Jimbo, Saputy and The Fisherman's Call

Gouyaveman 2nd May 2006

If one was fortunate enough to witness the casting of the nets “by the bay” on the Lance during the seasonal running of the fish, and the level of pandemonium displayed by the fishermen as they answer the call to a “boa-cho”, one would conclude that it was an exercise in utter madness. But if one took the time to understand how this seemingly routine set of activities is played-out, day after day, what seems on the surface to be a state of chaos and mayhem is in fact the equivalent of a well-rehearsed and choreograph set of orderly activities that have been the fisherman’s call for well over a century.

Over the years, the operators and owners of the “Seine” (Fishing Nets) on the Lance have had to comply with a system of operation that had become second nature for all who were in the business. This strict adherence to these rules of operation is what had governed that segment of the fishing industry up to this day, keeping it functioning and providing for its continuity for another one hundred years.

The linchpin behind this industry is not the intervention of any government regulatory body to set the rules of engagement as is common among other businesses but remains the acceptance of “the gentleman’s agreement” based primarily on the traditions and customs that were handed down from one generation to another.

“Yes! Gentlemen’s agreement among Fishermen is what keeps the industry afloat”.

Paramount to the operation in this “laisser-faire system” is the establishment of the “Rules of Haul” that is applicable to everyone.

The dictates of The Rules of Haul were established and accepted to be the determinant factor for deciding who had the first opportunity to cast their nets when the whistle blew, alerting everyone of an impending shoal of fish that is about to approach the land. It is a system that prioritized the order in which the nets were to cast based on who had the first, second, or third haul, but also made provision for settling disputes when the fish-run became too frequent and the order for casting, too confusing.

It was the Fisherman’s individual responsibility to know and remember the order of his haul and respond as quickly as possible at the sound of the whistle and the call of “boo-cho! Boo-cho!”. The window of opportunity to surround and trap the fish with his net was very small, in some cases as little as ten to fifteen minutes, so haste was of the utmost importance. He could hardly afford spending the time sorting-out things at this very last moment and risk the opportunity of a good Month’s pay.

Those of you who had witnessed grown men running towards the bay while simultaneously dropping their pants in the process may have confused this act as being a display of vulgarity, but may have indeed be witnessing a call to the Boo-cho.

At the height of the fish run, the system of casting is never arbitrary, in fact it is complemented by the “Spotters” (the men on watch) whose business it is to locate the shoal of fish by positioning themselves to observe it and make the visual calculation of its distance from shore. All of this is controlled by the whistle and the keen ears of the Captain of the Seine. This skill required the Spotters to know the optimum point where the shoal of fish can be circled leaving enough net and rope on both sides of the shoal to complete the encirclement. Failure to calculate correctly would mean that the fish would escape and the net would lose its position in the Haul hierarchy.

The hills of Doctor Bell and “under Maran” provided the best vantage point for the Spotters. From these elevated positions, the echo from their whistles can be heard throughout the Lance. The regularity in which it is blown is what sends the signal to those waiting on Haul to take immediate action, always remembering who is first, second or third.

Mr.Jimbo and Mr.Michael (Saputy) (God rest their souls) were the masters of their craft and at the sound of their whistles, you could have rest assured that the tuition at GBSS, Presentation Brothers College, Schaper and St. Rose would be paid. The Market would be blustering with produce from Clozier, Gouyave Estate and Florida There would be fish at the hospitals and hotels in St. Georges, even for the boys in Richmond Hill Prison and all of this were sure enough to bring a smile to our then Governor General, Sir Paul’s face as he too would have been in haste to eat his dinner.

Jimbo and Saputy whistles were our signal that Gouyave was about to hit oil.

Gouyaveman ©