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Friday, March 18, 2011

Another year gone by.

It was just over a year ago I started this blog.There have been changes in the fishing industry as well as more significant changes for me personally.
The political landscape has changed with the election of a new governor.He has appointed a Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources that will certainly be more responsive to the needs of fishermen than George LaPointe ever was.This is a welcome development for Monhegan Island lobster men as they may get more traps.Currently the limit arbitrarily set by Mr.LaPointe is 300.While the limit for the state is 800.As stated in my first article our trap limit was 600 on Monhegan.We had agreed to this limit years before a trap limit was implemented state wide.I hope this Commissioner will agree that the 475 trap limit that was originally placed into law is a minimal number of traps to make a living with.I can tell you with authority that 300 traps,especially with today's economy,is insufficient to even make a subsistence living.
After five years of lowered prices for lobster,higher bait and fuel prices,made worse by a punitive trap limit I have come to the end of my rope.I just spent my last dime to repair my boats engine.Only to have the same problem.I haven't had the money to properly maintain my boat for three to four years and have cut corners.Now I am hauling with the knowledge that my next breakdown will be my last.
My wife Katy and I are partners in both the fishing business and our summer business that has evolved from a pizza shop to a convenience store.The store has also been hit hard by the present economy.This winter we closed the store for the first time in it's history.The store lost money in the winter anyway as the residents didn't always have the cash to pay their bills.They would settle when they could so the fishing business would cover the store.I think it was two years ago that our business model should have been updated.We went along the same way as always till the bills overwhelmed us.
When the fuel to run the generator that produces the power for the Island went over four dollars a gallon the power district raised the rate to seventy cents a kilowatt hour from the fifty cents it had been.It wasn't long after that the price of fuel went back down,but the seventy cents a kWh stayed.We asked for a sliding scale but the power district couldn't figure that out.Though there are other utilities that do just that.We should have adjusted our prices up but they were already high.Tourism was also affected so our volume of business declined.Many people that came for the day packed their own lunch as the boat fare itself was substantial.The end result is a thirty-five thousand dollar power bill including the store and the household bill.Yes $35,000 (sigh).I don't really know the details as to usage since years of power bills went unpaid.So as a result we are in the process of selling our property on the Island to satisfy our debts.It's a race to sell before they put a lien on our property and sell it out from under us.
That seems counterproductive to me but that's just me.
It was three years ago we bought a second house in Rockland to house our son as he attended high school ashore.The options were to board him or hire someone to live with him.My youngest boy also went in to middle school as his needs weren't being met at our one room schoolhouse.After reviewing our school boards policy we decided that Katy should go in and live with the boys during the school year and I would stay on the Island as it was my fishing season.We rented the house the first year for five dollars less than the mortgage payment as this was what the market allowed.So the cost the first year was five dollars a month and taxes.The next August Katy and the boys went ashore for the school year.It was one of the saddest days of my life.
Katy had never had a drivers license so she took a driving course and got one.She then enrolled in college to be a social worker.Inspired by the rigors of raising my youngest son I am sure.It was some time in January that I got a power bill and instead of sending it to Katy I opened it to see how much power I was using.Understand in our house as in many others Katy did all the financial stuff.Me being a fisherman /lugger/laborer.She is very good at it.As I looked at the bills I had what I would call sticker shock.I reacted badly.When I spoke to Katy I said that she had ruined us.It turns out I was wrong.She had not ruined us.I did that when I spoke those words.She has not forgiven me though I've tried for a year now to recant and repair the damage those words did to our relationship.The end result is not known as no one can accurately predict the future.However I have downloaded the divorce papers as she has made it clear she does not want me living with her.The second saddest day of my life.
In conclusion;I sit here writing in a turmoil of conflicting emotions.Wondering as I often have through the years.What will the future bring?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Semper Fidelis continued..

My platoon was made up of fragments of other platoons and us newcomers as we were between training cycles.A good group non the less.The guide,the marine who carries the unit guide-on in formation,was a very tall kick-boxer from New York City.Every so often he had to have his feet shaved so he could get his boots on.I say shaved meaning the callouses on his feet were so thick he could not get his boots on.He would have to go to the sickbay and get them shaved off.Another job in the platoon filled by a recruit was the unit secretary.The secretary was a college educated recruit who early on in training stood outside the railing on the top deck of the squad bay threatening to jump.Our drill instructor studiously ignored him for several minutes,finally turning towards him.At this time the recruit feigned jumping.The drill instructor snatched him off the ledge declaring"You can't jump now boy,not while I'm looking at you." That was the end of the recruits training days as he was shipped home.We needed a new secretary.I was observed taking notes at a rapid pace and deemed the most qualified to fill the position even without college.As secretary I kept a roster of the platoon at all times and did other reports daily for the platoon.Being in the drill instructors office(there were three)I gained a perspective few recruits attained.I always did all physical training with the platoon,both regular and punitive.
During one phase of training we did log drills.This consisted of five or six recruits lifting a log with a radius of six to eight inches,which means the log was twelve to eighteen inches wide,from one shoulder to the other sometimes pausing in the up position.We also did sit ups with the log on our chests.This activity promoted unit cohesiveness as you had to work together to accomplish the task.
It was during a lifting session where I was in the middle and taller than my fellow recruits I experienced a distinct snapping sound in my head.At that point there was no task I could not accomplish.Like breaking the sound barrier I had broken through to the next level of mental and physical tolerances.A success for the marines as boot camp is an eighty-six day stress test that will make or break the individual recruit.
During recruit training every platoon did a stint in the mess hall on kitchen patrol or K.P.I ran the dishwasher,rinsing the trays and utensils before running them through the steamer.Another duty was standing fire watch.This was done in our squad bay and in the squad bay that housed the recruits that didn't make it and were going home.Some of them had problems sleeping and would wake up screaming.I comforted those I could with a calm word and assurances they would soon be home,even though I carried a nightstick that I never used.
During a pugilist stick fight(simulated rifle with bayonet,padded on both ends)I hyper-extended my right elbow knocking out a fellow recruit.I also had my bell rung a couple of times during this exercise as that was the object if the drill.If you won a bout you stayed in the ring till you lost.With my elbow stiffening I kept flexing it so I could run the confidence course.My time on the course was one minute fifteen seconds.
We also had close combat training with the rifle bayonet,knife fighting and hand to hand techniques.My favorite part of the manual was the part when confronted by three of the enemy the Marine should 'kill two as quickly as possible to concentrate on the third.'Good advice.On the rifle range I shot expert and was going to be platoon champion but dropped a round somewhere.I remember resting my head on the bore of my rifle and started a minor panic among the drill instructors.They thought I was going to shoot myself but I convinced them I was just resting on the only piece of furniture I had.My rifle.I certainly wasn't going to put the bore in the dirt.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Duty. Semper Fidelis.Motto of the United States Marine Corps.

My memories of boot camp,or basic training,are vague.There was a check in desk at the airport for marine recruits.I knew when the corporal's response from behind the desk was a curt,'Don't smile at me recruit.',that I had arrived.After only talking with recruiters this was the first rude word I had heard.I knew it wouldn't be my last.It was remarkable that the corporal had port and starboard inlays in his two front teeth.Green on the right,red on the left.
we boarded the bus to the recruit depot while the sergeant berated and abused us verbally.Then we disembarked the bus at the depot,and all learned how to stand on yellow footprints.This was my first formation(although I didn't know it).The first thing that happens is the haircut.I think the barbers were all Filipino.We were told to put a finger on any mole or whatever so as to keep it.How does someone who has always had hair know if there is a mole there?They didn't,and it was the first blood they gave for their country.No purple hearts that day(joking).The haircut had a dual purpose.It kept down the head-lice population,and it had a psychological impact as well promoting uniformity and unity.Then we went on to the supply warehouse.There we were "issued"(to be taken out of our pay later)utility uniforms,combat boots, and the essential clothing and toiletries to begin basic training.Then we were herded(at the time I thought I was marching but I learned better)to the temporary barracks till our platoon assignments came in.My first night,lying on that lower bunk,I wondered along with everyone else if I'd made a mistake.
The next morning I was awakened to the sound of the metal trash can lid crashing down the aisle.Next the can and the sergeant,bellowing something incomprehensible.
We stood in our skivvies at the end of our racks beside our footlockers.There we were given our instructions for the day.Watch the movie 'Full Metal Jacket'.It was just like that.I saw that movie 20 years after my discharge. Katy said I stood at attention the whole time the boot camp scene was on.I don't remember it though,except it was very tense.After three days of sweeping sidewalks and grounds-keeping we received our platoon assignments.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

When I returned to that place I called home, Monhegan, I had a job on a fishing boat.We went off on the 4th of July gill-netting ground fish.Thats hake,pollack,cod,cusk,some monkfish,a shark occasionally.These fish live close to the bottom so the net was rigged to sink then stand up off the bottom so the fish would swim into them and be caught by the head..gill-netting.We would make one day trips to start when the fish were close to the mainland.Then the dogfish would come in and we would move offshore taking two day trips.
We would have the pens full on deck when we were day tripping.So just for fun we would grab our fishing poles and sit on the picking table as the party fishing boats passed by.They would see us and six or eight thousand pounds of fish and think we had jigged them all.I'm sure the boat captain set them straight though.We sold mostly in Boothbay Harbor.Many trips were ended with us shacking (gutting)fish till the early morning hours.If we had ten thousand or more pounds we would hire a couple of gutters to speed up the process.Then we would go down to a little eatery that served breakfast at two o'clock in the morning.Then back to the boat for a couple hours sleep to awaken to the sound of the engine as we steamed out to the gear.This routine lasted only till the voracious dogfish arrived on the grounds to drive the fish off.
The routine of offshore fishing was less hectic but exhausting in it's own way.We had three strings of gear and to keep the fish fresh we would haul the gear then shack the fish and ice them in the fish hold below deck. As  times changed and fish prices rose quality became paramount.We cut between strings and iced the fish below.This process made for a longer day although as the years progressed the catch diminished so it didn't make much difference.We mostly ran to Portland to land our catch at the fish exchange.I had bought my first boat and married in 1983.Katy and I moved into our first house on Monhegan and suddenly trip fishing lost it's allure.Of course It had also lost it's profitability as the fish grew scarce.I can't begin to estimate the tons of fish we had landed in the few years I was in the fishery.I knew something was going to change when the captain of the vessel I worked on showed me a computer printout(back when computers spit out reams of paper reports)that listed frozen fish stocks.The freezers were full of fish bought at pennies per pound (our boat prices)to be sold at dollars per pound.That was the final nail in the coffin for the few boats still in the fishery as the meager catch was devalued by frozen inventory to the point of being worthless.My last day came as I pitched roughly two thousand pounds of beautiful hake over the side because there was no market for them.That was the story.Not that the fish weren't there,but the market was glutted and there started to be quotas for the boats so as to stretch the limited market to include all the boats.That was the end of that.Now just about every species of fish is so regulated you need a reference book to know how many and what size on which days of the week you can land them.Now with automatic identification systems (bought by the boat owner) observers at the dockside,and( I hear) video cameras on the boat I'd be surprised if any small boats will last long.I envision only large factory freezer trawlers will be left soon.Although I heard the theory that this created greater access to the fishery because shareholders of the corporations that own these behemoths will be counted as fishermen.I wonder how many pairs of boots and gloves and oil gear they will be purchasing?