Among the very special joys of sailing are the interesting places and fascinating people you often stumble upon when least expected. Such was the case this weekend walking the extensive shoreline dock of Port Salerno, near Stuart, Florida. The dock, which extends for what seemed like a half-mile or more, is on the west shore of an anchorage called Manatee Pocket.
Dozens of sailboats of various descriptions anchored throughout the Pocket. But it was the docks that drew my attention this day. Several commercial fishermen were unloading catches from small net boats, filling the dock with large iced containers of Spanish mackerel and other fish. They were then quickly loaded onto commercial refrigeration trucks that were bound for local fish houses and restaurants. Several friendly fishermen noticed our interest and offered us beautiful Spanish mackerel, but unfortunately we were unprepared to transport them.
Further down the dock I met fisherman entrepreneur, Bruce Stiller, who was loading brand new netting onto his vessel with the help of his two crewmen. Sharks destroyed a section of his old net, Bruce explained. As delicate an operation as it appeared to be loading the fine netting from his truck onto the boat, I was surprised at his willingness to engage in conversation.
Bruce explained that several years ago he built his own dock, along with adjacent water well and electric, then donated it to the county as part of the larger public fishing docks so everyone can enjoy them. In return he received a permanent irrevocable lease protecting his livelihood as future politicos come and go.
Bruce said the fishing populations are very well managed so the fish are plentiful and healthy. Business is healthy. Unfortunately, he explained, there is no regulatory protection for full time businessmen like himself from part timers who take off a couple weeks from work in the height of the seasonal fish run, throw out a net and then sell their catch to the same vendors he works with. “With a $50 permit anyone can become a commercial fisherman.”
“I’ve been fishing these very waters since I was a kid”, he said. Following in his family’s footsteps, Mr. Stillman now owns two boats that ply federal waters in search of Spanish mackerel, blue fish, and small sharks. The near-shore deep water on Florida’s east coast, allow the netters to go out and return daily without the need for multi-day trips.
“Fishing is my heritage”, Bruce explained proudly. He related that one day as he was scooping up the heavy nets a young guy told him he was going to get a good education so he wouldn’t have to work like that. Bruce told the boy, “…don’t ever feel sorry for me. I did go to college and I am doing exactly what I set out to do. It is hard some days, and I don’t like every single job that needs to be done (like in every other profession), but I love being a fisherman and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have fed tens of thousands of people with my catches.” Bruce is a very lucky man. How many people can say the same about their job?
As recreational sailors who receive such joy from “messing around in boats”, it’s inspirational to reflect upon our “heritage” of those who make their living from the sea.
What interesting people have you encountered along our waterfronts? Favorite places? Bruce acknowledged that most regulations are two-sided coins, with pros and cons depending on your point-of-view. Do you see other sides to these or other maritime regulations?