By Tucker B
The early morning sun beat down on Emmanuel’s back as he struggled to start the outboard motor on his small fishing boat. The weathered Boston Whaler was older than he was, but it had taken the years better than he had. The satisfying roar of the battered Yamaha engine brought him down to his seat on the gunwale with a smile. With a gentle twist of the throttle, the prow of the boat lifted clear of the water and he aimed it toward the mouth of the bay. The small metal craft bounded over the calm ocean, sending light jets of spray back on its wake. He relaxed in his seat and let the warm sunlight wash over him, but sat back up straight as soon as he saw the familiar coastline of his usual fishing grounds. As he was about to bring his boat to a stop, a wave of adventurousness overtook him and he twisted the throttle back to full, bringing the light whaler back to full speed with a jump. Boredom of his daily routine had won over his better judgment, and he decided to try his luck out in deeper waters. He pushed the engine lever far to the left, and the battered prow reached out to the open ocean.
After a couple minutes, he let the boat drift to a stop far off the point of land. He could hear his joints crack as he stood up and stretched his arms, then slid his new diving mask down over his face. Before he stepped over the side of the boat, he secured a Velcro strip around his ankle. The system that he had come up with years ago to keep his boat from floating away had never failed him yet, and he was always surprised that more fishermen didn’t implement it on their own boats. It saved him from the inconvenience of having someone stay with his boat. His hands grasped the cool metal handle of his fishing spear as he rolled over the side into the dark ocean. As soon as he opened his eyes, a frown of dismay registered on his face. He immediately realized that he had gone too far; he couldn’t even see the bottom beneath him. He shook the feeling off and started taking deep, slow breaths. He would dive it anyway. A skilled free diver, he had practiced almost every day of his life and could easily dive a hundred feet and stay there for a while. With barely a splash, he thrust his legs up and rocketed down into the unknown depths.
At what he guessed was 50 feet, he saw a sandy rise coming up from the bottom and followed it until it leveled off at about 40. He decided to surface for a breath, but came right back down to the same spot and continued. After another minute of spotting nothing, he began to surface, but was brought to a halt by a good-sized Nassau grouper swimming quickly across his view. This would bring in some good money at the market. Not wanting to go back empty-handed, he swam off after it, convinced he could catch it. As he was beginning to tire, he noticed another join the first, this one even bigger. He only dimly noted that the bottom was going down again as he chased the two grouper. After a few more joined the two, he began to be very confused. What were all these fish doing so far away from a reef, and where were they in such a hurry to get to. Suddenly, a giant dark form appeared in front of him, looming up from the bottom. It appeared to be writhing and changing shape as it danced around in the open water. As he drew closer, the form materialized into a massive swarm of grouper, not quite schooling, but swirling around as if in some mad underwater hurricane. These fish would be worth a fortune in the local market, but that was the last thing on his mind. He floated motionless in awe, and almost took a breath of saltwater, but stifled it back. He stayed there, just staring at this amazing sight for some time, but soon realized that he should come up for a breath. As he rose up, his eyes still fixed on the fish, something interrupted their dance. He noticed a dull whine cutting through the water, and oddly silent, a huge black net enveloped the struggling groupers. As the net started coming closer, he frantically raced upwards, away from its path. He could feel the rough mesh brush his feet as he broke the surface and started gulping in air. The high stern of a fishing trawler was slowly motoring away from him, carrying with it the entire spawning school of Nassau grouper. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Hundreds of fish, gone with a single swipe. It felt so wrong to him that that could ever happen. Nobody could do a thing like that, but it had just happened right in front of him. He shook off his disbelief and started swimming back to his boat. As he pulled himself up over the side, he watched the trawler recede into distance, its nets still in the water, ever hungry for more. Emmanuel let out a sigh of defeat as he once again struggled with the outboard motor, the high afternoon sun beating down on his back.