Pulling the Seine in Turtle Bay, Tobago
19 October 2016
“Hey Russ, let's go watch the seining on shore.” Keith from “Euan Mora” friend and boat we have been traveling with for the past few weeks came over to Uproar. The fishermen on shore were preparing to “shoot a net” in Turtle Bay, Plymouth, Tobago. Shooting a net is a procedure where they set a huge net in a semi-circle in the bay and drag it in to catch fish. This is all done by hand without motors or power of any kind.
The net is loaded in a skiff which took about an hour. The skiff rowed around the bay and the net was played out. I would bet the net was over ½ mile long. We saw the fishermen for days repairing the net from the last seine. It was time to seine again.
We got to shore as they were pulling a line at the far end of the net to form a semi-circle to the beach. “Can we help?” The reply was, “Just do what we are doing.” Keith and I grabbed the line along with 6 other fishermen and hauled in unison to their pulls. The line was polypro, fuzzy with nibs. I was glad the nibs gave us a good grip. Later I would curse them for the blisters they raised on my hands.
Everyone was silent until there was a need to shift us down the beach to tighten the net. There was no banter or even any smiles. This was WORK! We pulled the line for about an hour before the net finally closed on shore. I was grateful that now were were pulling a line wrapped in the comparatively soft net, wrapped around the polypro line. The expectation of fish kept me going. We had heard that those who pull share in the catch.
The huge circle kept getting smaller and closer to shore. The fishermen pulling with us could have excelled as poker players. There was no talk, no emotion, nothing but raw pulling of line and net. I was exhausted but no way was the white boy going to give up. Pull, heave, pull!
Keith left the pull to dinghy out and get Linda, his wife and Lisa. They needed to experience this community effort in fishing. I kept pulling. Hands, shoulders and sore back were screaming to stop. No way!
The net kept getting smaller. I dared not ask, “Where are the fish?” Pull, pull, pull. I tried to calculate how many pulls it took to gain another float on the net. Then counted the floats I saw out in the bay. The result was too discouraging. Just pull!
We were now pulling on both ends of the net, dragging the catch on shore double time. The bosses at the water's edge were now getting animated, shouting orders to each other, filled with f-bombs. There was an occasional look back to us with an angry scowl, “Pull!”
I had to tap out. One quick dunk in the surf and I was back on the line. Someone passed me a water bottle which I downed in a long glugg, pulling with the other hand. Less net in the water, easier to pull against the outgoing tide. The end of the net finally reached the surf. All hands worked the net to be sure the fish didn't spill out. We pulled several hundred pounds of fish onto the beach. The fishermen then fell upon the net and started sorting the fish.
I was disappointed. I expected a net full of Red Snappers, Barracuda and Covali. Instead, the net was full of small herring and just a few larger fish. They were sorted in a manner we could not comprehend. Big ones were flung to the sand and small ones were thrown into crates. Some around the net were collecting Ballyhoo for use as bait, trolling for Wahoo, Tuna and billfish.
Keith and I were ignored. We took a few pictures, nursed our sore hands and headed back to our boats. This is not what we had in mind. We envisioned a spirited community effort to bring in a big catch and share with all. It was an experience I don't regret. This was a livelihood for these guys, not a tourist gig. If they were appreciative of our efforts, we didn't hear a word of it. Keith and I pulled with the best of them for about two hours. Not a word of thanks.
This was in stark contrast with the other people we have encountered in Tobago. They have been so friendly and helpful. These fishermen were not on vacation. They had their customs that dictated the seine and we were still a big part of it. That and blistered hands I could take back to Uproar.