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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Feb. 6, 2008 -- I COULDA BEEN A MILLIONAIRE CONTENDER -- weekly talkabout

FILLETING AWAY AT WINTER: This is a reminiscent side note on my part, recalling the days I was a professional fish filleter in Dallas, Texas, early 1970s.

If I had stayed there I’d likely be a millionaire. Gospel truth.

I was hired by a lady fishmonger who was embarking on what would lead to the largest chain of fisheries in Texas. She took a marked liking to me and once said, in all seriousness, “Stick with me and you’ll be a very rich man.”

Being a college-aged surfer, “very rich” meant having enough money for a surfboard, swimsuit and good-smelling wax, all of which I had. What’s more, I was pretty damn sure that would be all I’d need for the rest of my life if not longer. Hmmm.

I recall it seemed a bit odd that this somewhat standoffish proprietor was singling me out for great advancement since I was one of many men and women standing beside a lengthy table, where dozens of Mexicans, Vietnamese and I were filleting fish, production-line style.

There I was amidst a slew of folks speaking Spanish a mile a minute, those speaking Vietnamese five miles a minute and me talking to myself at some undetermined speed. If I’d say something really funny to myself and crack up then all the others in line, out of an odd kind of politeness, would stop their chattering and laugh along. Thinking back, it was kinda weird in there.

I learned to clean virtually every fish that came in off the boats. If I didn’t recognize a fish, one of the other cutters would help out. Sometimes a species would slip onto the table that none of us could even remotely ID. After openly ridiculing it for being weird, we’d then combine all the on-hand languages – with some French thrown in by the Vietnamese -- and come up with amazingly poetic sounding fish names to placard onto the filets for sale. The owner loved our team-effort names – not knowing a name might mean “putrid smelling poison-eyed slime smelt.” Years later I was told that almost all our names stuck – at least around Texas.

As a filleter back then, I was anything but the fastest. I was, though, far-and-away the most efficient. I got more meat off my assigned fish than anyone else in the building – though I was to find out in short order that the others filleters may have been cutting wide, as it were. It seems the racks – the fish stuff left after filleting – went to the families of the cutters. I would actually cash in on that in a big way when, one day, an old Mexican gal began bringing me the most amazing fish enchiladas the world, myself included, had ever tasted. I went into something just this side of food swoon as I meticulously downed these epicurean delights, raving, in my broken Spanish, with just about every bite.

Then, equally out of the blue, an older Vietnamese lady began bringing me a dish that, I recall, was akin to a fermented fish stew. The Vietnamese cutters told me it was made by burying crocks of fish parts – coupled with mystical Asian seasoning – and allowing them to sit underground, sorta rotting, until all the good bacteria killed all the bad bacteria.

As I accepted the first bowl of this stuff, handed to me with two-hands by its tiny maker, I recall nothing less than a profound paranoia that this seeming placid and kindly old gal might actually have a recently-arrived nephew who needed a job fish cleaning and the best way to create an opening in the filleting line was to, uh, neutralize one of the prime cutters.

Well, one bite of that strange-brew stew and I thought, “What a way to go.” In an entirely different taste vein than the enchiladas, I simply had never tasted anything so delicious – to this day.

It got to the point that I began clock watching, salivating over the arrival of my ancient girlfriends at lunchtime. And, no, they didn’t bring goodies in for the other guys in line. Just me. Go figure.

But back to my employer – and the closest I would come to a life of luxury.

This lady fishmonger, 30-something I’m guessing, already owned a number of fisheries but the one where I worked was the gold mine, where literally tons of fresh Gulf of Mexico shrimp arrived for distribution, often going to the highest bidders.

If oil was black gold in Texas, shrimp was pink gold. It was far more expensive than nowadays. The fully fresh never-frozen productwas utterly rare, as it is today, and could elicit obscene amounts of money on the open market, often dominated by the rapidly growing Texas aristocracy. In fact, I was often pulled off the cleaning table to hand-deliver containers of just-cleaned ultra-fresh Gulf shrimp to Texas ranches with spreads that made the Southfork Ranch look downright homely.

In the short time I worked for this going-places businesses woman, I saw indicators of why she was destined for financial greatness, starting with the huge “Fresh Gulf Shrimp” sign that drew hundreds of customers into the retail section of the shop, which required over a dozen employees working like crazy to fill orders. On a 5 to1 basis, “fresh shrimp” led the customer request list.

Since I was one of the very few folks who were allowed to handle these shrimp, I knew a savage in-house shrimp secret – one I never let on about. My first duty as I came to work at sunrise was to place hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of rock-hard frozen shrimp into this huge vat where water slowly flowed over them, thawing them for sale as “Fresh Gulf Shrimp.”

I doubt you could pull that off today. Though, if I still worked there, I would call them something like, “cryogenically revivified.” Back then, the owner would say, “Hey, they were once fresh.”

Hell, whatever she said worked for me since in a mere matter of days I was promoted to making more money per hour than I had even seen. We’re talking $30 an hour, likely equivalent to $75 an hour today. My thinking at the time: The best smelling surfboard wax was 25 cents a bar. I didn’t even try to do the exacting math, except to excitedly think, “Damn, Sam, I’m making lot of surfboard wax an hour.” Boy, were life’s equations simpler back then.

I still wonder if she was paying for my filleting excellence or for the way I could be trusted to keep the family “fresh shrimp” secret under wraps.

But it was what she did with those tons of squirreled away fresh shrimp that taught me something about what it takes to get way ahead. Despite her already gathered wealth, she would, on a daily basis, personally hand-sell, often by the mere pound, the good stuff. She established something akin to a “street value” for fresh shrimp. Gospel truth: Her insider clientele would sometimes arrive out back in limos. I know since I would be the one handing over the package when a window in a huge white limo slowly rolled down and a well-suited arm with a huge gold Rolex watch a-wrist would accept the three pounds of the “good stuff.” Hell, I didn’t know if I was supposed to stand there and wait for them to test it first or not. Waiting for a pick-up, I’d often get this urge to keep one of my arms under my bloodied filleting apron to look like I might be carrying heat.

Anyway, it is no surprise to me that my lady of the shady shrimp is now worth hundreds of millions -- and I’m worth my weight in, well, words.

So, I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. But in Dallas, my whole life? Nah.

BITES AND PIECES: Human remains were found on Sunday in Holgate. A sharp-eyed beachwalker, about a hundred yards south of the over-look near the parking lot, spied what appeared to be the lower part of a human jaw. An investigation by a Long Beach Township Police Department detective confirmed that it appeared to be the lower part of a human jawbone. A quick search of the area produced not other parts.

The possible jawbone was sent to a laboratory for further investigation.

A post was placed at the spot of recovery.

South winds over the next few days will likely remove more sand from that area. If you’re a Holgate regular, do not pick up anything you find suspicious. The phone number for the LBTPD is (609) 494-3322

It will likely be very difficult to identify the remains (should they be human) unless some very distinct dental patterns are apparent, including the likes of dental work. I’m not sure TV forensic shows are always accurate, but it seems that teeth can sometimes hold DNA for rather long post-mortem periods, though anytime the ocean steps in and tumbles things, all bets are out the window.

I do know that we’ve had a number of victims of boating accidents – and even one plane crash (off Island Beach State Park) – where the bodies were never recovered. Since LBI has a very strong north-to-south littoral drift, it could be very difficult to even guess at the original source of a body part such as this. At the same time, it is always comfort to family and fiends when any kind of closure is given to a lost loved one.

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The Jersey Coast Angler Association is among those funding a scientific study to refute some of the science being used by the feds in managing summer flounder. Please check out the details at: http://www.jcaa.org/jcnl0802/0802FMLR.htm#Flounder

At the same time, the Recreational Fishing Alliance has gone a more dubious route, trying to get the Magnuson-Steven Act modified to make the deadline for species recoveries more practical. I know what he RFA hopes to do and can’t disagree with the need for radical changes; I just hate the thought of showing one-and-all how easy it is to change this incredibly vital legislation.

I believe it is time to bite the honesty bullet and say current recovery schedules could prove fatal to too many jobs and a longer recovery time should be set.

The distinction in my plan is to make absolutely certain that we’re admitting that some less than conservational things need to be done to saves jobs while still allowing the eventual recovery of a fishery.

As you may have heard, Fluking 2008 is now beginning to appear in black-and-white.

Here are the cards that have been dealt. Read ‘em and weep:

1) 17 ½ inch June 28 through Sept. 8 with a two-fish limit

2) 17 ½ inch July 4 through Sept. 2 with a eight fish bag limit

3) 18 inch May 24 through Sept. 8 with an eight-fish limit

4) 18 ½ May 17-October 17 1/4-inch with a eight-fish limit.

There is no need to rush to judgment over which of these plans work best for you and your next of kin.

The final decision at the state level won’t be made until the March 6, 2008 meeting of the

New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council. Prior to that, the council’s advisory boards will be heavily scrutinizing these options, coming up with a suggestion the Council can accept or reject, after hearing public comments.

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MEETING NOTE: On February 11, there is a special 3:30pm meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council to discuss the Horseshoe Crab Regulatory Proposal.

This is NOT a meeting to discuss 2008 fluke regs. Please (!) do not show up to crash the horseshoe crab meeting. It annoys the crabs (including many bird people) and could get the Council testy for the sure-to-come fluke choice debate.

For the many of you interested in the bird/crab angle of the special meeting, it will not be held in usual Galloway Township locale but will take place at Batsto Village Office Visitor Center in Wharton State Forest. A map and directions can be found at www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/wharton.html.

This meeting will focus almost fully on the issue of maintaining a horseshow crab restriction in NJ.

The issue is very contentious, so much so that the NJMFC has been accused of trying to sidestep voting on the potential moratorium. It comes down to in-state pressures (both bird and green groups) to maintain a very strict control over horseshoe crab harvesting in state waters.

In a recent later to Gil Ewing, Chairman of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, David Chanda, Director NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, wrote, in part, “I respectfully request that you allow the Department’s proposed regulations regarding horseshoe

crabs to become adopted. I recognize New Jersey fishermen have borne much of the responsibility for attempts at increasing spawning horseshoe crabs on Delaware Bay beaches to meet the needs of migratory shorebirds. With your help, New Jersey has gone beyond meeting the minimum requirements of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Addendum IV. However, the red knot population is now in worse condition than two years ago -- the number of birds is lower, their ability to

gain weight has decreased, and the density of crab eggs has shown no improvement …”

That entire letter can be found at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/pdf/2008/hcletter.pdf.

FISHING RAMS MARKET RETURNS:

When Darren Doris, coach-like head of the Southern Regional High School Fishing Rams, first decided to have a fisherman’s Flea Market in early February, he was told the public wouldn’t go for it. “Way too early in the year,” was a common quote when I first wrote about the kick-off SRHS fisherman’s flea market.

Well, those naysayers were off beam. The event was – and remains – a huge success. In fact, throughout the state, a load of similar events have quickly filled in the weekends following (and even proceeding) this season-launching market.

This year’s Fishing Flea Market will take place Saturday, February 16, 2008 from 8:00a.m. to 2:00 p.m. It is located at the Southern Regional Middle School Cedar Bridge Rd, Manahawkin.

This annual market, despite its youngish age, is aging very gracefully, as vendors and buyers have built an annual see-you-next-year rapport.

It has also become a meeting place for stir-crazy anglers wanting to get out and mull about with others also awaiting the first fishing of the year.

Though it is still possible to get a table at the event, (by going to http://www.srsd.net/schoolevents/default.asp) I once again dropped the vendor ball.

I wasn’t organized enough to grab a table to sell my over-collection of vintage fishing equipment.

I have literally hundreds of older reels – mainly vintage baitcasting reels with Bakelite side plates and handle knobs. Some of my reels are in like-new condition, though I am horrifically guilty of having nixed the original boxes over the years. It’s hard to believe but a reel coupled with its original box can as much as double the total value of the collectible. I often see just the boxes going for healthy amounts on eBay.

Speaking of my over-collection of fishing stuff, I’ll soon placing my modest sinker collection in a local collection. I have maybe dozen primordial Americana fishing weights I’ve dug from Colonial and Federal Period homesteads. Most resembling sinkers we use nowadays, these are very crude and carry a lot of historic weight. Though really not worth that much, I hold these archaic sinkers in higher esteem than some of my top-shelf fishing collectibles.

To those who like to dig (or read about treasure hunting) check out the local frequently updated treasure blog at http://digtreasure.ning.com.

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