Dollar-logged Decoys and Shrimp at War
A DUCK WORTH HOW MUCH!?: Hanging out with some of da boys, I’ve been getting a crash course on decoys -- and the insane hobby surrounding these near-perfect examples of folk art.
The art of collecting and marketing decoys has become a significant discipline -- and anything but a quick learn. It’s made trickier by the fact that even the hobby’s prime proponents aren’t sure what’s going on in this hyper-hot market, which deals in both modern and vintage carvings.
Even decoy-dealing pros try to figure out how an amateur collector buys a decoy for $3,700 at a show -- where everyone seemingly known all the ropes of the hobby -- then sells it weeks later for $46,000. Hey, this sale actually happened not long ago – and happens with regularity, though not always with that vivid a profit margin.
There is apparently no clear-cut answer to the mystery surrounding decoy desirability, i.e. salability. I’m guessing it now lurks within a deep-pocketed aristocracy that is feeding an aesthetic (and fiscal) fascination with decoys. Along with that, there is always the fanatic collector willing to spend his last dime for a prime “duck,” as decoys are often referred to in the business, regardless of the species of the decoy.
And the fascination with decoys is understandable. These carvings are waterlogged with history. They also carry a fabulous folk artiness not to mention the potential for appreciation – especially the monetary brand of appreciation.
The real fiscal freakiness surrounding some decoys seems to happen when a couple well-wadered bidders suddenly target a desirable bird as it flies through the market place -- be it at a show, in a shop or at auction. Motivated by an intensity known only to folks languishing in liquid capital, these bidders are willing to detonate the dollar amount they’ll pay, much to the wonderment of those in the market, thinking, “The damn thing isn’t worth that much!” Wanna bet?
For a treasure hunter like myself, I sit there shaking my aching head as I listen to tales of attic decoys, some less than 75 years old, garnering upwards of a quarter-million dollars at auction. A recent Christie’s/Guyette & Schmidt decoy auction sold 365 lots for a total of $2,833,568. A single two-decoy lot sold for $801,500, a record-breaking price for two “ducks.”
All too clearly, I recall exploring rickety abandoned houses back in the day (as recently as the 1970s) and coming across loads of dreary-looking decoys, usually piled in attics or cellars. Truth be told, I remember picking up one or two of them and getting freaked after having the perpetually weak beam from my aluminum Everyready flashlight catch on their utterly eerie glass eyes. I’d chuck them back in the pile, real quick. Hey, those houses were scary to begin with.
So, who finally got those treasure troves of decoys from derelicts houses? Tragically, a goodly number of those deserted buildings burned down. I, along with decoy collectors reading this, wince at the thought of such irreplaceable treasures lost.
While some decoy aficionados feel that as many as 90 percent of all vintage decoys have been found, others are convinced as many as half are still unfound, essentially hanging around in attics or floating atop fireplace mantels. That makes things very interesting for this nape of the coast.
If there is a definable epicenter to the historic decoy-carving realm it might very well be right here. For that reason the vintage (and modern) decoys from the Jersey Shore, and Southern Ocean County specifically, are prized around the country and into Canada, the hobby having now taken hold from coast to coast.
And, no, that doesn’t mean that those old decoys that grandpap has stored in the shed means retirement is just an auction away. However, there is a solid chance they could be worth a pretty penny. The best way to find out how pretty is to do some on-line research, then consult an expert of decoys. Note: Go very slow if selling decoys. It has become a slippery slope out there, with a few nefarious folks grabbing the ducks right from the clutches of the uninitiated as they slide by.
And don’t forget your good buddy here at “The Fish Story,” should that dusty duck above the fireplace just happen to be a six-figure find – as in, finder’s fee.
SHRIMP GO INTO BATTLE: In a sincere tribute to our fighting folks, I have to pass on a stunning advancement in saving lives on the battlefield. Get this: Shrimp shells are now stunning the “medic!’ realm.
You know those discarded shells from the shrimp cocktail you had over the holiday weekend? Well, they have blood-clotting capabilities that border on miraculous. Who’d have guessed the most valuable part of the shrimp might well be the part that gets chucked?
Portland’s Dr. Kenton Gregory and Dr. Bill Wiesmann, both of the Oregon Medical Laser Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, were among the first to duly note the blood-clotting capacity of shrimp shells, specifically the prime component of the shells, chitin (pronounced like kite-en). Once refined from shells, the chitinous material is then known as chitosan.
Through their practices, the doctors observed the way refined chitosan stemmed even severe bleeding in under 30 seconds. They also recognized the utter ease in which the chitosan could be applied to a wound, via a simple slap-on bandage or impregnated in gauze dressing.
They further recognized the immense medical benefits a near-instant blood-clotting dressing would be to the military and public.
Gregory and Wiesmann approached the military about their fairly out-there find. To its credit, the U.S. Army fully agreed that powdered shrimp shells could save lives and funded the doctors’ research, leading to the creation of HemCon Medical Technologies, Inc.
What began as a fairly odd effort became an overnight industry. "My ideal job is taking kooky ideas and having a place to make them happen," Gregory was quoted as saying.
The prime obstacle facing the HemCon researchers was finding a source of copious amounts of discarded shrimp shells.
It turned out that Oregon’s canning industry produced tons and tons of just such mushy shrimp shells. It was one of those phone calls worth listening in on when the Gregory called the canners and asked if he could buy all their old shrimp shells. It ended up being a match made in chitin heaven.
With loads of shells in hand, further studies proceeded rapidly -- with stunning results. HemCon proved that swine treated promptly with HemCon Hemostatic Control Dressing “promptly stopped bleeding and survived.” Control animals treated with conventional gauze dressings “died of massive bleeding,” reported HemCon.
The shrimp shell bandages and dressing introduced by the company were so amazing, the concept received FDA approval in a record-breaking 48 hours.
Within weeks of FDA approval, some of the 50 prototype bandages were being shipped to American soldiers in war-torn regions. In-field response was immediate: the chitosan-based bandages, essentially the first advance in wound dressing since the Civil War, were saving lives. Thousands more were produced and rushed to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the supply of the bandages increased thanks to further Army funding, it became obvious that the use of the bandages was “intuitive,” meaning that virtually every soldier or marine could give immediately life-saving aid to even a gravely wounded subject. The military higher-ups also realized this and it is now mandatory that all military personnel carry at least one HemCon bandage with them at all times.
The miraculous medical capacity of shrimp shells – and likely the shells from similar marine creature – is now making it into mainstream America, as the HemCon bandages become available to first aid squads and to the pharmacy-shopping public. What’s more, shrimp shell derivatives are now being used in nasal sprays, easing chronic sinusitis and clotting dangerous nosebleeds.
In sports, the usefulness in chitosan dressing in boxing matches and hockey games is obvious.
Possible the oddest use of chitin is now issuing forth from Japan, where the use of crab shell material is being used in clothing to convert the acids in human sweat into un-smelly salts.
This all invites that ongoing sense that there are amazing things just sitting out there in the marine environment – yet one more reason to save it at any cost.
DIM FIN FUTURE: The news on the shark front is dismal to downright dire, according to a major study being published in the journal “Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.”
It seems that many commercial fishermen around the world are blatantly disobeying the mandates of this column and continue to catch sharks to cut off their fins for the sake of the kooky Asian market, where folks are convinced that shark fin soup leads to longer marriages and better breath. Go figure.
There are now 11 species of shark that teeter on the black cliff of extinction. No, that does not mean they are merely over-fished, so all mankind has to do is pretend to back off and all the species will scurry back to wellbeing. Those 11 species are about to be erased off the surface of the planet as soundly as if some weird anti-shark meteorite had struck. (“We have met the meteorite and he is us.”)
To add perspective to that finding, the loss of those 11 types of shark means that more than half of the planet’s known 21 species of pelagic sharks and rays are damn near doomed.
I won’t get into the ecosystem spiel here, but sufficed to say that sharks are possibly the most important component of a healthy marine realm -- the clean-up wizards needed to keep the ocean free of decay and to control overpopulations of other species. There is no guessing what ruin the loss of sharks might loose on marine-kind but it will surely be eco-ugly.
And, still, nothing is being done.
“Despite mounting evidence of decline and increasing threats to these species, there are no international catch limits for oceanic sharks,” said study co-author Sonja Fordham, a researcher at the Ocean Conservancy and Shark Alliance in Brussels. “Our research shows that action is urgently needed on a global level if these fisheries are to be sustainable.”
DIGITAL FUEL FIGURING: The fuel crisis has taken a calculated twist.
I have chatted with at least a dozen folks who have developed a mathematical formula when considering going here, there or some other place. Trip costs are being tabulated to the point where some chronically calculating motorists have their drive to work (or play) figured out to the penny – tacking on the damage with every hike at the pump.
Sure, we’ve all kept that silent back-brain computer running when cruising, but the type of computation now coming into play for even a quick-trip from LBI to Wal-mart could be a sign of the gloomy fuel-cost micromanagement cruising our way – by summer’s end?
I bring this up as a segue into a fascinating conversation I had with a hyper-talented young brainiac – and a fanatic angler -- who lives in Burlington County but works at a famed think-tank company (which I can’t name).
This fellow is feverishly working on a computerized digital mechanism that would be tied into your gas tank gauge. Hand-programmed with the amount you just paid for gas, it will give you a fiercely exact cost of a trip – to the final dripping penny. Even during a cruise around the block, you’ll be able to see that which so many of us choose to ignore: the frickin’ cost to the 1/100th degree.
For months I’ve been noting the near apathy of the public toward the insanely escalating petroleum prices. Methinks these cost-per-mile devices might finally place reality within eyeshot of indifferent Americans.
I already dread, beyond measure, the cost-per-trip numbers as I drive the beach -- easily the most fuel-demanding use of a vehicle undertaken by mankind.
Before I depart this distasteful but hugely significant subject, I have to mention the massive concurrence with the notion that boat anglers are now going to be very inclined to keep fish when they once practiced catch-and-release. It’s down to those gas-ly dollars and cents. With even back-shelf fish fillets averaging $5.99 a pound, that meat in the cooler can cover at least some gas cost. Obviously, this isn’t the best news to conservationists but even I can’t blame anglers for trying to keep their hobby going by making ends meet.
FEEDING DECISION: I was emailed this as a response to a column I wrote. I don’t usually go for didactic drivel but tale is disturbingly close to reality.
An old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, 'My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all.
“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, 'Which wolf wins?'
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
RUNDOWN: The fluke season began with a bang – until measuring sticks were pulled out. Tons of takes, mere ounces of keeper material -- if that.
As expected, the take-home rate was pretty abysmal inside the bay, and touching on fairish (at best) near inlets on the ocean.
That astounding just-short phenomenon that seems to perpetually mock fluke anglers is once again occurring. With an 18-inch minimum size limit, the fluke are always coming up at 17 ¾. When the minimum size was 17.5 inches, the flatties would all be 17 ¼ -- and right n down he minimum-size line. It’s weird how that happens.
Sidebar: It’s a good year for minnies. After a few suspect years for mummichocks and such, I have observed slightly above average populations of these fluke-attracting baitfish in the backbay areas of Manahawkin Bay and Tuckerton Bay. West Barnegat Bay populations have varied from spot to spot but are also showing improvement over recent years.
Despite very cooperative winds and weather, striped bass are being that “B” word. They just won’t come when called. Maybe we need The Bass Whisperer to come and train them.
The Simply Bassin’ standings (below) show that there are surely some fine fish in the suds but they are highly roughish – one fish and done. Even the small stripers seem scant.
Snag-and-drop boat bassers had some super sessions late last week and on Saturday, as oceanside bunker pods stared down nervously at large to very large bass (to near 40 pounds) lurking below them. However, no sooner did I get reports of amazing hooking action than it seemingly stopped dead in it tracks. While that might indicate the hooking could start again just as quickly, it also signals some variables we didn’t have during last year’s astounding snag-and-drop season. Many boat anglers are nabbing bunker form the pods and motoring off to liveline them around structure, like the inlet rocks and near east bay sedges.
The black seabass saved the day for many boat anglers who wanted to get out on the open ocean. I should note that of all our species, seabass is the finest to cook whole in black bean sauce. If you have a favorite Chinese restaurant, the owners will often sell you some of their special brand, usually reserved for their own meals. I used to take the seabass right to the restaurant and have them cooked in bean sauce. The cost? A few free fish for the chefs.
Word is still not fully out that ALL blackfish are off-limits. There is a closed season, as we speak. I won’t even go into how many boats pulling out at public ramps this past weekend had their “one allowable blackfish.” Repeat: There is no allowable blackfish take. I helped the cause by informing folks – without being gnarly. Most were genuinely surprised.
Junkfish are out there at every drop. Here’s an e-report form Joe H.:
“Fished through the night on Sunday. Only caught a bunch of huge dogfish and skates. Monday night as the wind picked up (even though it was southerly) I had more action. Caught and released the strangest looking bluefish I've seen in a while. He was a lengthy 35", but weighed a mere 8lb 15oz on my hand scale. Had a few more hits and biteoffs …”
Bluefishing is sketchy, better near the inlets or the further north you get. Many of the blues are “racers,” mainly head, differing from the blues of a few weeks back which were very plump – apparently fattened on grass shrimp and small “herring-like” forage fish that many anglers found in the bellies of take-home blues. By the by, the herring-like baitfish still be found in bluefish and striper stomachs are likely small ocean herring. This time of year, very tight baby herring baitballs – some five feet in circumference -- can be seen near bayside bulkheads, especially near inlets, and even along the beachfront where they’ll occasionally be beached by blues or circle in nervous balls in the coffin corners of beachfront groins.
Simply Bassin’ Leader (for further updates check http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/)
1) Bill Montrey 5/237 a.m. 30-2 43 ¼22 3/4 Holgate area Clam 5/23 Jingles B&T
2) Rob Vallone 5/266 p.m. 28-0 42” 23 ¼” B.L. area Bunker 5/26
3) Jason DelFalazzo 5/166 p.m. 25-9 40 ¼” 22 ½” B.L. area Bunker 5/20 B.L Bait and Tackle
4)Bob Buchanan 5/237 p.m. 25-2 42 1/8”21 ½” B.L. area Bunker 5/23 B.L. Bait and Tackle
5) Matt Chistensen 5/22 23-15 40 ¼”21” Harvey Cedars Bunker 5/22 B.L. Bait and Tackle
6) Dean Stankiewicz 5/17Noon 23-15 39 ¾”22” Holgate area Clam 5/17 Jingles B&T
7) Dante Soriente 5/98 a.m. 22-8 38 ¼”21 3/4 BH park Bunker 5/23 Jingles B&T
8) Gregory M O’Connell 5/183 a.m. 20-12 39”20 ½” B.L. area Bunker 5/18 Surf City Bait Tackle