20 February 2004

Morobe Field Diary, July 1976: Going Fishing

Yesterday was rainy so I decided to accompany the fishermen. My biking poncho kept me warm and dry for the most part and the clouds kept the sun off. But the wind and rain made it a lousy day for fishing. In the afternoon it cleared up some and, while I stayed aboard the [M.V.] Sago, some people came up with respectable catches. One fellow had a big fish (probably 5 lbs) bitten off at the gills by a shark as he was pulling it up. Another fellow caught a small shark and I saw another small one in the water (small = 2-3'). I had no desire to swim in those waters.

We fished around the islands offshore where the water is deep and most of the catch was (I think) red snapper (or red emperor] or various snappers [or sea perch, Lutjanus spp.] with sea bass [or rock cod, Epinephelus spp.] (called 'big mouth' in Tok Pisin) making up most of the remainder. The fishermen are paid 10 toea [= 0.10 K(ina)] a pound; the Sago sells them in town for 30 toea a pound and the retailer sells the fish (fresh or frozen depending on how long after the boat gets in you buy it) for 75 toea/lb. Makes American dairy marketing look pretty decent. The boat's crew cleans and weighs the fish and must be paid and then there's the gasoline and boat upkeep. Some men worked all day yesterday for 40 toea. The maximum earned was about K1.40 and the minimum 0 toea. Evidently a good day's fishing would yield about K1.00 in cash per person. So a good steady fisherman (which few are) could earn about K4-5/wk at most.

Today I stayed here because it looked to be too sunny early this morning when all went out to the island where many left their canoes yesterday. And sure enough it's a scorcher. Good for airing out the things left in my room when I was stuck in Lae.

Since the kaunsil had a lousy day fishing I suspected he might break open the case of beer I brought him last nite and he did and he & I and his son drank about a 6 pack, each getting pleasantly tipsy and storytelling. A wilder party was going on kitty-cornered from us: singing, laughing, music inside and a lot of beer bottles lying on the beach later. We put our beer on the ice in the Sago first so it was quite good.

I've gotten fascinated by the little Fishes of Hawaii book that I brought with me (by Gar Goodson). Apparently a large number of fish [especially wrasse and parrotfish] go thru color & sex changes that at first had scientists fooled into giving them 360 species names (in parrotfishes for instance) when there were no more than 80 or so going through their changes.

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