Fishing deeply rooted on Kauai

Cyris Baltazar wants to be a fisherman like his Papa Kevin when he grows up.

A member of our family’s fifth generation of fishermen, Cyris or “Bubba” as he prefers to be called, is just 5 years old and already “hooked” on everything to do with fishing, including the work.

He loves nothing better than unloading fish when his Papa comes home, helping scrub the boat down or putting away anything that needs to be put away in preparation for the next trip.

October is National Seafood Month. It’s a time when Hawaii’s fishing industry is thought about and talked about by many businesses and individuals. Restaurateurs focus on planning and preparing tasty seafood meals for their customers, using freshly caught fish, the industry’s main resource.

Retailers focus on prepping the seafood in a variety of ways, from fish steaks to “poke,” to appeal to more shoppers and hopefully increase sales at their stores.

Fishermen focus on ways to increase their daily catches.

Fishery watchdogs focus on ways to ensure our seafood supply is sustainable.

I find myself focusing on the ocean that provides the resource and the fishermen who have brought it home to their families for decades.

I first fell in love with fishing when I was invited to go on a trip on their boat with my future husband, Wayne, his dad, Mac, and brother Russell.

It was a beautiful day. Being out on the ocean is so peaceful and relaxing, especially if you are lucky enough not to get seasick. I still remember what we caught that day: 12 ko-shibi, eight aku and four kawakawa, not much by today’s standards but an amazing catch to me at the time.

When the day ended and we returned to the harbor, I was introduced to some of Mac’s fishing “compadres” who were waiting there. They were the first of many fishermen I would get to know over the years.

That day changed my perception of the ocean forever. It became so much more than just a place to take a refreshing swim on a hot day. It became a source of fish, of course, but also a source of recreation, fun and fellowship.

Fishing was simple for the generation of fishermen I met that day. Many of their boats were smaller vessels with limited fuel capacity and no electronics other than a CB or VHF radio.

Fish were caught by one of two methods: Pelagic fish like tuna that moved from place to place were usually caught trolling (dragging an artificial fishing lure (usually homemade) behind the boat.

Fish that lived on the ocean bottom or closer to shore were caught by bottom-fishing with baited handlines.

Kauai had then, as it does now, two main harbors (Nawililiwili and Port Allen) and a handful of mini harbors and launch ramps scattered around the island.

Each area had its standout fishermen. Their children grew up fishing and many invested in their own boats or took over the old smaller boats when their parents bought bigger ones with better fuel capacity so they could go farther and stay out longer.

Technology improved and more electronics became available. Newer fishing methods were developed and adopted by the fishermen.

The next generation became a new breed of fishermen. They took the skills passed on to them by their fathers and grandfathers and added knowledge they gained by investing in sophisticated electronics and trying out new techniques.

Today, many fishermen rely on fishing families like ours. Families whose friends are also fishermen; whose kids’ friends have fishermen for parents; families who work together, helping unload fish when the boat comes home; helping to sell or deliver fish to markets or restaurants.

Fishing is not an easy life. The hours are long, the work is hard. Expenses and taxes are high, and competition is never-ending. There is money to be made but too many new fishermen forget to save for the rainy day that inevitably comes, when the boat’s engines need repair, when severe weather makes it too hazardous to fish; or when fish simply refuse to bite.

But despite all of that, those who love the ocean and are passionate about fishing will tell you that for them, fishing is more than just a hobby or a business. It is a way of life.

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Rita De Silva is former editor of The Garden Island newspaper and is a resident of Kapaa.

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