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When We Fished Here by Hand

Posted by José “Pepe”  Luís García

Twenty years ago, I was fishing tuna out here near Cocos Island in a small Costa Rican boat. There were a lot of fish for the fishermen back then. There weren’t many people coming here—only five or six fishing  boats, small-liners to fish tuna. Really small. People didn’t like to come here, because it was so far away. There was no GPS then, no deep sounders. We had only our compass and a sextant to get positions.

Normally, we came out here together, two or three boats. When we came, we placed only small fishing lines with 50, 60, 70 hooks, because we hauled in everything by hand. Now everything is hydraulic, you put miles  and miles and miles of fishing line in the water. And to recover it, you just push a button and keep the line coming in. But back then, you needed to work the line by hand. There were only eight of us on a boat: Captain, chief engineer, and crew. We all worked really hard.

We came to catch tuna. In those days, the tuna we took were bigger than me: two meters long and 150, 200, 225 pounds. We sold the fish on the market in Costa Rica, at the dock in Puntarenas. And there were lots of fish in the fishery, not like now. Sometimes we caught sharks, too. The difference was that in the market, they took everything, all of the shark, it wasn’t wasted. Not like now, just the fins—they took the entire shark and the fins.

It was hard to come here, hard fishing, hard to go back. Every four or five trips, something happened, a broken engine, something. That’s why we didn’t come alone. Every now and then, we’d smell smoke. Everyone would head below decks. Maybe it was something electrical, the cables, and the engine was done. The only people to call were the other boats.  We’d pass a line, and they’d pull us, tow us all the way home.

On one of the trips our engine failed. We passed the line to another boat and they started towing us. Eight hours later, they called us:  “Hey, hey, hey, we need to stop. Our engine is very hot! We need to  stop.” By then, our engine was a little bit better. So we shifted the line from the bow to the stern and we started pulling them. We kept switching back and forth, every few hours, all the way back to port. It took us 54 hours to get home! Now we can do the trip in 30 hours.  Unbelievable.

Now that I know about the sharks and the tuna, how they’re getting fished out, I’m glad to bring people here to the island to see the fish instead of coming out in a fishing boat to catch them.

I have three kids back home on the shore. They’re all following this expedition on the blog, and all their teachers and school friends are too. They’re very excited about what we’re doing out here. My oldest tells me she wants to be a doctor. And the second one wants to be a scientist, a biologist, maybe a marine biologist like many of the people out here on the expedition. But when I ask my youngest, he still says  “Papa, when I grow up, I want to drive a fast skiff on the water, just  like you!”

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