishery, if you werent catching groupers or happen to [catch groupers]. And you said you lost your shark permit because you didnt meet the time frame. Do you know what?
CH: I hadnt met the weight frame on that.
RC: During the time frame.
CH: During the time frame.
RC: Do you recall what years that was?
CH: No, I really dont.
RC: That might have something to do with this, too.
CH: Im getting to be an old fart now, and I cant pick out those dates anymore.
RC: We all are, these days.
RC: Well, thank you, Chuck. Have you had any experiences with law enforcement within or regarding the Oculina Bank?
RC: All right. Okay, Chuck, I want to kind of talk to you, you know
CH: I have had law enforcement pull up on me while I was in the Oculina Bank.
RC: Oh, okay. Well, thats regardingwhat was the conversation? What was the problem?
CH: That wasI was anchored, andIm trying to think of the guy on the sheriffs office that used to ride with the Customs guys.
RC: Rodney Black?
CH: Right! There ya go! Rodney Black. He was on the Customs boat, and they pulled up. I could see the light coming, didnt know what it was. They finally pulled up alongside of me and just talked to me. They were justthey were checking it out, I guess?
RC: Was that pre-ninety-four  when you wasntwere you allowed to anchor there at the time?
CH: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, it wasnt closed then. I guess that wasnt
RC: What year was it in, what were talking about?
CH: Oh, yeah. I was in the Oculina Bank, because thats where I fished.
RC: Lets break it down a little bit about your history, specifically, about your fishing history. Chuck, what was your earliest memory of fishing, and how old were you? You know, like, fishing with your grandpa at the lake type [of] deal.
CH: Didnt do much of that. JustI dont know, I guess just sport fishing: bass and things like that.
RC: Bass fishing. Do you recall, maybe, an age that you were bass fishing?
CH: No, I really dont.
RC: Would it be in your childhood, like adolescence or, no, actually
CH: Probably not. Probably not till I got here.
RC: Oh, okay. Well, Chuck, then how did you learn how to fish? Who taught you?
CH: Got a job withmy original job was with the Currys. Started fishing with Tommy Curry. And then I went off of that boat, to his brother, Leland Curry, and we were kingfishing. With Tommy Curry, we kingfished; with Leland, we started swordfishing.
RC: Okay, so how did you decide to become a fisherman? Your buddies were making money, so you did it?
CH: I may have originally started on a net boat or something, I cant remember. I was in college. I, at that time, was doing my AA and I was going to Gainesville to be a chemical engineer. And the ten-year period on my VA [Veterans Administration] loan had run out, but you could always get an extension then, as long as your grades were okay. But I believe it was President Carter that decided no, after ten years, it doesnt matter; youre just done. And so, my ten years had come up and they cut me off, so I went fishing.
RC: So, for the income is what youre saying?
RC: Okay. Chuck, when did you start to work as a fisherman in the Fort Pierce area? How old were you?
CH: Well, early thirties. Ive been fishing for over thirty years. Mightve been sooner than that. Mightve been late twenties.
RC: Would you say around thirty?
CH: Around thirty, yeah.
RC: Okay, and what did you fish for? You said swordfishing or kingfishing
CH: Well, I think I may have started out on the Double Eagle kingfishing.
RC: Okay, and how did you fish for these kingfish on the Double Eagle?
CH: That was gillnet; wed travel down the Keys [with a] runaround gillnet.
RC: Okay, and who did you fish with on the Double Eagle? Who owned the boat?
CH: That was David Tuthill and RogerI dont remember Rogers last name, but it was a couple of guys that owned the boat.
RC: Tuthill, T-u-t-i-l, or something?
CH: T-u-t-h-i-l-l, I think.
RC: How were you related to these guys? Just guys you went to work for?
RC: What kind of boat was it, a big fifty-footer?
CH: It was a forty-two foot, uhI dont know what the hull was.
RC: Commercial sloop.
RC: And, uh
CH: It was named Double Eagle.
RC: Where did you go when you began fishing? You said you went to the Keys; did yall fish up here any? Can you show me on this map anywhere you fished up here?
CH: That was mainly in the Keys. We fished downI went down there. I was the crew on that boat. His crew had quit him, and I was the crew. When we made sets we had crews from other boats come over to help us load the fish.
RC: During what months were yall doing that?
CH: Whenever they have that kingfish run in the Keys. I guess its probably January, Februaryin the winter.
RC: Winter fish?
CH: Yeah. And then they had pulled in somewhere and taken on a guy, and they decided that running drugs would be a better thing for them. So, I got off the boat (laughs) and they made a couple of drugs runs and then all went to jail. (laughs)
RC: So, how long did the fishing trip last? Not that extended stage you just stated, but when yall would do the runaround gillnet kingfishing.
CH: Long enough to make a couple of sets down there. They were parked in one of theI think in Marathon is where they were parked, waiting for this guy to pick them up to hook him up with whatever. I didnt know what was going on. All I knew, we were sitting there not fishing, so I came home that time and started kingfishing with
RC: Well, back to the
CH: Timmy Meyers.
RC: The Keys trip, that was like a daily net fishing thing. And what were yall catching on a trip, do you know?
CH: Well, the one set we made, we caught forty-some thousand.
RC: Anywhere from zero to 40K?
CH: Yeah. The boat wouldnt hold, you know, more than thirty-five, forty-thousand.
RC: And where did they sell the catch? Was it down there at Stock Island [Florida Keys]?
CH: Down at Stock Island, yes.
RC: All right. Okay, so how long did you fish for those guys, Chuck?
CH: Probably not much more than a couple of months, and I came back up to Fort Pierce and got on a boat that was owned by Timmy Meyers. We had gone down to Jupiter, but Timmy was kind of a part-time guy; he didnt want to fish real hard.
RC: And how were yall fishing with Timmy?
CH: Hook and line; king mackerel.
RC: And who owned the boat? Timmy?
RC: And whatd you say his namesay his name?
CH: Tim Meyers.
RC: Tim Meyers. And how were you related to Tim?
CH: No relation.
RC: Okay. And where did you guys go to fish, Jupiter?
CH: Fished Fort Pierce, Jupiter. But Jupiter, I remember that Jupiter run because we were down there for that. Never could get him to fish a lot, and Im trying to think whetherone of those times I made some trips with Billy Baird, and I cant remember whether that was before or after I started fishing with Tommy Curry.
Billy Baird was also interviewed for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is O6-00021.
RC: During what months would you fish with Meyer?
CH: That was just probably a month, you know, cause I had family and I needed to work and he wasnt a hard fisherman.
RC: So, youre just day fishing for
CH: Yeah, day fishing.
RC: And you were selling your fish in Jupiter or Fort Pierce or wherever?
RC: Okay. Well, lets go on to the next one. Lets get you somewhos the next people you worked with?
CH: I probably started fishing with Tommy Curry then.
RC: And Tommy was thethat wasswordfisher?
CH: He hadno, we were kingfishing to start with. He had a boat that was the Kim, and his brother had a boat called the Miss Christine. They were thirty-one foot Stapletons.
RC: Okay, and you hook and line fish?
CH: Yeah. We hook and line fish, and then, when I wanted to switch to swordfish, I went over to his brother and fished for Leland. I fished for Leland for a while. I dont know how long, but we swordfished, we kingfished.
RC: Well, when you fished with Tommy, yall were hooking like kingfishing?
RC: And it was Tommys boat, and I guess you were working for him, a thirty-one Stapleton. And where did you fish with Tommy?
CH: Fort Pierce.
RC: Can you show me on the map? Thats northeast grounds.
CH: Uh, northeast. Mainly northeast grounds, but all the Fort Pierce area around here. They didnt travel, but
RC: Well, maybe from the Bethel Buoy here?
CH: Probably Bethel to 12 [Buoy], or in that area, yes.
RC: Okay. What months were yall doing that? All year?
CH: Yeah. All year.
RC: And how long did these fishing trips last. Day trips?
CH: Theyre day trips. When the fish were there, I mean, youd go out, you know, youd have thousands, 1500, 700 pounds. There wasnt a limit or anything; you caught what you could catch and came in.
RC: Hey, Chuck, where did you sell these fish?
CH: I believe we sold those at the co-op.
RC: How many years did you fish for Tom?
CH: I fished for the Currys for probably a couple of years, anyway, because we fished swordfish; and then Leland built a fifty-two foot boat and I fished on that for a while.
RC: And thats when you went to the swordfishing?
RC: And how did you fish for the swordfish?
CH: Long line.
RC: Long lining. What did you use? Can you explain a bit about a long line?
CH: Well, at that time, we started out on the Stapletons. We had five miles of line, probably 300, 400 hooks. Run high flyers on the beginning, middle, and the end
RC: So, you floated your line?
CH: buoys, and in between each buoy we ran about six hooks, or ten of them when we started out; probably more than that, cause we ran an awful lot of hooks for five miles of line.
CH: We were just starting swordfishing. Swordfishing was just starting down here. Youd catch a thousand pounds a night. I mean, if you didnt catch a thousand pounds a night, you had a bad night.
RC: Really? (laughs) And how long did you fish with Leland Curry?
CH: Oh, I dont know; a couple of years, probably.
RC: And while you fished for him, you had a thirty-one Stapleton and then you moved up to a fifty-two footer?
CH: Right. We had the Miss Irene, the fifty-two footer he had built. We had fished that.
RC: Were you fishing out here, out in front of Fort Pierce? Here on the map, east of Oculina?
CH: Youd run down south, southeast a hundred fathoms, and then drift with it; wed set it out down there and then drift back up to the north.
RC: So, the hundred fathoms youd actually be coming up outside of the Oculina sometimes, huh? (referring to map) If you got up this way?
CH: If we got up this way, probably, yeah.
RC: Okay. And you said a thousand pounds would be an average night?
CH: Yeah, with the Stapletons. There was quite a few a fish out there then.
RC: And where did they sell the swordfish at?
CH: At the co-op.
RC: At the co-op, also. And how many years did you fish for the swordfish?
CH: Probably a couple of years.
RC: And, Chuck, why did you stop fishing with them?
CH: Well, at one point, I started doing my own kingfishing. I had bought a little boat and started fishing my own boat.
RC: When do you think that was?
CH: (laughs) Oh, boy. Let me think who I was (inaudible). I dont know. Probably
RC: Sounds like it was still in the seventies [1970s].
CH: Yeah. It was in the seventies [1970s] somewhere when I started fishing.
RC: Yall start swordfishing pretty early out here, when its seventy-six , or something? George started in seventy-six , I think. Were you doing it before him?
CH: I forgot. Yeah, before George started. I forgot that George had started coming out.
RC: So, were yall quitting about the time George was starting?
CH: He may have been moving to a bigger boat by that time. I think George had Brant with him and Brant, before, had fished with Leland and me.
RC: That would put us around seventy-eight , seventy-nine .
CH: Yeah, probably.
RC: Okay, and
CH: Everybody was moving around. You know, you could then.
RC: Right. Whatever met your schedule?
CH: Right. Whatever looked like you could make some money in, you did, you know?
CH: Swordfished or net fished or kingfished or
RC: Then you got your own boat and started king
CH: Got a little I/O [Inboard/Outboard] drive boat and started kingfishing that. My dad was still alive then, so that wastrying to think when he died. He must have died in eighty-five  or something, so it was before then.
RC: When you got your little hook and line kingfish boat, who did you fish with?
RC: Just you. And you owned the boat, and how was big was the I/O boat?
CH: Oh, it was probably twenty-two foot or something; it was small.
RC: And, Chuck, where did you go to fish for the kingfish?
CH: In Fort Pierce. I just fished out of Fort Pierce.
RC: And once again, heres our map of Fort Pierce area; 10 Buoy, 12 Buoy?
CH: Northeast grounds, you know, the kingfish grounds around Fort Pierce; inshore, offshore.
RC: So I take it its around from around from the Bethel Shoals
CH: Bethel Shoals on down to the
RC: far northeast. Okay, and during what months were you doing this kingfishing on your own?
CH: That was year-round.
RC: Okay, and how long did your kingfish trips last?
CH: Just a day.
RC: And what would you think an average catch would have been?
CH: Back when I was startingits too scary to even think about it.
RC: Dang, you were good, huh?
RC: Were you still selling to the co-op at that time?
RC: Chuck, how many years did you fish for the kingfish?
CH: Well, from then on. From then till about a month ago. (laughs) Actually, Im still fishing for them! We went out yesterday, the day before. I just dont have my own boat, but Im still fishing with Billy.
RC: So, when did you fish in the Oculina Bank?
CH: After II started fishing a little bit with Billy off and on. Im trying to think whether that was between boats, because I had that first little boat, and then I bought the Striker, which was Leonard McBays old boat; I dont know whether you remember that?
CH: And I fished that, and when I sold that, I bought the Bonnie Sue, which was
RC: Thirty-one Stapleton, right?
CH: Yeah, it was. Im trying to thinkBill Warrick and the Roto-Rooter. He had two boats; he had the Antonio and the Roto-Rooter, and they were bottom fishing them. And I had started bottom fishing in the summer a little bit with Billy Baird. So, then when I bought Bills boat, I had already been bottom fishing with Billy Baird, so I was kingfishing and bottom fishing in that boat, and thats when I got into the bottom fishery.
RC: So, can we kind of estimate maybe when you started bottom fishing Oculina Bank?
CH: Well, I owned the Bonnie Sue for twenty-three, twenty-four years, and it sank in
RC: Aught-four ?
CH: Aught-four .
RC: That figures out to eighty-one . So, probably around 1981 you started out fishing on your own in your own vessel.
CH: Well, I was already fishing. I had had two boats before that, but thats when I started bottom fishing. When I got the Bonnie Sue, I started bottom fishing.
RC: Back up a little bit. So you think you went with Billy Baird occasionally before that?
CH: Yeah, I did.
RC: So, in eighty-one , lets say, you got the Bonnie Sue, you were kingfishing in the winter and you were summer fishing in the Oculina Bank?
CH: Summer fishing with Billy, I guess, and his brother, Ronnie. I was on Billys boat, the Vicki Ann, which was another thirty-one foot Stapleton. Ronnie had the
RC: I dont even remember that.
CH: I cant even remember his boat, either, but Billy would. Billy would remember it. For a while, Ronnie had the Caracal. I dont think he was fishing the bottom fish there, cause we made a trip up off of St. Augustine [and] Georgia when he had the Caracal; we went up there with the Vicki Ann. So, that was probably before eighty-one .
RC: Before eighty-one ? So, in eighty-one  when you started fishing the Oculina Bank, how did you fish it when you were fishing the Oculina Bank in the Bonnie Sue?
CH: Just had a chart recorder, and go out there, and Id find a beacon, drop an anchor on it, and fish, and there were fish there.
RC: And what kind of gear would you use, Chuck?
CH: That was bandit reels.
RC: What is that, like, a multi-hook rig? Or a one-hook rig?
CH: They were multi-hook rigs, but pretty much so a couple of two-hook rigs, things like that. We hadafterwards, we started fishing what wed call a chicken rig, but that was something that Billys brother had shown us.
CH: I guess when I was fishing the Bonnie Sue, we had already figured out the chicken rigs and we were using a six, seven, eight-hook rig.
RC: So, anywhere from
CH: Lead on the bottom for porgies. When we started out, we started catching the porgies and there wasnt a market for em. When we brought these fish in, we started getting the market [price] for them. We were getting a dollar, ninety cents for em.
RC: And you were catching those along with your groupers and rigs?
CH: Right, along with the grouper. In fact, mainly we were grouper fishing. I did a trip one time where I just stuck with the porgies, and we got in and found out that we could make money with the porgies. And then we started rigging up for porgies, and wed catch grouper along with them.
RC: But porgies are in the bottom fish, one of the species, so that was alltheyre all named as the snapper/grouper species. So, you had fished one seven-hook depending on the species?
CH: Well, with the groupers, we had had two hook rigs for the grouper; we catch grouper and amberjack. We catch grey tile with it. With the porgies, you had what we call a chicken rig; we catch porgies and snapper and triggerfish and sea bass with those rigs. Well put little circle hooks on them, little Japanese circle hooks, and
RC: All right. Now, thats on the thirty-one Stapleton, the Bonnie Sue, and you owned it. Here on this map, we see the Oculina Bank. This is the southern end; this is what you call Jeffs [Reef], Chapmans Reef, and of course goes on up even beyond
CH: We fished from one end, all the way through it, out the other end.
RC: Okay, from what you said, from one end to the other?
CH: We fished all this area up pastyou know, up to the Cape [Canaveral] and on.
RC: On average
CH: Ive got bottom numbers that go from here on up to off of Georgia.
RC: But this was always your starting point?
RC: On average, how far do you go offshore for these fish?
CH: Usually, I think that was about twenty miles.
CH: Itd be further off, the further north you went. You know, youd be further off, cause were staying in that300 to actually about 250 to 400 is what we fished.
RC: The heart of the Bank, there. During what months of the year did you fish for this bottom fish you said?
CH: I started bottom fishing usually after the Jupiter run of kingfish. So, after that May run: June, July, August.
RC: And how long did the average trip last?
CH: Two to five days.
RC: And how much was an average trips catch, Chuck?
CH: Usually around a thousand pounds. You try to fill your box, but sometimes it didnt happen and youd come in. But a lot of times, you know, you could do it in two days, three days.
CH: So, that kind of regulated how long the trip was.
RC: Your box size.
CH: I fished off of St. Augustine and there. I made six and seven day trips, sometimes. But youre way far offshore, there, a lot further offshore.
RC: And, Chuck, where did you sell this fish? Did you bring them back here to Fort Pierce?
CH: At that time, I think we were fishingyeah, we brought them back to Fort Pierce. We were coming in and out of Fort Pierce and fishing. I guess Id fish mostly bottom fish for Inlet.
RC: Inlet Fisheries, here in town?
RC: For how many years did you fish for the bottom fish, the groupers and the porgies?
CH: Well, fished for them up until they closed the Oculina Bank, so, after that.
RC: If you stopped in ninety-four , that would put you somewhere within fifteen years, give or take a year.
CH: Yeah, something like that.
CH: I like bottom fishing better than kingfishing. Always did. You didnt have the hassle or fighting over the fish, or anything else, you know? It was kinda peaceful.
RC: All right, Chuck. Well, I think we caught most of your history. Did we miss anything? Okay. Of course, you were a bandit fisherman, grouper/snapper at Oculina Bank, and it was hand-in-hand with your yearly fishing routine, right? You never depended on one or the other. You depended upon both.
RC: Okay. All right. Well, finally, Id like to talk about how your fishing has changed over time in regards to the Oculina Bank since eighty-four . Im gonna read a few different law changes and well see how it affected you. In eighty-four , the Oculina Bank was initially closed to trawling, dredging, and bottom longlining. Did that affect you?
RC: Okay. In ninety-four , the Oculina Bank was designated as a experimental closed area where the retention of snapper grouper species was prohibited, and fishing boats were also prohibited from anchoring. Did that affect you?
CH: That shut down our fishery.
RC: That down your fishery in ninety-four . Okay, then in ninety-six , all anchoring in the Oculina Bank shut down.
CH: See, it didnt matter about anchoring. You couldnt keep snapper and grouper. I mean, in ninety-four , didnt they
RC: Ninety-four  did ya in.
CH: Didnt they stop retention of snapper and grouper?
RC: Right, right, right.
CH: So, you know, the fish we were catchingyou couldnt catch it, so youre done. It doesnt matter whether you anchorI mean, for a lot of the years that we fished, we power fished, anyway. We didnt anchor. Youd sit on it and just put the pilot on south and hold it in gear, and it just sits you over the spot; you didnt have to anchor.
RC: So, power fishing is when you keep the engine in gear, but you would try to maintain a position?
CH: Sure. Thats what I say, you putI had an autopilot on the boat, you have it south, but I also had a remote on it; it was right by me, you could change it a little bit. But youre just sittin there and youre powerin, motorin over thejust being
CH: Sure. Its just like youre anchoring, except you dont have an anchor down.
CH: I mean, if theyd had said no anchoring, okay, we couldve still fished it.
RC: But after retention
CH: But once they say, Well, you cant keep the species, well, you can go out there and you can ride around, but you cant catch anything. Its hard to make money that way.
RC: Did you in good, huh? In ninety-six , Chuck, they prohibited the east and north; prohibited from the trawling rock shrimp. Did that affect you?
CH: Well, by then, were done. Were done in ninety-four , so whatever they do after that, no, it didnt affect us at all. Once youre done, youre done.
RC: Well, Chuck, that brings us on to this kind of management. The designation of marine areas that are close to fishing, such as the Oculina Bank, are being more used more and more frequently as a fishery management tool. What do you think of the use of closed areas?
CH: I dont particularly care for them. I didnt like em then, I dont like them now. The same thing I had to say thenyou know, to me, the scientists say, Oh, well, lets close this area because great things will happen. The main thing that happens is that the scientists just create their own little private fishing area, cause theyre the only ones who get to fish it after that. They go out and get the fish, they can say, Oh, this is whats happening, and nobody else gets to fish it, so we dont know whats happening. And I can guarantee a scientist doesnt know whether theres enough out there to sell, or anything else, you know?
RC: Well, how do you think closed areas compare to other type of management measures, like quotas and closed seasons?
CH: Well, with the quotas and seasons, youve got at least a fishery that youre looking at, you know? People are going out catching the fish; you can see how the catches are. When its closedI mean, Ive seen scientists say, Well, golly gee, look! The catch ratios gone way down. Well, yeah, youve closed our fishery! What the hell did you expect it to do?! You expect it to go up? I mean, so many times they come up withI hate to say theyre just asinine theories, but theyre asinine theories, you know? They look at this data and theyve done something major to change the data and then they say, Oh, this fisherys in trouble. Look, the catches just went down to nothing.
RC: Well, yeah, if youve looked at Fort Pierce grouper landings
RC: with the Oculina Bank closing, you would see
CH: (mimicking the scientists) Oh, look! It dropped off! Somethings happened to the fish! Its overfished! You close it, and then dont catch any fish, and thenso, at least if you have it open, and youve got a quota, or whatever, youve got an idea. Its like right now, where theyre talking about where we better lower the quota on kingfish. Well, if you look at the data, the data doesnt support that. I mean, more kingfish are being caught now, faster; the quota is getting closed earlier every year, so what do you base the fact, Oh, we want to lower the quota, on?
RC: You said theyre easier to catch? Is that what you
CH: Theres more fish out there, and when were catching fish, theyll be north of us, south of us, a hundred miles all up and down the coast. Everybodys catching fish. Any way you look at it, youve got to figure theres a whole lot more fish out there than what there were. So, I mean, theres a story where they say, This fisherys isnt overfished, its not overfishing; wed like to lower the quota. It doesnt make sense.
RC: Youre confusing me right now.
CH: Well, thats what the scientists are sayin, ya know? Youve got a fishery thats not overfished and its not overfishing. We think we ought to go to ITQs [individual transferable quotas]. Why? If youve got a fishery thats not overfished and not overfishing, why do you want to limit it to different individuals that have a permit? I mean, if a fishery is a recovered fisherythis is America. Okay, you got a healthy, recovered fishery: anybody should be able to get a permit and go become a commercial fisherman and sell the fish. So, why would you want to limit it to just a few fishermen?
RC: Well, like youre talking about ITQs; you have a lot of history of special fish out here on Oculina Bank. You dont think youll get rewarded for that?
CH: (laughs) Yeah, Ill get rewarded, all right. You know? But another pole up my butt isnt the kind of reward that I appreciate, so
RC: Oh, they go with certain time frames? Just the time frame issue, again.
CH: But some of the dataI can remember going to Palm Beach because they wanted to close the triggerfish fishery. They were gonna ban catching triggerfish, and everybody showed up down there and said, What are you talking about? Theres so many triggerfish out here wed like to put a bounty on em. You cant even get through the triggerfish to get down to where the snappers are, you know? Sometimes you wonder where the informations coming from, you really do.
RC: Well, I think youve mentionedwhich do you prefer? It sounds like you like quotas and closed seasons the best. What do you thinks the best way to manage it?
CH: Without somebody being able to catch the fish, so youre getting a sample of that fish coming in, youre seeing what age groups are coming in, youre getting a cross-section of that fish different times of year. When you just shut down a fishery, youre not getting any information off of that.
RC: Or shut down an area.
CH: Or shut down an area. Yeah.
RC: Well, Chuck, thinking ahead to the future, what do you think fishing in Fort Pierce will be like in ten years?
RC: Could you talk about that for a little bit?
CH: Well, right now theyre talking about wanting to do this ITQ; nobody Ive talked to wants anything to do with it, but thats never stopped them from doing anything in the past. Weve talked to people that have gone on to ITQ programs and theyre saying, You dont want anything to do with this. Things that, you know, you end up having to pay for and have to come out that they never tell you about. For instance, percentage of your catch going to pay for the
RC: Program itself?
CH: For the program itself, right. Or you think youve caught so many fish youre gonna get a nice quota and youre gonna get a fourth of that, so then youre gonna have to buy it from somebody else. To me, right now, youve got a fishery thats open. Anybody thats got a permit can go out there and fish it. They catchyou know, if theyre good fishermen they can catch the quotas whenever the fish are there. When a quotas filled, shut down, everybodys had an equal shot at it. But to say, Well, all right, since youve done this, you can catch X number off of your quota?
RC: Well, how about if I say this, Chuck: since the Oculina Bank closed down, youre not gonna get no history in of the grouper snapper fishery. How do you like that? Im being facetious!
CH: I know, thatsmy grouper snapper fishery, I sold that permit in 2004, I believe. Wasnt using it and was gonna lose it, so you may as well sell it.
RC: Right, and you said thats due to the fact the Oculina Banks closed.
CH: I meanyou know, I live in Fort Pierce. To travel forty, fifty miles to check out a fishery, [is] kind of cost-ineffective.
RC: Well, thats fifty-eight miles long, I think.
CH: Yeah, its longer now than it was. But you get out there, and after you get out there, then you find out, Oh, the currents too strong to fish out here, so youve just wasted the trip.
RC: Right. Well, all right, Chuck. Thank you very much for sharing your fishing history with me, and thatll conclude the interview if you dont have anything else to say. Is thatweve got it covered?
CH: Far as I know.
RC: All right. Well, thank you, sir.
CH: Yes, sir.