The net boat is off the back of the Caribe with a slam, and the net and chains attached to it begin to follow, the clink of links slamming on the deck as they spill over into the blue ocean. The Captain is up in the tower watching the school of yellow-fin zig left and right; the water frothing and foaming around their fins as they break the surface, they’re running, and the crew is too. It’s all a calculated risk for them, the captain, letting out the net boat means a few hours at the least of pulling net in for his crew if the Tuna escape – but if they close the net in time before the tuna get out than they get a big payday in the form a $1000 p/ton tuna. Or more.
The tuna, either by instinct or observation, begin to run toward the edge of the net, the part that is hung low in the water giving them a clear path to the open ocean and people begin to shout frantically. The speed boat whips off and begins doing dizzying circles at the edge of the net in an attempt to drive the tuna back, and on the Caribe the crew bang the steel hull with hammers, knowing well that the weak spot in this net right now is just under their feet.
And watching all of this from the upper deck I smile silently to myself and in my mind shout “Viva la Free Tuna!” while thrusting an imagined closed fist into the air. It’s not that I don’t want to catch tuna, I know it pays the bills, but there is something gratifying in seeing these beautiful fish best mankind once in awhile. You see we don’t make it exactly a fair fight, by wrapping them in a purse like net, and throwing dye pouches out to block their vision of exit routes, while speed boats and helicopters swirl around compounding the noise and vibration to drive the tuna back into the nets. They don’t know what any of that is, they can’t quantify it – they’re tuna, they don’t quantify anything. But in the same manner that I despise hunters that use ultra high power scopes and long range rifles all while tricking animals in with scents and bait and all sorts of other sneaky methods I kind of feel the same about the commercial fishing industry, I just needed to experience it first hand to really put it to heart.
Don’t get me wrong, I love fish, and catching fish, and eating fish. But I don’t scoop hundreds of thousands of tons of fish out of the ocean every month. I bait one hook and then I wait. I’ve more than once come in from a day on the water with nothing to show for it. I also think hunters that use a bow, and track a deer are commendable for at least attempting to level the playing field. I can’t abide anyone that hunts or fishes strictly for the trophy on the wall.
So I’m an animal lover – nothing new there. The thing is, I can stomach the commercial fishing, and commercial processing of animals for their meats because in spite of the fact that I’m a softy when it comes to our non-human friends, I’m also a realist and recognize that until we as a race have an feasible realistic alternative, there is a need to feed people that must be met. I’m not advocating vegitarianism, I think that’s insane, I’m just thinking in general terms of fairness. There are boats out here that use long lines and hooks and bait to catch tuna, they spend the better part of half a year a drift in the pacific fishing grounds reeling them in. I kind of prefer that method of fishing over mass nets. But then again, they don’t use or need helicopters on those boats so I’d be out of a job.
For now, I can take comfort and celebrate in the idea that this school, this one small school of tuna, will have one more night in the fishing grounds because they were faster than we were today. We may net them tomorrow, they may make it another year – I like that there is the option for them right now, that somewhere in the dark ocean out there a group of tuna are sitting around a bar at the bottom of the ocean talking about how they came “this close” to the big net in the sky – literally.