“Let the fish be fish”
Mini-Interview with Rob Tillitz (RT)
To visit Rob Tillitz’s website, please click here
1. Do you have more to say about the government’s involvement? What do you mean by that? What kind of involvement, exactly?
RT: Before 1978, and the 200-mile limit, the ocean was patrolled by only a handful of State Fish & Game boats. The Coast Guard’s duty was to save lives, and that was it. Well, they cleaned up oil spills too. But with the 200-mile limit, the Feds assumed immense powers, and congress and courts bestowed almost limitless jurisdiction upon the Coast Guard. That is when the Coasties began to enforce laws, and implement fishing regulations to boot. They were deputized, made into peace officers, and all issued sidearms. As well, marine biologists by the score jumped on the generous payroll of the newly formed National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and with stats based on knowledge that most fishermen believed came from the land of Oz, those biologists began recommending shorter seasons…or no seasons. Don’t get me wrong, there are less fish now than before, but it is mostly not the fishermens’ fault. No money for hatchery programs, and dammed water diverted elsewhere has killed the salmon fishery. In my opinion the bottom fishing industry was assassinated by Production Credit Association: Federal Farm Credit System institutions that had direct lending authority to make loans to any fisherman who could mark an X. They increased the fleet by thousands of percentiles, then when many could not pay, cause the NMFS had chopped off the seasons, they took the boats back and resold them for pennies on the dollar.
2. Are you saying that a fisherman cannot make enough money to support a family? A fisherman could support him or herself.
RT: There are many that are not only making it, but making it well; putting their children through college. Gene Law, originally from El Granada, and now from Newport, Oregon, just last year was proud to announce that his oldest son earned a doctor’s degree from a prestigious East Coast University. Gene has always worked hard, and it looks like the apple didn’t fall far from that tree. Dr. Matt Law is a doctor of physics and I understand was snapped-up instantly upon graduation. I know many fishermen that continue to do very well. For someone to start anew, it would take hard work and dedication–a level head about saving money for lean times–but it could be done.
3. Kids don’t grow up and say they want to be a fisherman, do they? But, as you say, somebody has to catch the fish. Who will catch the fish?
RT:: Fishermens’ sons and daughters do say that. Fred Sears of Morro Bay has a daughter, Heather Sears, that said that, and is now a highliner up in Alaska. She’s in her mid-twenties and started just in this new millennium. And there are three are those kids like me that fish creeks and lakes when young, and dream of a career on the ocean. They will catch the fish.
4. We, in Half Moon Bay, used to have great fishing at our front door. Any theories on what happened?
Rt:: NOT “Global Warming,” in case you were wondering how I or my brethren feel about that. I outline several theories in my preceding answers. It is complicated, and I think there are many right answers. It is sort of like the immigration problem: It doesn’t matter who you listen to there, they all make compelling points. The fish will be back. Mother Ocean will rejuvenate herself, and when it happens, it will happen quickly. Just as recently as 2005, salmon and crab fishermen had record breaking seasons. Small, 40-some-foot boats had million-dollar years. There were more crab and salmon landed for a couple years straight than those NMFS biologists could ever have imagined possible; not even if they lived in the land of Oz! Records were not only broken, they were doubled. Thus, there are still fish at your front door, just not every year. Even the sports fishermen have to put some fish in the freezer, set aside something for the down years if they wish to eat.
5. 2. Please explain why fishing was different before 1978. What, exactly, happened in 1978. How did the gov broaden their powers? What new powers did they gain? Was a law passed?
RT: It was the 200-Mile Limit created by Congress. Before, International water started at 12 miles out. With the 200-Mile Limit the Federal Government took control of, well, an increase of 188 more miles; up and down the coast I don’t know how many more millions of square miles this amounts to. What it meant was their patrol area increased enormously, so they therefore put on an enormous force to govern the waters. Until they made this move, and as I’ve said, the ocean was the last frontier, virtually lawless save for a man’s good honor. Then the Feds took over and got into everyone’s lives as only they know how to do. For me, it was sad. The end of an era: History gone by.
6. We’ve got more restaurants in Princeton; it’s kind of like it was in the 1940s. Back then the fishermen who also sometimes owned the restaurants provided the entrees on the menu. Will that happen again? Will the fishermen at Princeton supply the fresh fish for the local restaurants there?
RT: I think they do when seasons and demand meet in those perfect circumstances. The problem for a fisherman selling to restaurants, however, is the restaurant can’t take all the product, thus the fisherman must sell the bulk to the fish wholesaler who maintains a hoist out on the end of Johnston’s Pier. And the wholesalers don’t like it when one of their regular boats sells to one of the wholesaler’s regular buyers. It bypasses the middle man. Thus, to keep peace and a good working relationship, most fishermen go fishing and sell to their regular buyer when they come into port. The two entrepreneurs in that way stick to their own vocations, and the fisherman does not have to try to market product when he comes home after a long day.
7. What’s it like today for a fisherman coming into the harbor with his catch? Does the fisherman sell some of his catch to the restaurant owners? And does the balance go to the wholesaler? Is the wholesaler on the pier?
RT: You know, it’s been a few years since I delivered fish into Princeton. Based, however, on what I hear described by friends in the business, not much has changed. Most fishermen go fishing and sell to one particular wholesaler. Guys will switch around sometimes, but usually they get one buyer and stick with him, or her. It becomes a working relationship. Though it has become more popular for fishermen to sell their product from right off the boat–that’s actually been going on for years. Particularly with albacore and crab. That is because the albacore can be held, frozen, on board for quite sometime, and the crab can be live-tanked for a week or so, too. This allows a fisherman to go fishing when the weather’s good, then sit on the boat during the rough seas and sell for a higher price. And, yes, the wholesalers occupy that building out on the very end of the pier. Each wholesaler will control one hoist. The hoists are imperative for unloading fish.