Caymanian fishermen are steadfastly holding on to the tradition that combines a string of fish in hand, a seine fishing net and a wooden fishing boat, all while adapting to changing times.
What unfolded in the waters just next door to the Bodden Town Coe Wood Public Beach recently brought back fond memories of a dying tradition. It was talked about for days, not only by other local fishermen, but also by natives and visitors alike who had the opportunity to witness how Caymanians made a living from the sea.
It was community living, sharing and working together at its best; sharing what little they had for the common good and to feed their families.
All that was missing from this cultural scene were wives and friends with knives and containers ready to clean the fish and a beach night of dining out on one of Caymanians’ best-loved fish – fried goggle-eye.
It took the combined efforts of close to 20 local fishermen nearly three hours after much waiting, stealth, circling and cunning to surround the shoal of fish using one of Caymanians’ oldest traditional ways of fishing – seining.
Seine fishing by hand must have been one of the most arduous of ways for Cayman fishermen to make a living outside of rowing.
Now that we understand the severity of the working conditions of these fishermen we can also understand why even though exposed to the blazing sun, choppy waters and killer sharks they fought the odds – because it played a vital role in their existence and still does. Owners of these seine boats have stated, in no uncertain terms, that this is their livelihood, culture and tradition, and as long as they are alive they will do what they know best, and that is fishing.
Around the shoal of fish the seiners went with miles of large fishing net hanging in the water due to weights along the bottom edge and floats along the top. As seiners tugged and pulled on the netting, it closed in like a drawstring purse with the fish swimming around in the bottom. The netting was dragged bodily into shallow water and the fish transferred into boats and taken ashore.
In the old days, the net would be carried out on a seine boat rowed by fishermen. Today the men use engines, which makes circling the fish a bit easier, and huge engines haul the netting and catch out of the water and into the fish hold.
As spectators watched the effort unfold and the hard work carried out by seine handlers exposed to the elements and working in the water up to their waist for hours while being mindful that the fish did not escape, they had another issue to worry about. “Shark in the water!” shouted avid fisherman Olson Levy, pointing so everyone could see the huge black tip and tail of the shark heading directly for the men.
Most fishermen will tell you to just keep a sharp lookout when a shark is in the area and it will be alright, and these seiners did just that, with one fisherman perched on the boat looking out to sea while the other men went about their business gathering the fish.
“It was a beauty to see history repeat itself,” said veteran fisherman Emile Levy. “I will always remember this day when more than 30 people came out to watch this great Caymanian event take place.”
At the height of the fishing season, which usually comes around the middle of April, these huge seines would land hundreds of google-eyes, all in a single haul. When the fish were plentiful, they were given away or sold for very little. Today locals will travel to outer districts to secure their supply of this much-prized delicacy.
In days gone by mostly friends and family ate most of the catch and the rest was given away. Today, there is no cooking on the beach and family members will hear about the catch after work. But despite these changes, hopefully our people will still hold on to the old traditions of feeding themselves from the land and the sea.