This morning I woke up and wanted to go to the dock. My annoyance at being awake before 7, when I didn’t have to go to work, quickly dissipated when I imagined romantic early morning light over the ocean, boats in the distance. Forsaking my routine, I pulled on tights and a t-shirt, grabbed my camera and drove down to the sea. I assumed the fishermen would be coming in from their expeditions, and I didn’t want to miss the morning rush. I live just up the road from Montagu Beach, where there’s a small market set up, and in about 5 minutes I was pulling into the parking lot.
It turned out my assumptions were all wrong; the area was quiet. There weren’t many vehicles or shoppers or even fishermen around. One eager man did meet me at my car though, and escorted me over to a table where he helps out. It was flanked by coolers full of fish, and he pointed out snappers, Nassau groupers, strawberry groupers and big bags of roe. I recognised the boss of this table as the father of my younger brother’s friend, so I introduced myself. His son, who used to come over and play at our house, is a fisherman now too, and we chatted for a while about his work and mine.
Then I wandered over to a man cleaning fish a few tables down, and joined him and the fisherman standing next to him in conversation. I asked them about their lives at sea, their customers, and somehow we got on the subject of poaching, and politicians allowing wealthy non-Bahamian yachtsmen to come into our waters and fish commercially.
They also told me about how Dominican poachers steal conch and leave the shells behind, creating conch graveyards. Conchs build their shells around them as they grow, and once a conch has vacated its shell, no other conch will move in or even go near it. Somehow all the conch’s friends sense that their compatriot died and the area where his shell was left spells trouble. If they lived there before, they scatter and never come back again. In addition to illegally taking our conch, leaving dead shells behind pushes remaining conchs into new areas and – according to one fisherman – creates the illusion of scarcity. Bahamians love conch, and the conversation we’re having as a nation is concerned with their dwindling numbers and ways to preserve the species. That fisherman, Yellow, was trying to convince me that we have nothing to worry about.
He and I talked for a little longer, and then I left, promising to come back in a couple hours when his conch would be delivered. After breakfast and some puttering, I did. This time the dock looked the way I thought it would in the first place: full of cars parked every which way and people standing and waiting on fish. Taxi drivers brought vanloads of tourists out there too, who observed everything in awe and posed for pictures with giant crawfish.
Hashi, the man cleaning fish earlier, was still at his table. This time he was wrestling with enormous strawberry and flying fin groupers. I’m talking easily 40lbs! Yellow had a more involved operation: a covered stall set up with chips, cookies, flour cakes and conch shells along with the conch salad he was making to order. One of his employees knocked a couple conchs out of their shells for me; I put the bag in my car, then walked toward the other end of the dock.
On the way I met a couple more fishermen, including one who poetically described fishing as art. The group of them tried to convince me to muscle through my tendency to sea-sickness and go out on the ocean again, but I much prefer just meeting them out at the dock thank you. I let the conch languish in my car as long as I dared, then scooted home to put them in salt water, and my freezer. I haven’t decided what I want to do with them yet. Let me know if you have any ideas!