McDonalds, Burger King, Poverty and Fresh Fish

As we remain in a wait and see state to learn if the BP oil leak has been stopped by pouring mud into the pipe to neutralize the pressure and stop the flow of oil, I find myself contemplating the very hard working poor along the Gulf Coast.

The shallow waters from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is home to a class of fisherman who work incredibly hard to feed their families and make rent on their tin can in a local trailer park. These people, mostly men, get up at around 3:00 am and push their old john boats with their old outboard motors that are always in need of repair, into the water and they start fishing for what sport fishermen call “trash fish.” These species, ladyfish, jack kreval, hardhead cats, sail cats, lizard fish and others that are plentiful and, to most people, have no food value. These guys then take the trash fish to one of the local processing plants where such fishes are turned into a substance that is then shaped into the design of a McDonalds and Burger King fish sandwiches as well as frozen fish sticks and other “parts is parts” fish products. For these fish, these impoverished fishermen are paid between 25 and 50 cents per pound.

Back in the 1980s Ronald Reagan stated that many homeless people are so because they elect to be. He made similar statements about people in the class of working poor. While some minuscule portion of these subsistence fishermen do so by choice so they can live in and spend their time in our beautiful west Florida outdoors, most do so because it’s the only thing they know and they can eek out a meager living from this work.

I know a few of the guys who do this by choice and they are happy folks as they can catch all of the trash fish in the morning, drop off their load and get paid by the processing facilities and then go out fishing or hiking or hunting or any of a large number of sea related activities. I know these guys from fishing tournaments and other gatherings of those of us with a passion for the outdoors.

Sadly, those who would accept poverty to live in near absolute freedom are few. Most of these people do so out of need to keep their kids in shoes and pay rent on their trailer which especially precarious during hurricane season.

Now, the BP oil spill has already reached the shores of Louisiana and threatens Alabama and Mississippi soon and, maybe even parts of the Florida coast.

Crude oil and fresh fish do not go together in any sense of a productive manner. These trash fishermen already live in poverty and, now, may have even lost their single source of income which hardly kept them above water when things are going well.

These fishermen provide a lot of the fishy materials that go into the McDonalds and Burger King sandwiches. Now, those in Louisiana are waiting for the state to announce that it is safe to do their kind of fishing. The processing plants have stopped buying from Louisiana, Mississippi and the western edge of the Alabama coast. These poor buggers have, for a indeterminate amount of time, lost their access to the twenty five to fifty cents for their daily catch and they have no idea how they will buy food or pay rent.

These are good hard working people without whom we wouldn’t have fish sticks. I fear for these people as this country does a relatively poor job of working with the poor and these families are among the poorest and probably have no safety net.

So, maybe these are all part of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” and the trailer parks are actually hiding subterranean mansions but I doubt it.

I don’t know if anyone has set up a charity for these people but, if so, I will be contributing and I hope you will too.


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My Birds

or years I have poked fun at many aspects of Florida living but have
always written fondly of our natural settings, state parks, county parks
and many other beautiful spots around the state. From the Everglades to
the Nature Coast, I have greatly enjoyed the Florida outdoors, paddling,
fishing, birding, swimming, splashing at the beach with my dog.

A retired Exxon executive who had, for a chunk of his career, had been
VP/Environmental Engineering, told me on the phone that the only good
thing about the BP disaster in the Gulf was that it was “worse than the
Exxon Vald-grease” so he feels a bit off of the hook as BP now holds the
dubious distinction of being the worst oil related disaster in American
history. In fact, the BP spill/leak may be the worst industrial disaster
of all time – quite a feat when one considers Love Canal, TMI and other
real zingers.

When President Obama diah announced that we will need to have to start
off-shore drilling increased, we Florid-iots were told, “These platforms
will be 150 miles off-shore, there’s no way an accident will even reach
the Florida shores.”

Well, British Petroleum’s disaster is not just 150 miles away, it is
Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi away and, Susan, my lovely wife of 23
years this month, described a map in the newspaper that shows that the
eastern most point of the slick is already in Florida waters, a bit
south of the panhandle, heading straight for the Nature Coast, one of
the most beautiful and well preserved coastal areas in Florida and a
place where we enjoy an occasional long weekend of outdoor activities.

I am passionate about fishing. It can take the typically high strung cdh
and insist that I be patient. Depending upon where we are fishing, if
the fish aren’t in the mood to eat, there are all sorts of other natural
treasurers to feel, hear, smell, touch and the sun on my face reminds me
that I’m still alive.

Tourists and people who watch fishing shows on the television think of
Florida fishing as an off-shore activity where a very expensive boat
brings you 30 to 50 miles out into the Gulf and they fish for gigantic
animals while strapped into a chair and using the boat to pick up
distance when the fish has pulled out too much line. Other tourists
enjoy going to the reefs off-shore for grouper, amber jack and other
tasty delights – for these fishes, I prefer a restaurant as “drop your
line to the bottom, crank twice, wait until something eats your bait”
is, to me at least, really boring and a fish market or fried fish joint
handles all of the preparation and for much less money.

Locals mostly haunt the in-shore areas. One can catch a 36 inch snook in
about 24 inches of water. The redfish hit your lure like a freight
train, sea trout are loads of fun and one never goes more than about 500
meters from the shore.

We have an adorable Gheenoe, a boat designed exactly for these purposes,
it’s very narrow but has interesting boyancyfeatures that keep it from
being too tippy. On it we have a terrific 2 horsepowerentirely electric
motor so we can enter tights spots with near silence. We also have
thousands of dollars of fishing gear (feed a man a fish and he’ll enjoy
a nice meal, teach him to fish and he will spend nearly all of his free
time and money on fishing gear). For those of you who know fishing
stuff, I almost exclusively use rods from G. Loomis and Shimano reels
loaded with expensive braided line. My most trusted lures all come from
DOA lures ( and, when using them, confidence grows
which helps one remain calm enough to impart something like a natural
behavior to a bit of rubber shaped like a shrimp about 75 meters away.
Knowing to work a lure properly takes takes years of practice and one
can always learn even more by talking to and fishing with the real old
timers. Fishing is a hobby (sport?) that one become totally emersed.

Getting out onto the water, especially in a boat with a nearly silent
motor or paddling in a canoe or kayak, as I mention above, provides a
multi-sensory experience. You may get bumped by a bottlenose dolphin,
maybe a manatee will approach you to ask for a drink of fresh water, in
some places, you can sea and hear giant sea turtles who have lived in
these parts since before Columbus arrived. a 600, 700 or even 800 year
old animal the size of a Volkswagon Super Beetle is a treasure to see
once and, to see them with some frequency, if you know the right spots,
is a wonderful gift from Mother Earth.

Other coastal animals can be entirely entertaining and the local snakes,
cottonmouth (must have smoked too much pot), rattlesnakes (one only
tends to catch a glimpse of a jubenile or two as their elders are really
good at camoflauge), the deadly water mocassonas well as others remind
us of the borderline between beauty and absolute violence that is
nature. I mustn’t forget some of our truly awesome spiders who, if you
can see them, are effectively harmless to anyone smart enough not to
pick one up and play with it. The spider webs are incredible works of
archetecture spun in silk. May people have what seems like an innate
fear of spiders and snakes but, spending a little time in their
territory shrinkens the fear and permits one to glory in the wonder of
really interesting creatures.

I tend to use plural terms when referring to our natural areas. I
will say, “our fish” or “our manatees” or “our dolphins.” When it comes
to our birds, I grow quite proprietary and to say, “my birds,” because I
feel a kinship with our fine feathered friends.

At one of our favorite fishing spots, we, on low tide – the best time to
fish this particular flat,would often see a juvenile male bald eagle. I
watched him, for about three years, slide into the water withan elegance
lost on pelicans, grab fishes in its talons and then pound its wings
against the water to regain flight and, sometimes, letting out a shout
to celebrate his catch – the beautiful and the brutal, the sound and the
fury that is the American outdoors could not possibly get better.
Watching him mature was a natural phenomena that I really enjoyed.
Watching him grow up, though, me feel like his is part of the family.

At Fort De Soto state park, just about 30 minutes from here, we enjoy a
pair of mature bald eagles, probably a mating pair. They catch fish,
birds and small mammals to eat and feed their young. Others, like my
great blues, cormorants, spoonbills and vultures (black and turkey) help
make up my kinship with our winged raptors.

The thought that these animals are now in tremendous jeopardy, our
fishes, dolphins, manatees and other critters who suffered one of the
coldest winters in Florida history, which caused both fish kills and a
lot of dead manatees is almost too much to take.

Sure, drill baby drill!! Sure, put up more platforms, the damage from BP
will last for decades and we outdoorsmen will just be fucked by the way
our American plutocracy passes and enforces laws.

The shrimp supply for nearly the entire US is rapidly dying, clams,
oysters and other stay at home fishes will take a long time to bounce
back. Subsistance fishermen will now need to get some sort of welfare
check until they can figure out a new way to make a living. Our tax
dollars will go to support people who who, up until last week, had
provided a useful service and carried on a 200 year tradition of Gulf
commercial fishing.

So, my birds are in jeopardy, some of my buddies who fish out of small
boats and hardly make enough to make ends meet will get checks from the
government. Our tax dollars will be subsidizing British Petroleum’s

I am heart broken already for my friends with whom I have fished in
Louisiana, Missippi and Alabama and now Florida waits to get our coast

Whill Sarah Palin send me her oil profit redistribution check she
receives as an Alaskan to help me pay off the fishing gear that people
like her felt was an expendable resource, was a chance they were willing
to take?

I am going to cry now for my birds, our fish, our marine mammals and our
way of life. Does anyone know what a blind guy and his trusted dog do
help volunteer in the clean-up effort? I’ve handled many wild birds over
the years so maybe I can help wash them?


The pinhead republicans call President Obama a socialist In fact, Obama
is far more a believer in unrestricted capitalism than most other
politicans. Alaska, however, with its actual redistribution of oil
profits is acting in a manner only called for under various theories of
communism. We Floridians, as well as our friends in the other Gulf
states, will be screwed as our coastlines get trashed and we don’t get a
nickel in compensation.

Remember, you can’t spell CRAZY without R-AZ which is now leading the US
in absolute weirdness.

Drill Baby Drill! You already sorely fucked the Gulf so might as well
let it get worse. Maybe I’ll move to Alaska and, as my outdorors time,
I’ll shoot wolves from a helicopter.

— End

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