Sitting On Which Side of the Table?

The Starkist Cannery across the bay from where we are moored has a voracious appetite for tuna and other species of fine pelagic fish. After all its biggest contract is with the US army, canning tons of fish to feed the always hungry soldiers and keep them trigger happy, I guess. A steady stream of mostly rusty fishing boats pulls in from the open seas and make fast at their mile long loading dock ready to transform their bounty into hard cash. Once relieved of their catch they cruise over to the marina pier, where Aluna is now moored. Here they take a rest from their hard work, squeeze into the tight space and sometimes rafting up to five wide, one having it’s dock lines tied to the pier and four others tied to each other’s sides. The long liners! Nobody seems to like them very much here. The yachties can’t stand them because they steal their spots, are noisy with their generators and cooling pumps always on and are admittedly quite an eyesore. The local fishermen remember the times when they were the masters of the oceans around this beautiful island. John comes rumbling in on his Harley street bike and looks like he just finished off John Wayne in a grainy black and white and dusty Western on the silver screen. “I used to do good with my thirty mile line,” he muses, “but then the Asians came in and they put out a fucking two hundred mile line and you see what happens!” He makes a gesture with his hands and arms drawing an imaginary wall that keeps all the fish on their side. “I’m doing better today with planting banana and taro”, he concludes. John is from the States, but having been married to a Samoan for such a long time that he’s proudly carrying the title of High Chief, responsible for the well being of his clan.

Most of the long liners today are owned by stone faced Koreans who come to look after their vessels in beat up pick up trucks, shouting stiff orders to their Pilipino crew. Tim is the exception to the rule. Young, short blond hair and sporting camouflage slacks he’s apparently married to his second Samoan wife. For six months now he’s been the proud owner of the Leah Dawn, a steel hulk of sizable proportions, now tied up astern of our floating home with her bows towering almost over us. His catch didn’t make it to the cannery. It’s the first working trip since he bought her and the catch was good. “The fish were big, too big!”, he complains, “they take up too much room. Smaller fish you can stack them tighter.” It’s true, we see them coming out of the hold, frozen stiff and flying into a truck and landing in there with big thunks. “I owe many people fish on this island,” he continues his escapade and when I ask him about the fish being harder to find nowadays he escalades the escapade into a rampage: “There’s plenty of fish around here. The problem is the regulations, they want us to starve! The government sends these kids on our boat and they check things out, looking at every possible violation, ridiculous! You can’t work like that.”

An hour later he comes over with a gift of two nice yellow fin steaks. “Here!” he goes, his blue eyes gleaming, “these should be the best you’ve ever had!” He had earlier revealed his plan to run for governor but his friends are not so sure that’s such a great idea. Politics is not easy anywhere, but on an island it’s looking for trouble. Catching fish might prove to be way easier than gathering votes! Over the next couple days we see Ted singing the song of every boat owner. “We’re shooting for a Saturday departure,” he leans out of his truck window, “but it’s probably optimistic. There’s so much to do!” Welders send smoke and sparks crackling over the railing and a half dozen red oil drums are rolled aboard. When they make a quick dash to the fuel dock to fill up their giant diesel tanks, another boat takes their spot, so now they have to content with tying up at the barge in front of us. Jose is Leah Dawn’s captain and he’s from Costa Rica. The Latina connection is made quickly and before we know it we’re invited to his house for diner. “We can’t put the provisions on board yet,” he reveals over a steamy seafood soup and fried yucca, “it goes on at the last moment before leaving. Otherwise the crew steal it and give it away to their families.” Now that’s one problem we don’t have on Aluna!

It’s not until Friday of the following week when the Leah Dawn finally parts. She will be plowing the high seas for probably up to two months. There’s no turning back for her until the deep freezers are filled with sixty tons of fish. The financial sides of commercial fishing are staggering. Tim complains, like anybody doing business, that the expenses of a single trip sets him back no less than fifty grand. That needs to be recouped before any profit is reaped. The fishing license for harvesting the waters of the Cook Island for instance costs a whopping sixty-five grand for one season. So the pressure is on for Jose to deliver. And there are many more Jose’s out there who are squeezed to edge out a living from the modern global economy, this intrinsically complicated web of actions and transactions that has according to some estimates and among many other sad things depleted our oceans of seventy percent of its fish stock. We, the sublime and proud creators of this economy, are one ruthless bunch, stubbornly refusing to be aware and incapable of being responsible. We are quite clearly geared towards systematic self-destruction, which we cleverly disguise as perpetual self-celebration. Can we change? Can we ponder this question without ideological interference, without quick and dirty answers, without freaking out? And can we then respond with our actions? True responsibility acts accordingly!

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