Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Commercial Fisherman and Another Myth Busted at the Same Time

One of the things I wrote about in the Tucker Crawford post I linked to earlier today was how modern day environmentalists (myself included) mythologize and sentimentalize commercial fishermen. Crawford was a good, hard-working fisherman who at one point was arrested for selling striped bass that were contaminated with PCBs and who in fact denied (no doubt to his dying day) that PCBs were a problem in the Hudson. He was a link to a past that we assume was simpler and therefore better, and that was destroyed by industrialization, and for that he was to be admired, but he was also just a regular guy doing what he could to get by.

A couple of days ago police nabbed a fisherman from Brooklyn named Frank Sabatino, who allegedly was intending to sell striped bass contaminated with PCBs. Here’s how the Daily News reported it, mixing myth-making with police reporting:

An enduring survivor of the city's dying commercial fishing community was hooked by state police for allegedly trawling in contaminated waters.

When Frank Sabatino was arrested Sunday as he pulled his boat into Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, he had a haul of 872 pounds of striped bass, 32 pounds of illegally caught fluke, two prohibited Atlantic sturgeon and other banned seafood, authorities said.

The fish, caught off Jacob Riis beach, are illegal because the water is contaminated with PCBs, mercury and other dangerous chemicals, Department of Environmental Conservation officials said.

Sabatino had been the subject of a National Public Radio feature a few years ago – you know the kind: the sound of waves lapping at the bow, gulls calling, maybe a bell buoy, a terse but colorful (and ironically prescient) introduction by the narrator …

If Frank Sabatino could have things his way he'd spend every day fishing on his own boat, but given the realities of a commercial fisherman's life, he's often captaining somebody else's clam-boat or else working as the engineer on the casino boat or else diving to check moorings - Whatever it takes to make some extra cash....

… and lots of local color from Sabatini himself about how wonderful it was in the old days:

Everybody was involved in the fish business, one way or the other: there was Cow High Charlie, there was Joe Black, Pineapple Mike, Flounder Foot, another fellow named Bushel Mike. These were guys that used to put straw, newspaper in their boots! Not because they were cheap, that's the way these guys were taught. They were good people. I used to bring my report card down, because if I didn't, they probably wouldn't let me in the boatyard.

Sabatino says all he’s guilty of is fishing without a license. He faces up to four years in jail (although I’m sure he’ll never do time, and maybe he doesn’t deserve to). Whatever. Next time we write about the last fisherman, let's dispense with the sentimentality.



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