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text Terry Howard: Good morning. This is Terry Howard. Today is May 25, 2010. Im at the Fort Pierce City Library in downtown Fort Pierce, Florida, conducting an oral history with Jerry Metz for the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundations project with Fort Pierce fishermen on the Oculina Bank HAPC [Habitat Area of Particular Concern]. Welcome, Jerry. Please state your name, spell your name, your place of birth, and your date of birth.
Gerald Metz: Gerald Lee Metz. G-e-r-a-l-d L-e-e M-e-t-z. I was born in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1945.
TH: Okay. Now, that was Gerald Lee Metz?
GM: Gerald Lee Metz.
TH: Okay. Born where, again?
GM: In West Palm Beach, Florida.
TH: In 1945.
GM: Thats correct.
TH: When did you move to Fort Pierce?
GM: Nineteen seventy-six .
TH: Okay. What brought you to Fort Pierce?
GM: Thats a good question. I left Pennsylvania, I didnt like West Palm Beach; too busy. It grew up too much for me, so I settled in Fort Pierce and have stayed here ever since. I liked it. The fishing was great. Everything was fine, plenty of fish around to catch. The people were real nice. [I] stayed here.
TH: Now, are you married?
TH: How oldokay. Youre not married. Have you ever been married?
GM: Yes, twice.
TH: Okay. How old were you when you first got married?
TH: Do you remember?
GM: About twenty-two.
TH: Okay. Do you have children?
TH: How many?
TH: Two sons?
GM: I have two boys, one forty-two and one forty-three.
TH: Forty-two and forty-three. Oh, my gosh. How much schooling do you have?
GM: Well, I went through the eighth grade, but I got a military GEDa high school diplomawhen I was in the military.
GM: So, I do have a basic high school diploma.
TH: Okay. What branch of the military were you in?
GM: The Army.
TH: Okay. Did you go to Vietnam?
GM: I was in Cambodia, the very easterner, western edge of Cambodia. Actually, I was in Thailand, where Cambodia and Thailand meet at the Gulf of Siam. I didnt get to the actual Vietnam, but I was within hundreds of miles.
TH: Okay. Do you have another job besides charter fishing?
TH: Okay. What other jobs have you had, though, in the past?
GM: Too numerous to mention.
TH: (laughs) Okay. Do you want to mention maybe a couple of the things that
GM: Ive been a truck driver, a commercial fisherman for several years, a truck driver. Ive been a mason, a brick layer, a carpenter, a sheet metal worker, a diesel mechanic for twelve to fourteen years. I drove a tractor trailer. Ive operated heavy machinery. Just about everything.
TH: All right.
GM: I am a professor of many, but I am an expert at fishing.
TH: (laughs) Okay. You like to fish, most of all.
TH: Okay. Do you currently own a boat?
TH: What kind? Can you describe it? The length?
GM: I got a twenty-one foot Blue Wave, Bay boat. Its kind of an open fisherman type boat. It holds up toI take up to three people with my business.
TH: Okay. What size motor?
GM: A 175 [horsepower] Intruder, an [Evinrude] rig.
TH: Okay. Do you have live wells?
GM: Yeah, live wells. I got the whole package of live wells. I can fish at night, fish live bait, everything that you need.
TH: Okay. Now, Id like to ask you some questions about the Oculina Bank. How familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
GM: I remember fishing the Oculina Bank maybe in 1978, seventy-seven . Actually, when you werent supposed to fish it, I fished it twice. We never anchored, we just drifted over it. We caught a lot of fish on it, a lot of porgies, red porgies on it. We caught a few other fish, but we never anchored. A lot of fish there, but we knew we werent supposed to be there, so, we didnt stay long. But we did catch a lot of fish. Its just one of those places where people knew they werent supposed to go, but the fishing was good.
TH: I believe in the seventies [1970s], it was legal to fish there.
GM: This was probably in seventy-eight , seventy-nine , eighty . Maybe somewhere in there, Im not real sure of the dates.
TH: Okay. Ill get to that in a minute. I
GM: But it was during my commercial fishing days, which was before I started my guide business in 1979.
TH: Okay. What kind of commercial fishing did you do?
GM: I did commercial longlining. Ive done commercial net fishing. I did commercial hand line for kingfish. There isnt any kind of fishing I havent done, absolutely none. Ive done every bit of it.
TH: Why was the Oculina Bank designated as an area to protect?
GM: I dont know that. I think because of the pacific [sic] coral that grows there. Theres some kind of a coral that grows in that pacific area thats native, I guess, or pacific to that area, that doesnt grow in very other many places.
TH: Okay. Thats specific, not pacific. Specific.
GM: Specific, yeah. Its specially specialized to that area for some reason.
TH: Okay. Do you know why the Oculina Bank was designated as an area to protect?
GM: No, I dont. I would imagine because of the coral.
TH: Okay. Is there anything else you can tell me about the Oculina Bank? What do you know about it? You talked about the coral. Do you know who used to fish it or what
GM: Theres some
TH: what brought peoples attention to it?
GM: I think the fish brought peoples attention to it, plus the fact that the shrimpers and the draggers were tearing it up, mostly. The draggers would go over it and absolutely wipe it out. Ive seen pictures, photographs from a submarine where it just looks like a desert, where the draggers have been over it. Anchors dont do that. Draggers do that. A persons anchor is only gonna tear up a little bit of the bottom, but when you go through there with a shrimp boat, you got these nets, and they keep this area for the shrimp that are there in the coral. Then theyre gonna tear it up. But I think its because of the coral and everything. There is someshrimps different. Ive never been on the bottom, so I dont know, but I think theres no specialized fish that lives there. Its just a special kind of area where this coral grows, and it may have its own little community of fish that arent [in] a lot of other places.
When I did fish it, mostly what I caught was red porgies. I dont know if they like that bottom or not, but I did catch a lot of red porgies there. Never caught very many groupers there, because the bottoms flat. Its relatively flat, and the reason it is flat is because the draggers can drag it. If it was full of rocks and boulders and big cliffs, you couldnt fish it, because the draggers would get hung up on it.
TH: Have you ever heard that the draggersthere were
GM: Steeples [Reef]?
TH: Yeah. There that the draggers (inaudible)
GM: Oh, no doubt, the steeples to it. One time, I would imagine that coral was several feet high, like the staghorn corals and the other corals that grow out. I would imagine that coral was very high, and the draggers just tore it down, like you drag it through a forest and rip all the trees out. And behind that, its like plowing your field when you have your corn standing and you look behind you, all you see is plowed dirt. You dont see any corn stubble standing up. So thats basicallyI think the coral used to be very high and very numerous there.
TH: Okay. What do you think about the closure of the Oculina Bank to anchoring and bottom fishing?
GM: I think the closure is unjustified. I think maybe the anchoring is justified. I dont seeI really dont see why theres any harm in drifting over the area. When you anchor, yes, if youre not properly schooled in the technique of anchoring three times the scope of the depth, youll drag your anchor through it. A lot of people dont know this. The commercial fishermen do that because they know how to work. They know how to anchor and they know how to put out scope, and where the anchor goes to the scope, it stays there. It doesnt drag through it.
I think the closure is not warranted. I think the closure should be warranted to draggers, shrimp boats and draggers and people that anchor there. You shouldnt anchor. I dont believe it should be closed just because you want to go there and fish. Youre not gonna fish that area out with a rod and reel. Its not gonna happen. You cant fish the world out with a rod and reel. But you can with nets, and commercial lines. Commercial fishin, I think if you were to commercial fish that area, put lines out over that area, you would promptly fish it out very quickly. So, I think that there shouldnt be any commercial fishin there at all, just recreational fishin. That doesnt say that I dont like commercial fishermen; its just a fact that commercial fishin is very effective. And once you have several people commercial fishin that area, you will eventually cut down on the population of the fish thats in the area.
TH: Has the closure of Oculina Bank affected your fishing?
GM: Not indirectly. It hasnt, no.
TH: You mean
GM: My basic business for thirty-some years has been inshore. It hasnt directly affected my fishing any, but I have talked to people that it has affected. Now, some people will argue to that and theyll say, Well, if thats the only place that I can go to catch fish to make a living, then they need to go somewhere else and get another job. They need to find something else to do. If thats the only place that a commercial fisherman can go to make a living, he needs to find something else to do, because thats not the only place that you can go catch fish. Thats my way of looking at that. They told us years ago, when they told us the different places and different things we couldnt do; they told us we couldnt go there, and we couldnt go there. And some fisherman will go, Well gee, what am I gonna do? I cant make a living. Well, thats not true. Theres other places you can go to catch fish just besides that one area there. I dont know how much area that bank encompasses. I dont know the length and the width of it and how many miles north and south it goes, or east and west. So, it may be a very small area, or it may be a very vast area. I dont know. I never really did any research on it that much.
TH: If anchoring and bottom fishing in the Oculina Bank were not prohibitedin other words, if you could fish there, would you fish there?
GM: Yes, I would fish there.
TH: Okay. Why, for how, and for what?
GM: Well, I would mostly bottom fish, and I would probably fish for porgies. Ive never caught very many groupers there, but Im sure theyre there. But I would fish mostly for porgies and bottom fish. There has also been some fish caught over top of it, on the surface there. A few fish hang around the bank. But I would mostly fish for bottom fish.
TH: Okay. Overall, how has fishing changed since you began fishing in the Fort Pierce area?
GM: Boy, a bunch. (laughs) A lot. The fishing has really changed. Whats changed the most is when Ia good example of this when I first started net fishing back in the late seventies [1970s], you could take 600 yards of net and you could go in the river
The river mentioned repeatedly in this interview is to the Indian River.
and you could catch all the fish you could possibly haul back to the dock at 600 yards of net. Trout, pompano, redfish, bluefish, everything; youd just fill a boat up with fish. Thats with 600 yards of net. A few years went by, then you had to have a thousand yards of net. A few more years went by, then you had to have 2,000 yards of net. When Eskel Anderson and I
TH: When who?
GM: Eskel Anderson.
TH: How do you spell it?
GM: Gee, I dont know you spell Eskel. But AndersonChucky Andersons his brother, Eskel. I dont know how you spell that.
GM: Yeah, Eschol Anderson. HeI dont know you spell that. (laughs)
GM: Maybe E-s-c-h-o-l, or something? Eskel Anderson? Yeah, Anderson.
TH: Its important that we get the spelling of these names. How do you say it?
GM: I dont know his first name correctly. Anderson, Eskel.
GM: Maybe. (laughs)
GM: But we
TH: Thats gonna be your homework.
GM: Yeah. (laughs) We fished together a lot, him and I. When we first started fishing together, 600 to 800 yards of net; youd catch all the fish you wanted. When we finally quit, when I finally quit, 3,000 yards of net wasnt enough. And another thing
TH: Was that in the river or the ocean?
GM: That was in the riverand the ocean; mostly in the river and a little bit in the ocean. It seemed like you had to take and put more and more and more net out to catch the same amount of fish you were catching thirty years before that. The riverspeaking of the river, the rivers a very narrow spot. Most of the fish in the river were caught along the banks or on the shores. Not many fish in the middle of the river. Most of the fish were caught on the banks. And in any given nighton one night shortly before I quit, I counted the fishermen, and I kind of went through and also just asked em how much net they were fishing, because I was kinda curious. Each one of em had about 2,000 yards of net on the boat.
Well, there was about twenty-five fishermen at that time that was working the river. With twenty times 2,000, thats a lot of net. Lets see, thats twenty times two, is 40,000 yards of net. When you put 40,000 yards of net out in a river that isnt two miles wide, every night, 40,000 yards of net, youre gonna wipe something out. So it really made an impact on the river by having to fish more and more and more net. It was harder to make a living. People were putting more and more gear in the water to catch the same amount of fish they were catching thirty years earlier.
TH: With much less net.
GM: Right. There was no control. You could keep any size fish you wanted. There was nowhen I first started, there wasnt a limit on no kind of fish; the size limit. You could catch little mackerel, big mackerel. You could catch little tiny pompano, big pompano, it didnt make any difference. A fish weighed a pound, it was worth a dollar, so, you put it in the box. You put everything in the box. But at that time, we couldnt sell a lot of fish. Ladyfish and jacks and sand perch and all of those kind of fish, they were considered bottom fish and they were six cents a pound. Now, theyre over a dollar. So, it made a big difference.
But since the net ban, the river came back considerably. As far as the big trout goes, the pompanotheres more pompano been in the river than ever has been in the river. The oceanthe ocean is a big spot, but it can be fished out, too, because the fish that travel the ocean travel up and down the shores, most of em; except when you get offshore to the pelagic fish, and then nobody nets out there, with the exception of they used to net the kingfish and stuff and that. And the by-catch on that was tremendous, too. They would catch a lot of things they didnt want. They couldnt sell em, so they just cut em out of the net and let em sink to the bottom. Now, almost everything they catch, they keep it. But there again, the drifting of the drift nets is no longer there. Its made an impact. I think the fishin which really deteriorated quite a bit over the years. And, now, that the net fishin has stoppedI never abandon anything. I never signed any kind of paper banning a commercial fisherman from his livelihood. It wasnt like that. People still like me today because Ive never pulled a lever for nothing. I wasnt gonna put my friends out of business.
But there again, I can tell you a very good example of that. One time, I thought about this: Lets say that you took all the net fishermen around the state of Florida, which is several hundred, probably. And lets say that those several hundred fishermen caught six trout a day, so youve caught 700 or 800 to 900 trout a day, all around Florida. Five commercial fishermen could catch that in two days. So, who caught the most fish? The hook and liners, not the commercial fishermen. The hook and liners caught more trout than the net fishermen caught.
TH: Youre talking about the recreational fishermen?
GM: Right, recreational fishermen. Yes, they caught more fish than the commercial fishermen caught, if you look at it that way. But you can never tell a commercial fisherman that, like me, because we always thought that we caught the most. But no, I think the rod and reel fishermen caught more of some of the species than the net fishermen did.
TH: Because theres far more of them.
GM: Theres far more of those, correct.
TH: Okay. Next question: Have you had any experiences with law enforcement within or regarding the Oculina Bank?
TH: Okay. Now I want to talk about your fishing history, specifically. Whats your earliest memory of fishing and how old were you?
TH: Tell us about that. What do you remember about that?
GM: I caught a half-pound bluegill, and I got a trophy for it.
TH: Half-pound blue, thats a big bluegill.
GM: (laughs) Got a trophy for it.
TH: Where was this?
GM: In Clear Lake, in West Palm Beach.
GM: They had a fishing tournament, and every one I got in, I won. I started fishing probably when I was four years old. And my dad and my mother was proponents of my fishing. They knew where I was all the time, because Id either be at the river or at home. And when theyd find me, Id be at the river. My dad died over twenty-five years ago now, and my mother died two years ago.
At one time, we were sitting around just for the heck of it, to figure out how many hours and days Ive spent fishing in my lifetimejust for the heck of it, because I have spent a lot of time. I have a vast knowledge of fish, not just a fish. I know hundreds of species of fish, everything. I really take fishing as a science. We figured out the days and then we calculated it. I had about 200,000 hours fishing. (TH laughs) I dont believe it takes 200,000 hours for someone to take your brains out on a table and put em back in.
Fishing is my life. Ive studied fish. I know their habits. I dont just go catch fish. I know how they live, what they eat, how they migrate. Not just for a few fish, but for a lot of fish, hundreds of fish. Ive studied that. When I started when I was little, what got me into that is I would go fishing and I wouldnt catch anything. Id go home wondering, Why didnt I catch nothing? Wonder why didnt I get any? Was they not biting, or was the water too cold, or maybe I didnt have the right bait or something? Why didnt I catch any fish? Id go to the same spot the next day and fill a bucket full. And then Id be wondering, Now, how did that happen? Why did I go here? Today, I didnt catch anything; I go tomorrow, I catch a lot of fish. Next day, I dont get any fish. Well, all that, I found out after forty years, fifty years of doing this, that the moon has an awful lot to do with it. The tides have an awful lot to do with it, and the water color and the temperature of the water and everything.
So, I started fishing pretty early. (laughs)
TH: Who taught you?
TH: Did your father
GM: My dad taught me. Plus, I would walk up on the bridge and thered be twenty-five, thirty people on the bridge fishing. And Id walk down, look in the buckets, and I wouldnt stop if nobody had anything in their bucket. Id keep walking. When I found someone that had a half bucket of fish and nobody else had any, Id stop and watch him, see what he was doing, because, obviously, he was doing something that them other people werent doing. Because they were all using all the same bait, the same fishin in the same area, but he was piling em in. So thats how I learned. I watched the people, the way they did things. Thats how I grew up fishing. Commercial fishermen, I would watch other fishermen while I was learning. They would show me how to do the wiring, tie the knot and put the hooks on. Thats how I learned: mostly self-taught and learned from other people.
TH: Okay. How did you decide to become a charter boat captain?
GM: That was pretty easy. Some people wanted to be a fireman when they grew up, I wanted to be a fisherman. Thats about as simple as that.
TH: Okay. When did you start fishing the Fort Pierce area, age and year?
GM: Nineteen seventy-six . Hmm.
TH: So, forty-five, fifty
GM: Well, I was about thirty-eight. I dunno. (laughs)
TH: Forty-five, fifty-five, fifty-five, sixty-five, sixty-five, seventy-five; so, about thirty-one. About thirty-one years old.
GM: Yeah, somewhere in there. Yeah, because I had my fortieth birthday on the river.
TH: Now, you saidearly on, you said you lived in Pennsylvania and then came back home?
GM: I got out of militarywhen I got out of Thailand, Southeast Asia, I went to Pennsylvania to live with my mother. I got married in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I lived inI was a diesel mechanic then, and I lived in Pennsylvania for maybe four or five years. Then I moved to Fort Pierce, and Ive been in Fort Pierce ever since.
TH: Okay. That waswe figured 1976 was when you moved here, and thats when you were about thirty years old. Were you fishing commercially when you first came here? Commercially, recreationally, or working on charter boats?
GM: I was fishing commercially and working on charter boats. I started commercial fishing. I got a net, got a boat. I started fishing out of a flattie, mostly mullet fishing, pompano and stuff like that. Then, in between those times, I would fish for Captain Sam Crutchfield
Sam Crutchfield was also interviewed for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is O6-00032.
on the Lucky Too, cause I had done that all my life. When I was a young boy, I worked on a charter boat fishing for tunas and marlins and sailfish and dolphins and everything like that. I worked the charter boats, and it was only natural for me to work for Captain Sam, cause I knew the ocean. I knew what I was doing. Nobodys ever had to teach me anything. Basically, I picked up the fishing trade as I went along.
TH: This next question, its gonna be kind ofyou know, its a wide-open question, cause youve kind of answered it. What did you fish for, and how did you fish for that type of fish?
GM: When I was
TH: Gear and bait.
GM: When I was fishing for what, like fun fishing or commercial fishing? When I was younger, or now?
TH: When you were younger. Whatd you first start fishing for? You said bluegill. But then when youre thirty and back in Fort Pierce, what did you start fishing for first?
GM: Commercial fishing, net fishing. Thats the first fishing I did when I came to this town. I figured it was a lot of fish here. Mostly commercial fishermen here, not very many sport fishermen was here. So, I mostly commercial fished. And then Id seen the amount of fish that was here, the tremendous amount of trout that was in the riverI mean, a ten-pound trout, twelve-pound trout was common back when I first started fishing. You could catch em all day long, ten to twelve pounds. So I said, You know what? Im gonna be a guide. Im gonna be a guide. So I checked into it, and two or three people I talked to said, Oh, youll starve to death. Dont nobody need a guide around here. Look at all these fish to catch. Nobody needs someone to take em and show em where theyre at. Youll starve to death. You wont make no money. Nobodyll hire you. Well, in 1983 and 1984, I fished a total of 634 days. In 1983, I fished 127 days straightcustomers, with customers. I was booked June, July, and August. I was booked
TH: Fishing for mostly trout?
GM: April and May. Yes, sir. No, that was snook.
GM: Snook season, I was booked. And in April and May, I was booked June, July and August and September, solid. I didnt have an open day.
TH: Mostly snook?
GM: Yep, thats for snookand other species, too, but mostly was for snook. But I found out that after a while, when I started doing it, I was the only guide within forty miles of where Im standing now. There was no other guides. I was the first guide in St. Lucie County. There wasnt any other guides before me, licensed captains. I was the very first guide in this county.
TH: I didnt realize that. Who did you with at first? Or did you fish with anybody?
GM: I mostly started fishing with, again, Eskel Anderson. Eskel, and also Raymond Brown. Raymond Brown showed me how to commercial troutsplatter pole trout fishing. He showed me the river. He showed me how to catch the pigfish. And he showed me how to fish other fish. And I learned a little bit from this fisherman and that fisherman.
TH: Well, lets go back. He taught you how to what?
GM: Catch pigfish and to commercial trout fish with a splatter pole.
TH: Splatter pole was used for used for catching the bait?
GM: No, that was used to catch the trout, in little pigfish traps made out of wire.
TH: Okay. Can you explain that?
GM: Yeah. They got awhat it is, its a little small trap, maybe about twelve by twelve, maybe twelve inches wide, six inches high and has little funnels in it. And you take a live crab, which works best, because its fresh, and you smash the crab up and you put it in this trap. Well, these little pigfish, theyre babies, actually; theyre baby pigfish. When they get big they go in the ocean. Theyre very small, theyre maybe two inches at the maximum, and they just fill these traps up. They get in these funnels and then they cant get back out. You take them and you check those every day and you put em in your bait well. You have to put em back in the river overnight, because you cant use em the same day that you catch em. And the reason you cant use em the same day you catch em [is] because theyre full of crap and they wont grunt. And the trick with those is to make em grunt.
TH: And they have to be hungry?
GM: They make that pigfish [sound], that (makes sound effect) sound. They wont make that when theyre full. If you put him on the hook and put him down there, he wont make any noise. So you put em in the river and starve em for a day, and they get all this waste out of em. Then theyre ready to eat again. So the next day, then you use em. But you cant use em the same day you catch em.
TH: You say put him in the river; he can be in a live well, or
GM: In a trap, you put em in a big wire trap.
TH: Okay. And you store em?
GM: Yeah, you store em, and you have to put in real nice water or theyll die. So you have to have a nice clean place for em to be. But thats what I was told that the fishermen in this town done a hundred years ago, eighty, seventy, eighty years ago, that that was their main livelihood in this river, was splatter pole. And there was probably, at one time, twenty-five to thirty people in this town that did splatter pole trout fishing.
TH: Well, then, tell me about the splatter pole.
GM: The splatter pole is nothing but a cane pole.
TH: Thats s-p-l-a-t-t-e-r?
GM: Yeah, like splatter things on a wall.
TH: Okay, splatter pole.
TH: Its like a cane pole.
GM: Yes. I dont know where they got the name splatter pole, but they would take the slap it on the water. Theyd take it and slam it on the water, like that, and make a crackin noise with it, and that would draw the fish up to the boat. For some reason, youd think it would scare em, but it would draw the fish up to the boat. And then it was nothing but a cane pole with a piece of line on it, monofilament or a piece of wire, whatever you had on it; it was about fourteen, sixteen feet long, no rod and reels. And you just hooked the bait on, throw it out right in back of the boat. And youd use these little skiffs that probably werent two feet high, eighteen to twenty inches high, very low profile boats.
TH: Low freeboard.
GM: All wood, no metal in the boat whatsoever. The anchor was on a roller. You didnt want to make any noise. You had to be very, very quiet. And you could catch fish six feet in the boat.
TH: Catch six what?
GM: You could catch these trout six feet back in the boat.
TH: Okay. You trolled with these?
GM: No. You anchored most of the time. You would drift across a spot and youd put a bait in and use him once or twice, lift him to the surface, lay him back down, lift him to the surface, let him back down. If you didnt get any bites, you took him off (makes gesture), throw him away. When you got a fish, a trout, pull him in the boat, put him between your legs, knock him in the head with a club, and lay him in the boat. You didnt want him to be (inaudible) or in a fish box or in a cooler. You knocked him out and laid him in the bottom of the boat. Well, if you caught two or three in a row, you would ease your anchor overboard, real easy, and you would fish that spot and the fish would come to you then. Itd be like you was calling em or something.
TH: Now, you fished out of the stern of the boat?
TH: How many poles did you fish at one time?
TH: Just one pole?
GM: Yeah. You couldnt fish two. They bite too fast. (laughs)
GM: Just one. (laughs)
GM: And it was a way that everybody did it, Terry. It was a thing thatnet fishing and commercial splatter pole fishing for trout is what the two mainits what everybody did. Nobody did anything else. And they tell me, the old timers, eighty, seventy, eighty years ago back during war, or even before the war, they would take these launches, these maybe thirty-five, forty foot skiffs, and thered be four or five fisherman would live on em and theyd tow there small flatties behind em. They would tow some of these, maybe five or six of these splatter pole skiffs behind the rig or launch boat and they would stay out for a couple, three days at a time and ice these fish down. Then they would take em to the fish house. But they would stay on the river for two or three days. When they went baiting for these little pigfish, they would get several thousand of em. They would keep em penned up and they would use em during the day. But that was one of the things they did. Besides that, with net fishing, was the only two [types] of fishing I knew of in this town when I come.
TH: Now, where did you go in the river to catch trout, mostly: north of the bridges, south of the bridges?
GM: All over.
TH: All over.
GM: All over. Ive been all the way to Stuart and all the way to Vero Beach. Trout are pretty abundant. Actually, what we live on, we live the southern range of the spotted sea trout. Were on the southern end of the range of the spotted southern sea trout; they go all the way into the Virginias.
TH: Spotted sea trout.
GM: And an interesting thing about the spotted sea trout in Florida: in the state of Florida, sea trout does not migrate to the ocean. Its the only state that the sea trout does not migrate to the ocean. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland and some of those states, sea trout migrate into the ocean because of the cold weather. In Florida, right around Jacksonville somewhere, theres a meridian line that goes across there. Its a meridian or a Capricorn thing or one of those lines that go across there. Well, we are on the southern edge of the sea trout. The sea trout for us goes way north. Now, the opposite side of that, were on the northern end of the snook range. Jacksonville, they dont know what a snook is in Jacksonville. But heres the funny part about that: they dont know what a snook is in Jacksonville, but if you go to Brownsville, Texas, you can catch snook in Brownsville, Texas. You go to Louisiana, Mississippi, you ask em what a snook is, theyll look at you like youre stupid. Well, what is that? Now, why is that?
TH: I dont know.
GM: Ill tell you why that is.
TH: Okay. (laughs)
GM: Because if you look, if you follow that meridian line, or that lineIm not sure what it is. Dont quote me on this.
TH: It would be a longitude line.
GM: Theres a line that goes across there. Okay, well, that line intersects Brownsville, Texas. Okay? Louisiana, Mississippi, is too cold. Snook die there. Brownsville, Texas is right down on the meridian line there, or on that line. Its the only place, from Jacksonville or Tallahassee west, that they catch snook. Brownsville, Texas.
TH: Interesting. Its a longitudinal [sic] line that youre talking about, it goes east and west.
GM: Yes, sir. You talk, like, Costa Rica. Costa Rica is the main center for snook. Thats their hub. Thats what you would call the epicenter, I would say. Were on the northern end of that. Were on the southern end of the sea trout. See, thats how these things relate to each other. Its like the Oculina Bank. It may be a specialized thing. Maybe some of these fish are only on that bank.
TH: During what months of the year did you fish for which fish?
GM: Well, the trout was usually always June, July, and August. Thats when the little pigfish are around, is in June, July, and August.
GM: Other than that, they get too large and you cant use em for bait. Other than that, I net fished all year, all year round. And when summertime came, I would do the splatter pole fishing in June, July, and August.
TH: For trout. How bout snook? What months for snook?
GM: Snook, 365 days a year.
GM: The most prevalent time would be in June, July, and August when they spawned; they were the thickest. You could catch em one right after another, as fast as and as many as you wanted to catch, because they were spawning. They would group up in the inlets, mostly in the inlets. Snook go to the inlets to spawn. They have pelagic eggs, which most fish have. Saltwater fish have pelagic eggs. Theres not a saltwater fish that I know that makes a bed, like a bass or a bluegill or a shellcracker; they all have pelagic eggs. And the snook would congregate around the inlets and stuff in that time of year, to spawn. And thats when they were easy to catch. When I started to fishing for snook, there was no limit. You could catch emI gigged 500, 600 pounds of em a night, once people found out they were good to eat. I murdered em. I shouldnt say this, but Im probably the one that helped deplete the population. But it wasnt illegal. It wasnt against the law.
TH: Were theydid you sell em commercially?
GM: No. No, they never sold. Theres never been a snook sold commercially. The fish that we sold, we sold to restaurants in the back doors, friends, because they didnt want to eat em. They were soap fish. People thought theythey called em soap fish. That was a nickname of a snook.
TH: Soap, s-o-a-p?
GM: Soap fish, like the soap you wash with; soap fish.
GM: And people would cook em with the skin on. Theyd scale em, cook em with the skin on. And the skin tastes like soap, so they didnt want em. So they considered em trash fish. And at one time, they were considered a trash fish, because of the taste. Then, when we were kids, we startedone day, I guess, I dunno how it happened. We skinned one and ate it, and it was great. And then we started selling em. Well, you know what happened. (laughs)
TH: Now they sell em as snooker, I mean, they sell em as grouper, or snapper, or whatever?
GM: Well, theres several hundred pounds or em been sold as grouper. (laughs)
TH: Over the years.
GM: But when I first started, Terry, there was no law on em. The first law that was ever put on a snook was eighteen inches and a possession of four. And when I was a kid, Id never seen a marine patrol. Id never seen a marine patrol till I was twenty-five years old. You know, a law enforcement person.
TH: Yeah. Well, you didnt start fishing here till you were thirty.
TH: How long did a fishing trip last? Now, again, this is a wide open question. An average, I guess now, an average charter fishing day.
GM: Chartermy charters would last from eight [am] to five [pm], all day, and from usually from eight [am] till one [pm] in a half a day. Commercial fishing, that was day and night; there was no time limit to that. Your time was your time. There was no such thing as an hourly thing there. If the fish were biting and they were there, you stayed until they quit biting. Everybody did that. Theres no commercial fisherman I ever know that ran away from biting fish. If you do, you were a fool. You didnt make any money. When I was in my guide business, half a day would be four hours, all day would be eight.
TH: Okay. How much was an average trips catch? Now this, again, this is a wide open question.
GM: On an average day, in my charter boat, its a varied thing. Ive never got skunked. Ive never went out and not caught nothing. Back in the earlier days, an average catch was twenty, thirty, forty trout a day. On an artificial lure, on jigs with feathers, and jigs and stuff like that, you catch thirty, forty trout. You catch lots of pompano and bluefish and all that. Net fishing, it was the same. Sometimes, you may go out and get you 2,000 or 3,000 pounds of pompano, a couple thousand pounds of mackerel, or you can go out there and you couldnt get enough fish for a barbeque. Fish have tails. They can swim. Theyre here today, gone tomorrow. So, you never wasthe life of a fisherman was feast or famine. You were either a rich man or a poor man, and I aint never seen a rich fisherman. (laughs) If he was a rich fisherman, he was hauling something besides fish.
TH: (laughs) Okay. For how many years did you fish for, lets say, trout? Youre still fishing for trout.
GM: Im still fishing for trout. Ive fished for them foroh, man, I started fishing for trout when I was probably seven, eight years old. In West Palm Beach, when I grew up in West Palm Beachfunny thing about trout: in the riverdown there they call it the lake; its called Lake Worth. It used to be a lake, it didnt have an inlet. It used to be more of a brackish, freshwater lake, sort ofnot a lagoon, but it did have a little bit of some. When I started fishing there for them, I mean, the average day for me would be daylight to dark. I mean, I would go
TH: Thats before the Army.
GM: Yeah, yeah, thats when I was a young kid. I mean, I would fish daylight to dark. It wasnt nothing for me to fish twenty, thirty, forty hours straight. I fished the piers and the beaches for pompano. At one time, I used to fish fifteen rods at one time for pompano. Three of us would fish fifteen surf rods.
TH: On the surf?
GM: In the surf, yeah. Wed fish five apiece.
TH: In Palm Beach?
GM: We sometimes fished twenty rods.
GM: We would throw out, see the rod, bend over, reel the fish in, put it in a hole in the sand behind you, throw it out again, go to the next one. And wed do that sometimes for three or four hours while the bite was on. And then, when the bite quit, we would cooler our fish, put em on ice, and wait till the next bite.
TH: That was pompano.
TH: Now, how many years did you fish foryoure still fishing for trout. You did the pompano before you moved to Fort Pierce, mostly.
GM: Yeah, I still do that with my business. This year was not a very good year for pompano. We didnt catch very many pompano in the river. Last year was a great year. This year, the trouts been fairly well low.
TH: Now, how do you fish pompano in the river as a charter captain?
GM: I mostly jig fish. You can fish with sand fleas on the bottom. Most of the commercial fishermen, they fish with sand fleas on the bottom. I use jigs. I fish nothing but jigs for the pompano.
TH: Thats lures?
GM: Like, little rubber lures. I fish for pompano with those. I used to use shrimp, believe it or not: when I first started my business, I would use live shrimp. And then I met the man that II use the lures nowI met the man that made those. But in my business, believe it or not, in one day, I would use anywhere from ten to eighteen dozen shrimp in one day. Now, when you take eighteen to twenty dozen shrimp a day, you go through an awful lot of bait.
TH: Its expensive. Do you catch your own bait?
GM: Well, they were only a dollar and a quarter a dozen.
TH: Oh, okay.
GM: So, they were only about a dollar a dozen. But the thing of it is, I would go through that many baits. Now, if you took that many baits, you would eat most of your shrimp, because theres not that many fish to catch and the bait fish eat most of em. But that was the thing. Thats what I thought you needed to catch with, and I didnt really realize you could catch em on artificial lures. But then, after a while, I did learn that. I havent fished with a shrimp since 1982.
TH: Interesting. So you use artificial baits, mostly, now, [and] casting.
GM: And live bait. I use live bait, too, but no live shrimp. I use live pilchards, live threadfin herring, live mullet, live cigar minnows, live pinfish.
TH: Now, you catch these in traps?
GM: You can trap em. The greenies and threadfin herrings and the pilchards, we jig up with little bait fish rigs in the ocean.
TH: Can you describe a bait fish rig?
GM: Its a hook. Its a long rig with six little tiny hooks on with little small trout-type feathers, little tiny bug-looking feathers that the greenies eat. Its the kind of stuff they eat in the ocean, and you catch em six at a time. Theyll even strike at a bare hook as long as its shiny, because of what they eat. So, we catch em on these littlethey call em Sabiki rigs. Theyre made in Japan and they have a little, tiny piece of shiny stuff on em that the fish like, and thats how we catch em. You can also catch em in a cast net, if theyre thick.
TH: Okay. When did you start working as a charter boat captain in Fort Pierce, age and year? You mentioned, I guess, you started with Sam Crutchfield. Approximate age and year?
GM: I would say about 1977, seventy-six . I think I started my business in 1979, 1980, in the very early eighties [1980s]very early eighties [1980s]. Id say 1980. I started fishing with Sam Crutchfield in probably 1976, seventy-five , seventy-seven , somewhere in there. Thats when the Temptress wasChip Shafer
Irving Chip Shafer was also interviewed for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is O6-00002.
was tied up at the dock. There was several charter boats there, and I knew all of those fellows.
TH: It was over on Fishermans Wharf by the old Simonsens Restaurant.
GM: Fishermans Wharf by the old Simonsens Restaurant, right.
GM: There was several charter boats there at one time.
TH: Ron Lane.
GM: Yep, right on the breakwater.
GM: Right on the breakwater, the [Happy] Hooker withI cant think of his name now, had the Hooker.
TH: Okay. At that time, what did you fish for and how? When you were
GM: Mostly for sailfish and dolphin and kingfish and wahoo, offshore fishing. With Sam CrutchfieldI did more bottom fishing with Sam Crutchfield that I did trolling. Sam liked to bottom fish. He was very good at it. We would go to the wrecks and catch groupers and amberjacks and snappers and all that sort of stuff. Thats basically what we did with him. And then with Ron Lane at the breakwater, Ron Lane never did much bottom fishing; he mostly did a lot of billfishing. Chip Shafer, I worked for him a couple of days while his regular mate was gone. He was strictly billfishing. He didnt do a whole lot of bottom fishing. And kingfishing, they would fish for kingfish. But Sam was the only one that did a lot of bottom fishing. Hes a really good bottom fisherman and he taught me a lot about bottom fishing.
TH: When you fished with these fellows, where did you go for the fish? Offshore?
GM: We would averagewhen we did the bottom fish, we wouldnt fish any more than about 140 feet of water. Mostly fished the wrecks; theres several of em in 70 feet, 90 feet of water, some in 120 feet. We would fish those, and then wed fish the deep ledges at 140 [feet] for the red snappers and the bigger groupers and stuff. And then wed fish the wrecks for the copper bellies and the black groupers, mostly copper bellies on the wrecks.
TH: Copper bellies. Grouper? Thats a kind of grouper?
GM: Yeah, its a grouper. Well, I dont know if thats the correct name for that fish, but thats what I know them as. I think theyre black groupers, but they call em copper bellies cause of the color of the body. And then wed catch the amberjacks, and whenever we did the other fishing, we would fish inshore. We would fish and troll, mostly troll.
TH: Okay, so average, how far offshore? For an average?
GM: No more thanvery seldom did we bottom fish over 140 feet, and very seldom did we fish deeper than 600 feet.
TH: Okay, so 600 feet would be how many miles out?
GM: Thats twenty-five miles, bout around eighteen to twenty-two miles.
TH: Okay. Thats what I was getting at. Okay.
GM: Its on the hundred fathom curve.
TH: Gotcha. How did you decide where to fish and how do you, today, decide to where to fish?
GM: I guess I just wake up in the morning and pitch a coin up in the air and call heads or tails. Basically, if you know what I know about fishingbasically, I have a vast memory bank. If I go today and the wind is out of the south, lets say southeast. And I catch a lot of fish. I know a hundred places right now I can go catch fish in the southeast wind. Okay, lets say the wind overnight goes to the north. Now, the next day I have to reevaluate my game plan. Now, I have to know where to go to catch these fish when the winds out of the north, because conditions will change. It may be rougher, it may be more tide, it may be less tide, it may be dirty water, maybe not as dirty water. All of this changes overnight. It can change overnight.
So, I have to preprogram myself and go to my memory banks and say, Well, Im gonna see now: today the winds north, its twenty knots, the water temperature is sixty degrees. I caught a lot of trout and groupers here. I caught a lot of sailfish and wahoos there. Or, I caught a lot of pompano and jacks there. So, I reevaluate every day. Every day youvery seldom does any fisherman that I know of go to the exact same spot every day, unlesseven if youre bottom fishing, you dont go to the exact same spot. You may go to that area, but you dont go to the exact same spot. I dont know of many fishermen that do that.
TH: Okay. I already asked you this. Im gonna ask you again. During what months do you fish for which fish?
GM: All right.
TH: Lets break it down. January, what do you fish for?
GM: Okay. January is mostlyin the river now, its pompano, trout, and redfish. Thats what I fish mostly for. And youll get a mackerel and youll get some bluefish during the winter. Summer months, fishing slows down a little bit. We get snook. We get trout. The pompano kind of thin out a little bit. They go back on the beach. They leave the river. The river gets too hot and they go back on the beach. But mostly in summer we catch snook, trout, and redfish, too. But the winter is mostly that.
Now in the ocean, most of the good trolling for the sailfish and the dolphin and the wahoo is in the wintertime, mostly for the sailfish. They like that rough wind coming out of the north. They tail those big waves, those big swells out there. They tail those, south. And you kinda troll, cross wave, and you catch em going south. But most of that is in the winter. Now, you can catch dolphins in the summer, but most in the winter offshore was kingfish, wahoo, and sailfish, and an occasional marlin.
In the river, basically everything in the river, summer and winter, with the exception of thesome of the fish are a little more active in the winter. The waters a little cooler. Now, when the water gets down to about fifty-eight degrees like it did this year, we lost hundreds of thousands of snook because the water temperature got below fifty-eight degrees. And as you remember that were on the northern end of that range. So their tolerant water is anywhere from about sixtyabout seventy-two degrees to about eighty-six degrees. After that, they dont bite much, and after that, they dontand below seventy degrees, sixty-nine, they dont bite either. They just kind of lay around and dont do much. The prime temperature for that particular fish is anywhere from twenty-six degrees Celsius to twenty-seven and a half degrees Celsius.
TH: Which fish was that?
TH: Snook, okay.
GM: And that figures out of a lot of fish. Thats a pretty optimum water temperature for the river. The oceanIve really never paid that much attention to the ocean temperature. But I do know that youll come across temperature changes and the fish will be on one side of temperature change and whey wont be on the other. Its just the way they are. I mean, a few degrees in the ocean is very important. Basically, thats what it was most of the time.
TH: Okay. You already mentioned how long a fishing trip lasts. How much is an average trips catch today?
TH: If I were to charter you today to take me out in the river.
GM: Today, I would say that were not gonna go out and fill a cooler up. Were gonna go out and have some fun. Were gonna catch some fish. The catch is nowhere near like it used to be. And the reason for that was, the reason for that is now is there was no limits. You know, you could catch a hundred trout if you wanted to. And people would do that: they would fill up coolers, full up to the top, not thinking that, you know, Lets just take enough to eat and be done with it. Theyre not commercial fishermen. I mean, how much fish can you eat? And they would just keep filling boxes and boxes and boxes with fish.
Louisiana and Mississippi, out in that area, youre allowed twenty-five trout per person. Here, youre allowed four. Youre allowed five redfish in Louisiana and out in that area, and here, youre allowed one. So, you can see the difference. And the reason they allow twenty-five trout in Mississippi and Louisiana is because theres millions of em there. Theres tons of shrimp there, so theres a lot for em to eat. Thats why they give you that liberal bag limit. Here, its not like that. You dont see herds of thousands of redfish running around here like you do in Mississippi and Louisiana. Out there, you see ton of em running around. Not here. You dont have the food supply here that you have out there. Thats why their limits allow twenty-five fish per person.
TH: For how many yearswe already, I think, we figured this outhave you been a charter boat captain?
GM: Thirtyhmm, 1980 to ninety , ninety  to
TH: Thirty years; if you started in eighty , seventy-nine , thatd be thirty years.
GM: Thirty years. Thirty years.
TH: Okay. Finally, Id like to talk about how your fishing has changed over time in regards to the Oculina Bank. Since 1984, several changes have been made in the regulations of the Oculina Bank. Id like to know if any of these regulations affected your fishing, and if so, how? And to begin with, the Oculina Bank was initially closed to trawling, dredging, and bottom longlining in 1984. It was closed to trawling, dredging, and bottom longlining. Did this affect your fishing, and if so, how?
GM: My particular fishing, no. It didnt directly affect my particular type of fishing. Now, when I was commercial fishing, maybe yes, it did. But it hasnt affected my fishing, in particular, that much.
TH: This was trawling, dredging, and bottom longlining. Then, in 1994, the Oculina was designated an experimental closed area where fishing for and retention of snapper grouper species was prohibited. Snapper grouper fishing boats were also prohibited from anchoring. Was your fishing impacted by this regulation, and if so, how? If you want me to repeat it, I will.
GM: No, not really. No, I dont think it impacted it none. I believe the anchoring would have had an impact, if any, on that.
TH: Well, then two years later, in 1996, all anchoring was prohibited within the Oculina Bank. Did this impact your fishing, and if so, how?
TH: Would that be because, prior to that, you drift fished over the area?
GM: Weve never anchored.
GM: Ive never anchored on the Oculina Bank. The times that I went there that I wasnt supposed to be there, we never anchored, because we knew what was there. We knew the corals that were there. We knew it was protected. We knew it was a special kind of coral. So, we never anchored.
TH: Its also 160 foot deep.
GM: Right. Its also very deep there. We always used down riggersuh, deep drop reels. Its too deep to fish with a rod and reel. We always used electric Bandits, deck reels.
GM: With four or five hooks on it at a time. I mean, you dont destroy anything like that. Your sinker goes to the bottom, it might knock off one little tiny piece of coral. But it doesnt do it that much. But yeah, we mostly did that with deep dropping with deck reels.
TH: In 1996, all anchoring was prohibited, and you said that didnt really affect you. In 1996, trawling for rock shrimp was prohibited in the area to the east and north of the designated Oculina Bank. And, in 1998, this area was incorporated into the Oculina Bank HAPC. Fishing with a bottom longline, trawl, or dredge, was prohibited in the expanded area, as was anchoring of any vessel. Was your fishing impacted by this regulation?
TH: Okay. Now, heres the question thatthis is the main question, I believe. The designation of marine areas that are closed to fishing is being used more frequently as a fishery management tool. What do you think about the use of closed areas to fishing compared to other types of management regulations such as quotas, closed seasons, et cetera?
GM: Well, my take on that isI can sum that up pretty good. My take on that isthe only way I can really give an opinion on that, what I think about that, iswell make an opinion. Well do it with one fish, which is snook. Okay, when theyIve been fishing for snook all my entire life. I remember when catching snook when there was no limits, no laws, no nothing. There was nothing on em. Okay, what makes me so mad is all of a sudden, you have these people that come up with all these regulations. They come up with all these numbers. I go to these meetings and these people at these meetings, theyll say, Well, you know that the population of the snook in Florida is estimated at 1,000,300 fish. Now, I want to know who counted em. Okay? I want to know who counted these fish. Who come up with 1,000,300 fish? Why couldnt they say approximately a million? Who come up with the 300?
Okay, another thing is: in these meetings, these people that make up these crazy laws, they dont know nothing about this fish. They dont know anything. And so, they have these meetings. In these meetings they asked the publicwhich you are allowed to go tothey asked the public for their opinions. Well, one particular meeting I went to, they had these people standing up, and this one man stood up and he said, You know what? I think we need to close snook season and you should not be allowed to catch snook in June, July, and August. You shouldnt even be allowed to fish for em, to throw em back. And so the guy running the thing there, he said, Well, why is that? And the man says, Because when you catch one on the bridge or you catch one in a boat, you throw him back in the water, he cant find his bed again. So they lose their beds. So they cant go back and take care of their little ones and spawn.
Well, I was the next speaker up, and I got up and I said, Sir, you need to shut up and you need to sit down. (TH laughs) Because, I said, You dont know what the hell youre talking about. I mean, lets put it facts to facts. Where were you born? He said, Im from Michigan. I says, There aint no snook in Michigan, so you need to sit down and shut up. (TH laughs) I said, Heres the deal. What we need to do to control these fishnot only snook; we need to control the groupers. We need to control the snappers and everything. We need to put a hundred snook fishermen in a room. Not snook fishermen from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Chicago. We need to put a hundred snook fishermen in that room that are snook fishermen, captains that have fished for these fish all their lives. Not people from up north that fish down here two or three months out of the year. Im talking about charter captains, people that have fished for these fish like I have and know these fish.
Now, if you put all these fishermen in a room and we discuss all of this, and at the end of the discussion, ninety-five people in that room say, Theres no problem with snook, then there aint a problem with em. But if ninety-five people say, We have a problem with em, then we have a problem with em. Five people say we dont, ninety-five say we do, then we do. And thats what I think about it. Its crazy that they make all these laws.
They even told me one time at a meeting about the death rate on the snook when they throw em back. Okay, this also made me mad. They said, Well, gee, the mortality rate is almost 80 percent when you catch a snook, handle him, and throw him back. So I asked the guy, I said, Now, how do you know this? What do you do? You throw one back and follow him around till he dies? You tell me how you know that that fish dies. He said, We cant tell you that. We only can estimate that. And plus, we put em in pens, and they died. Well, put me in a pen, Im gonna die. You know? Its not my environment. He gets sick. When any fish in captivity get sick? So theyre gonna get sick and die. I said, How do you know the mortality rate is 80 percent? You dont follow them fish around. You dont know when they die. Whos out there watching em? Whos out there counting em? Tell me. Show me how you count em.
Now, Ill show you the way to correctly count fish. In Alaska, you have these big fjords and these big lakes and these big bays. They have these counters. They run every fish that goes into that lake through a counter, through an electric eye. They go up these raceways and when theres 25,000 fish in there, they shut it off. You catch that 25,000 fish out, 25,000 more go in. Thats how you count fish. Thats how many fish you know is in that lake. What about all these snook, when they take thesethey say, Well, we do sample fishing with these nets. We go around sample areas. I said, How many boat ramps have you sampled? How many marinas have you sampled? Have you been out to the Halsey? Theres probably two to three thousand snook out there sometimes, around that wreck. How many of them have you counted? How many people sampled these little tiny fish in the Lakeside Marina down there, or Riverside Marina? Ive thrown a cast net there and caught fifty little snook, two or three inches long. How many of them have been counted? You people are way off. You people are way out to lunch. Why dont you take the word of fishermen, people that know what they are doing? Sit all them in a room. And the same with the groupers and same with the snappers: ask the people that do this for a living what they think about it.
Now, some commercial fishermen will say there aint nothing wrong. They will never admit theyre wrong. They will never admit theres a problem, because its their livelihood and theyre never gonna admit it. But in all reality, to make these laws, they should put together a panel of fisherman, not people from Illinois and Indiana that dont know nothing. Those people are allowed to talk at a meeting, but them people shouldnt have a say about it at all. They ought to have the people, the professional people, in these meetings deciding whether or not these fish [should be protected], because mostly it affects the professional people, not the recreational person. It affects the people that make a living off these fish.
TH: The regulations do?
GM: The regulations. Doesnt affect the regular guy. He doesnt need the charters. He doesnt need the people to go out with him. And thats what Im saying about this. Even with this Oculina Bank thing and all these closures on these groupers and stuff. Who gets this information? Where do they get this information? I mean, who follows these fish around?
TH: What do you think is the fairest and most equitable way to manage the fishery, to maintain a healthy fishery, and to maintain a healthy fishing community?
GM: Talk to the people that do it for a living. Talk to the people that do it for a living. Dont do an open meeting. Yeah, let the public in on it, you know, let them express their opinion, which is always good. Let them express their opinion, because sometimes some of em have good ideas. But 90 percent of the time, if youre gonna put a regulation on a fish to put a man out of businesslike when they did the snook with us. They just about put me out of business when they reduced it to one fish.
Now they have a slot limit. They kill more fish now by trying to catch a slot limit fish than they did in the beginning. Say youre allowed to catch one over twenty-four inches. Be done with it. Catch him, okay? Keep a big one. But now, they have the slot. So now, you have to keep catching em, handle em, throwing em back; handle em, throwing em back handle em, throwing em backto catch one fish thats twenty-six toer, twenty seven, er, twenty-eight to thirty-two inches, whatever it is, I forget. (laughs) I think its twenty-eight to thirty-two inches, something like that. You know how many fish you gotta throw back? But before, if it was over twenty-eight inches, keep it. That was real simple. You didnt handle as many fish. I think that the fisheries could be managed a whole lot better than what it is right now. I think people need to just sit back and reevaluate everything and talk to the fishermen. Talk to the people that are doing this for a living.
Just like kingfishing, for instance. Years ago, when you were kingfishing, if you were gonna do something with kingfish, you wouldnt go ask somebody that was a butcher downtown here. Go ask you, What do you think, Terry, of these fish? What do you think we need to do, Terry? or of these other people that did this for a living. They wouldnt go down here to the quick check and ask this guy who fished on the weekends out there for kingfish, theyd go ask you. Now, if you said, Well, I think we have a problem. Lets see if we can do this, or lets see if we could do that to make it fair for everyone.
I dont think we should close it just for one person and leave it open for another. Thats like, for instance, the boating thing. There for a while, you didnt need a fishing license to fish off a bridge, off the beach, or anything. But you got in my boat, you needed a fishing license. Now, you could pull my boat up to the shore, get out, fish on the bank, you didnt need a fishing license. Now, is that a fishing license? No, thats a boating tax. Thats not a fishing license. If theres a fishing license, everybody should have one. And thats what I mean about these laws. Make it fair for everyone. Dont close this bank down just because theres some dragger going through there tearing it up. Let the recreational fishermen fish it, if it doesnt damage it any. Drifting, bottom fishing, what are you gonna tear up?
TH: So you do believe in catch limits?
GM: Sure. Oh, yeah, sure. Yes. Yeah, definitely catchyou have to have limits.
TH: And quotas?
GM: Look what happened all over the world. You gotta have limits. I mean, you have to have limits on stuff, but make it a fair limit. Like they got some of the stuff nowI think its what, one or two groupers, or one snapper, two snappers, something like that? Of course, yeah, thats true. But you have to have limits. Make it fair. I mean, at one time, they talked about closing snook for five years because of this freeze. I mean, come on now. You aint killed em all off. You killed a bunch. But you havent killed em all. And as far as the snappers and stuff goes, the best way to do that was to make it fair was to ask a hundred snapper fishermen, grouper fishermen. Id say, ask em, Well, how you guys doing? Are you guys catching as many fish as you did twenty years ago? If they say, Yeah, well, its about the same, well then, leave it alone. If they say, No, man, we havent. Fishings really terrible. We havent hardly caught anything. The fishing has really went downhill, then close it. Make a limit on it. Make that particular fish a limit, so that the fish can come back. But dont cut it off completely.
TH: Do you have todo you have a commercial license in-state?
TH: Do you have to report how many fish you catch and what kind?
GM: No. My commercial license, it has to do with my captains.
GM: I have to register commercial because of my business, because I collect money. So I have to register commercial. I dont sell any fish. I dont have an SPL [Saltwater Product License] or nothing. I used to, but I dont no more. So, I dontbut I still am registered commercial.
GM: And I have to have that because of my business.
TH: All right. Thinking aheadokay, so quotas, youre for. Youre not soyou dont like closed areas. You dont like closed seasons. But fair quotas
GM: Well, a closed season isa closed seasonI probably didnt mention that. A closed season, Im for. And Im for the closed season in the spawning of these fish.
TH: During the spawning.
GM: Yes. I dont think we should be able to catch as many, maybelike snappers. Okay, when the snappers are spawning. Maybe we used to catch twenty or thirty, but now, maybe catch five or six.
TH: During spawning season.
GM: During spawning season. But dont close it completely. I mean
TH: Okay. Does that hurt your business as a charter captain?
GM: Oh, yes, it does. It does in a way. It does in a way.
TH: Did the grouper closure, and then the snook closure, hurt your business as a charter captain?
GM: Yes, it did. Yes, it did. But I respect it because of the spawning. But it did hurt, yes, it did. Theres not very many people that want to spent $300 a day to go out and catch one snook, to start with. Theres not too many people that want to go out and catch snook and throw em back. They want to eat em. Theyre good eating fish. So my business went right off the deep end when they closed it, you know, when they told us we couldnt catch four, and then they went down to two; now theyre down to one. Then they closed it [during] June, July, and August, then they closed it in December and January.
Well, I know why they closed it in December and January. In 19Im not sure of the date; its been several years ago nowwe had a very bad freeze. That was when they killed all the orange trees in Florida, killed everything, killed all the northern trees in northern Florida, the orange trees. It wiped out the whole citrus industry, almost. Well, guess what it did to the fish? Okay, the fish, all of the snookone fish in particularall the snook went into the ocean where it was warmer. And they got out by the jetty out here, okay? When they got out by the jetty, they were so thick you could stir em with a stick. I mean, they were real thick. Okay, they were in season. Noyeah, they were in season. The season wasnt closed then, in December and January.
So, people were throwing feathers. You werent allowed to snatch snook. Youve never been allowed to snatch snook with a snatch hook or a treble hook since the law was enacted as a game fish. So what people were doing, they were throwing Red Tail Hawks, big feathers, heavy feathers, and they would reel em real slow along the bottom through the school of fish; when one went bumping they would jerk real hard and snag him, and reel him in. Okay, he didnt fight. So there was probably a hundred people in that jetty snagging these snook. Well, guess what? They were keeping their four. They werent keeping tens of em. They were keeping their four, which they were allowed to keep by law. The size limit was what they were allowed to keep, and they were doing that.
Okay, the marine patrol walked out on the jetty, and when he seen all them fish lying on that jetty, he went into a coronary heart attack. (TH laughs) First thing he did, he got on his loudspeaker in his car and said, Everyone on the jetty remain on the jetty. No one comes off of this jetty. The jetty is now locked down. And I bet you there was twenty law enforcement people there within thirty minutes. They was wanting to arrest everybody. Well, first of all, they couldnt arrest one person, because everybody caught these fish legally. The caught em on a hook, they caught em on a lure, they didnt have a snatch hook. And they were so mad; they didnt know what to do. There was probably 300 fish laying on that jetty, Terry, 300, 400 snook.
TH: So you think that precipitated the closure?
GM: That precipitated the closure, because they said that, Look, if these fish are this easy to catch and snag with these lures, were gonna close it. That way, you guys wont be able to catch all these fish and they wont be so easy to snag and catch. So they closed it. And that bans been put on there ever since. They do not spawn. They do not spawn in January and December. They do not spawn. So what was the closure for? Because they were so easy to catch and snag in December, and it was that one year when they done that. And ever sinceits been on the laws ever since. I think they ought to abolish the December and January thing for snook, because its useless.
TH: Okay. My next question and my final question: Thinking ahead to the future, what do you think fishing in Fort Pierce will be like in ten years?
GM: Hmm. (laughs) Well, Ill tell you the best thing they ever done to this river and Fort Pierce is close down that sewer plant. Thatd be the best thing they ever did. I know that
TH: Have they closed it yet?
GM: No. But I know that at one time, years back, I do know that they used to never dump any of the sewagetreated sewage, they claim, quote, treated sewageinto the river on the incoming tide. It was always dumped on the outgoing tide, not on the incoming tide. So the sewage-treated water would go out the inlet and into the ocean. They never dumped it on the incoming tide. Then, I guess the population of Fort Pierce got to the extreme where they had to start dumping the holding tanks into the river on the incoming tide, so now theyre dumping incoming, outgoing. Well, at one time, I took an airplane with a friend of mine named Suitcasejust a nickname
TH: That would be Ed [Barber]?
GM: Edyou know him. (laughs) Ed, gee, Edhmm. (laughs)
TH: Well, lets go on.
GM: Anyhow, Suitcase and Ihe was teaching me how to fly. So we went up one day and the tide was coming in, and we flew out over the river. Well, we got to the sewage treatment plant, and there was a brownish, creamish color cloud of water that extended almost to Little Mud Creek.
TH: Little Mud Creek is almost to the power plant?
GM: Almost to the power plant, which is about six miles. Okay, and it went from shoreline almost out to the channel. I took a photograph of that and turned that photograph in to the City. Well, somehow or another, it got lost, was not available. Okay. Well, shortly after that, Terry, a couple years went by. The grass, it looked like the surface of the moon. From the sewer plant to the Little Mud Creek, you couldnt find a blade of grass nowhere. Five years, eight years before that, the grass would choke your outboard motor down, running through it. It would choke it down and foul your propeller out. Five or six years after they started dumping that water into this river, it looked like the surface of a concrete stadium. There was no grass. You couldnt find a blade of grass nowhere. Now, I dont care who you are, you are not gonna tell me that that grass died on its own. It died from the pollution that that sewer plant was putting into this river. You could smell it. You could smell the chlorine and everything else that they put in that sewage: treated water, so-called treated water. Now, they inject it into the ground. Now they put it in the ground, several thousand feet, no telling where its coming up. It might be coming up in Texas somewhere. (TH laughs) Who knows where its coming up? Its getting in the water aquifer. But since they did that now inI dont know how long ago they did that, exactly. I have no quote on that. But since they did that, now theres grass all the way from the sewer plant to the power plant.
TH: So the rivers re
GM: The rivers came back. Its came back grass. Theres grass now where there was never
TH: Theyre regenerating.
GM: So it regenerated back. See, thats what we need in the river. Ten years [from] now, whats the fishing gonna be in Fort Pierce? If they keep the sewage treatment plant away, to keep Taylor Creek clean, keep these runoff areas clean, things are gonna be nice. The grass is coming back. We used to dip shrimp in this river, five-gallon buckets of shrimp at night. You dont do that no more. Why? Theres no grass. So now the grass is coming back. So you got to have the habitat and you got to have the fish. You got to have the bait. Without the bait, the food, you dont have the fish. So as long as we keep the river clean, keep the sewage out of it, keep the runoffs to a minimum, I think well have a good future in the river. The river is clean. Its cleaned up a lot. The general color of water is generally fairly clear most of the time. Now and then, it gets a little silty. But I dont see lesions on the fish anymore like I used to. And I think some of that was contributed to the sewer plant. Some of these lesions, they say, was from different things. I dare to differ with em. I think it was from that sewer plant. But I think if we can keep the river clean, I think things will come back. Im a proponent withI dont know that wordproponent of clean water like everyone else.
I was born and raised in West Palm Beach. I was born and raised where the sewage went into the river like it came out of your house. Now, thats kind of raw, but thats how it went into the river: raw. I could stand along Flagler Drive and watch sewage coming out of the pipes that came out of your bathroom, right into the river. Now, thats what I would call raw sewage. But let me tell you, Terry, what kind of fish was hanging around that sewer: mullet. They would be right in the sewer, right where the water was coming out. They would hang right there. And the snook would be hanging beside em. Now, thats not saying that those fish are tolerant of pollution. But its to say that some fish can tolerate it and some cant. But I will say, wherever that water came out in the river, there was no grass. There was none. It killed it all. But there was a few fish hanging around there. But thats would you would call real pollution.
So, I think the future of Fort Pierce is good, that the fishing is coming back. Ive seen the trout coming back real well. The large trout, especially, are coming back real well. The pompano has came back real well. I think thats simply because of the clear, new water and the impact on the net fishing. The redfish, the channel bass, we have never had a giant population of them in this river, ever. Theres just never been a big giant population of redfish in this river. From time to time, youll see some. But theyre coming back a little better. You just gotta keep the river clean.
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Metz, Gerald Lee,
Gerald Lee Metz oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Terry Howard.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (81 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (40 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted May 25, 2010.
Oral history interview with charter boat captain Jerry Metz. Metz moved to Fort Pierce in 1976 and worked briefly as a commercial fisherman before starting his charter business in 1979. He fished the Oculina Bank commercially in the 1970s but spent little time there once he became a charter captain since his business is primarily inshore. His fishing was not affected by any of the regulations to the area. Metz is concerned that the people who make fishing regulations are not necessarily the most knowledgeable about fishing and fisheries and feels that more attention needs to be paid to the local fishermen. He approves of fair catch limits and supports closing fisheries during spawning season. In this interview, Metz discusses some of his fishing techniques, with particular emphasis on environmental factors.
Metz, Gerald Lee,
Charter boat captains
Charter boat fishing
Fort Pierce (Fla.)
Saint Lucie County (Fla.)
Howard, Terry Lee,
Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Oculina Bank oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
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