The Bright Side: Be careful what you ask for

In the first three episodes of The Bright Side, we talked about “classic” local people who put to sea in impossibly small boats challenging the largest fish in the oceans. We interviewed the operators of shiny modern charter boats.

We even stepped way back and watched as Polynesians fished circles around Capt. Cook. If you followed along, all these stories eventually tied together when — based on this history — the Billfish Conservation Act was signed into law in Washington D.C., insuring the sustainability of Hawaii small boat fishers.

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There is another Hawaii “classic” that we have not covered so far — the Haole Sampan — and the characters who still fish these boats today. Rick Gaffney, the historian of the Hawaii Big Game Fishing Club, has written a number of articles on the evolution of the Japanese Fishing Sampan, to the “Hawaiian Sampan,” finally to the “Haole Sampan.”

According to Rick, “In 1899, Gorokichi Nakasugi, brought the first Japanese fishing sampan to Hawaii, to help expand the commercial fishery in Hawaii. The vessel was 34-foot long, designed for bottom fishing, and had a steadying sail. Within a decade Japanese shipwrights followed him to Hawaii and Japanese sampan hull designs, were fishing as far north as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, hundreds of miles from Honolulu, by 1913.

“Between then and the start of WWII the Japanese shipwrights continuously modified the hull forms to improve their rough water performance, adding higher bows, sponsons and rolling chocks, effectively creating a unique ‘Hawaiian Sampan.’

When wealthy Hawaii businessmen asked for modifications of this hull-type to allow them to sportfish more effectively, and to add accommodations for their families and friends, the ‘Haole Sampan,’ came into being.”

Bill Jardine fits the bill as a “classic” character and he owns what could be the last Haole Sampan built in Hawaii — “Nalu Kea.” Launched in 1988 it languished for years after the owner passed. The family made Jardine a deal and the rest is history. The boat was built beamier than most others to fit twin engines and wet exhaust. It is air conditioned, has a galley and comfy salon, and a nice “head” or bathroom. A far cry from an aku boat above the surface, it is still all sampan below the waterline, and hence, heavy, slow, a bit sluggish to maneuver and requires some room to get around. However, Capt. Bill says that Nalu Kea is a loyal as the sun.

Jardine is one of the few hard core Haole Sampan owner/operators remaining. A family man to da max, he takes great joy in taking generations of family and friends out to sea, endearing them all to this way of life, on a museum of a boat.

Bill and his ohana drive around on the ocean in the comfort of what you might call an Edsel of the Pacific. Or, maybe a Studebaker. Nah, more like a Buick. “Three blocks long and two lanes wide – takes two weeks to drive by at 55.”

Bill and company recently sent in an email telling their story of connecting with a rather large marlin. By the sounds of it, their fight was something to behold.

According to Capt. Bill, “Sampans can’t chase a marlin down, so the angler has to do 90 percent of the work, and it takes a long time to defeat a big blue marlin. This girl we hooked was big enough to qualify as the biggest we had ever hooked.”

Witnesses on nearby boats reported that “Nalu Kea” rumbled around after the marlin, frightening whales, cruise ship skippers and any other living thing in the vicinity. One report from Maui said that even “Piper”, fishing out of Ma’alaea, had to alter course to stay out of Bill’s way as he tried to get the Old Girl turned before they either ran out of fuel, line or beer.

“An hour into the fight, we were tangled up in traffic at VV buoy, and the big marlin was still very much in charge,” Bill remembers. “We were feeling hopeful that she had settled down and we might have a chance, but she took off again! She dove deep and in nothing flat, we were down to the spool once more.”

Bill had a couple of crewmen on board mending from injuries and starting to question tackling this beast. Andrew Erickson was recovering from a dislocated shoulder and Steve Lopez (age 70) was convalescing a shattered ankle.

“Two hours into the fight, the fish was under the boat, switching back and forth. Steve’s ankle was aching pretty bad, and Andrew was loudly worrying about his ability to leader without pulling his shoulder apart again,” wrote Jardine.

Risking re-injury, Andrew got in there and mixed it up with the big marlin anyway.

“Thankfully, our marlin was pretty damn tired, maybe even as tired as we were,” Capt. Bill continued, “and Andrew was mostly pulling against her weight and not her attitude.”

When a big fish “digs” as it is called, it is mostly head down and tail up. With the leader straight up and down it can be tricky to keep it from going under the boat and breaking off, which is ultimately what happened. “Nalu Kea” is one of the few haole sampans with a swim step, but it is a family boat, and families swim.

“Sampans do not normally have swim steps, and now I know why!” exclaimed Bill toward the end of his missive. “We thought she would go 800, but you know how that goes, so we figured we should stick with 750.” And with that, he signed off.

Does that “count” as a catch or a release? Who cares? They were out for fun and adventure, and they got what they were looking for. To all those on board however, it probably “counts” as a memory of a life time.

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Did you see the story about that Bluefin tuna that recently sold in Japan for $3.1 million dollars. You probably know an ika shibi fisherman who might be thinking, “Whoa! I wish I got $3 million for a tuna!”

Well, maybe not. If there were zillions of bluefin in the seas, the price would not be anywhere near this high. It is estimated that Pacific Bluefin stocks are about 96 percent wiped out.

Science can be pretty dry work, and scientists are not known to be the biggest comedians in the world. There is, however, an old “joke” in natural resource science about management.

The analogy goes that fishery science is about as scientific as trying to manage a hillside full of trees by cutting them all down and counting them as they go on trucks.

The irony being that you don’t know how many there are until you cut em, catch em’ or kill em’. But once you do, they are all gone. The good news for lumbermen is that a hillside can be replanted in trees, even if it is clear cut.

Not so with fisheries.

No one knows how exactly many fish there were in the ocean before large scale commercial fishing started in the 1950s. That number of fish (the stock) would be called “virgin biomass” and that number is harder to find than a virgin who got a check from Michael Cohen.

As in the case of trees, the way “managers” have always assessed any fish stock is basically by counting what went on the boats. Because open ocean fish can’t be replanted, stock after stock has crashed when “managers” suggested fishermen stop catching at the wrong number.

No one knows how many fish there are in the ocean today either. To try and protect a stock from being overfished, nowadays marine scientists use impossibly complex “models” generated by high powered computers using the latest high tech software.

Of all the data input into the stock assessment models two types are catch and count em and one is biological studies of what they catch.

The irony here is that it is still based on catchin’ em and countin’ em. They just have really fancy computers now.

The general idea is that if they know the life cycle biology of the species, then they can figure out if there are enough fish left to sustain the stock by studying what is caught. There needs to be enough fish of spawning age left in the ocean to replenish the stock. There also need to be enough juveniles already swimming to be recruits to keep the spawning population healthy.

Most fishery managers in the commercial industry only look at managing the stock to what they call “maximum sustainable yield” also known as MSY. This just means they fish a stock right up to the point of crashing, give it a wee break and hope they didn’t go too far. As with the Pacific Bluefin tuna and others, you can see how well that works.

They also completely ignore that there are other fishermen in the world over and above those in the industrial commercial fleet. The others don’t judge success on catching and killing all but the second to last fish in the sea. There are local small boat commercials and the many who fish to feed their families. There are also lots who catch fish just to let them go and they spend millions of dollars, if not billions, just for the fun of it.

A fish caught and released can be caught and released more than once. One fish may generate many thousands of dollars over the course of its life, and, it is sustainable. One harvested fish can only generate whatever it sells for – one time – upon its death.

All involved need healthy fish stocks, the healthier the better.

And yet, when fishery scientists generate management recommendations for keeping a stock healthy, the local ika shibi fishermen, charter boats and those like Capt. Bill Jardine, are not considered. Only MSY is considered. In effect, they work for the large scale commercial fishing industry. There are some scientists who don’t operate like this, but the politics of tuna often result in their work being put on a shelf.

Kinda makes you scratch your head, don’t it?

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If there were as many fish in the ocean as there are rumors on docks, no one would have time to spread them. It’s rumored that teams fishing the World Cup tournament on July 4 are precluded by their rules from fishing any other tournament at the same time. Fly Navarro, tournament director of the World Cup says that is just not true. You have to read the rule closely, but that never seems to be as popular as a rumor.

1. Conflicting tournaments: Any boat or participant entered in the Tournament (including the Big Blue Challenge) shall not be entered in another July 4th tournament in which boats, anglers or participants compete with other boats, anglers or participants in more than one country, territory or like jurisdiction.

Fly said he is happy for anglers in Kona to fish in tournaments going on here on the 4th AND the World Cup. They just can’t fish in another tournament that is run in more than one international region. So, teams fishing the Kona Throw Down on July 4th can fish the World Cup at the same time. No problem.

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After last episode went to print, helpful readers provided the following info:

Second Place in the Kona Crew Classic was Capt. Gene VanDerhoek and Jack Leverone on “Sea Genie” with 45 blues tagged.

In 2017, “Marlin Magic” tied “Firehatt” with Most Points. “Firehatt” weighed the largest marlin of the competition, an 850 pound blue. Jack Leverone was again on the deck, with Capt. Joe Schumacher on the wheel.

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Mahalo for the assist.

Tips, stories, suggestions: email thebrightsidewht@gmail.com

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