Pulling a Seine

At Store Bay and Turtle Beaches and a few others, you'll still be able to see this traditional cooperative fishing effort. A huge net is cast offshore early in the morning and later pulled in hand-over-hand by village fishermen and whoever else is there to help. If you pitch in, you'll get a share of the catch.

When we stopped by the Mt. Irvine Watersports shop one afternoon we met Bertrand Bhikarry, the owner. We were talking about our book on Tobago, and he contributed the following lovely essay on pulling seines.


by Bertrand Bhikarry

"Don't stand there when it's coming in," the old man advised, "you never know what could be swimming around in that net." The woman back-pedaled away, her eyes wide with anticipation. She continues to jockey for a position, however, between the villagers hauling in the net and her friends, who are trying to capture the entire event on their video camera. Except for the nationality of the onlookers, this scene has remained remarkably unchanged on Tobago's beaches for close to 150 years.

Each time the fishermen bring in the seine, people congregate at the water's edge, baskets and pails dangling from their hands, while onlookers stare and village dogs dash around, eager to snatch at any dropped morsel.

As the bunt of the net comes in, fishermen, standing by in their pirogues, skim off bait fish and tenderly deposit them in bait wells. These small fish will become the bait for the next day's catch. As the net is drawn in, prized fish like kingfish, dolphin, and tuna begin to appear and are snapped up eagerly by the anxious fishermen. Once the main catch has been retrieved, the net is hauled farther out of the water, just beyond the surf, and the remaining fish are dumped into depressions scooped out in the sand.

Next, the owner, or one of his trusted assistants, allots portions of the catch to awaiting housewives, laborers, and market vendors. Any money collected goes under his hat, hidden high and dry, but not everyone pays in cash.

Onlookers might wonder how this activity remains viable, when most of the time not a lot of fish is caught. What holds such a large group of men together in so consistent a manner? Usually the equipment belongs to one person, a resident of the village who has acquired the lump sum necessary to purchase a net and the boat used to set it out. He or she in turn hires a core group of about six to 10 men. Their job is to set out and haul in the net, and perform any necessary repairs. They are paid weekly, the amount proportionate to sales from the fish they have netted.

Nets are set in the morning, and hauled in immediately afterwards. If a shoal of fish is evident in the bay, the men may repeat the 'shoot' later in the day. On average, they work six days a week, but generally public holidays, village harvest festivals, and fishermen's fetes are considered 'rest' days.

The number of nets used on any one beach is dictated by the size of the bay and the population of the village. The types of fish caught range from bait fish (herring, balao, and jacks) to the larger species, such as bonito, kingfish, salmon and, sometimes, small shark.

At present, beaches that can boast of some seine fishing activity are those at Mount Irvine Bay, Black Rock, Turtle Beach, Cas-tara, Bloody Bay, Man 'O War Bay, and on the windward side of the island, Mount St. George and Goodwood. This little industry provides direct employment for close to 300 people, and creates economic opportunities for 50 fish market vendors and 40 deep-sea fishermen.

The bad news for people dependent on this type of fishery is that the industry's days are numbered. A declining catch rate and a lack of interest from the younger men mean that one of Tobago's signature activities will become a thing of the past, a beautiful memory poignantly recorded by visitors' video cameras.


^^obago has a wealth of beaches. Many have public baths, L^JI I changing rooms, and bar/restaurants. No beach is very crowded and some are romantically isolated and private. Most of the more desirable beaches are on the Caribbean side of the island where the water is calmer and safer for swimming. Beaches on the Atlantic side, with a few exceptions, are windswept and can have tricky currents. The Atlantic side of the island is dotted with small towns and has very little tourist-style development, though that is gradually changing.

+1 0

Post a comment