By EMERLINE GORDON
A love and passion for the sea and fishing, nurtured by boyhood days at Pigeon Point and an elder fisherman brother, inspired Fitzroy Burnette to return to his roots, though now as a committed fisherman who has learnt well the skills and tricks of a trade that is not for the faint-hearted nor fearful.
“Fishermen must be brave and strong, both physically as well as emotionally, since sometimes, you must go out there to fish alone – not to mention the cold weather that are sometimes experienced at night and the hot sun during the day,” Burnette says.
“When the rain falls they would get soaked, then the sun would come out and dry them.”
Burnette practises what he preaches – he eats healthy and rests well to maintain a healthy and fit body and mind, not only to endure the punishing physical schedule but to also ensure alertness to employ skill and skill and tact to bring in a good catch.
In an interview at his fish stall on the Pigeon Point Road in Crown Point, he shared his story which also involved learning masonry, a trade which he plied for 12 long years in Trinidad so he could earn money to buy a boat and get back to the sea.
“As young men growing up in Pigeon Point, there were not many activities for us to be involved in, except to go sea-bathing or to engage in a time of fishing on the rocks, something which I totally enjoyed doing.
“So, from the age of 13, my friends and I would go on the rocks and fish, every day. My elder brother who was a fisherman would also take me along with him occassionally when he went on his fishing trips. After a while, I soon developed a love and passion for the sea and fishing and I would often say to myself, ‘One day I will buy my own boat and go out into the ocean and fish just like my brother’,” Burnette said.
And so he did. He returned to Tobago from his masonry days in Trinidad, except this time he was no longer fishing from the rocks but going out to sea with his own fishing boat – bringing in blue and white marlin, wahoo, sword fish, dolphin, flying fish, cavalli, red snapper, grouper and rainbow salmon.
“To get a great catch, you must know the right time of the year to go fishing… for marlins, the best time is between February and April. If you are fishing for dolphins and wahoo, the best times are between October to May,” he advises, as he also explains the different methods of fishing done by fishermen in Tobago - drift fishing, trolling and banking.
As a means of earning a livelihood goes, Burnette admits that not every day is a profitable day.
“As the saying goes, “Every day can be fishing day, but not every day is catching day. Sometimes fishing can become very frustrating.
There are days when I would have only been fishing for 45 minutes and would have already caught close to 100 fishes. Then there are those times when I will be going for weeks on end and wind up empty handed. There are also times when the fishes would come around the net, but none of them would eat the bait which I set for them. So, when they do not eat, this means that I have no fish to take home, therefore no money to buy food, to pay bills, buy gas etc, and this can be very depressing,” he said.
Not always being able to “land a fish” is not the only challenge Burnette, and other fishermen, face in Tobago.
“As fishermen, we need to be very cautious, especially when there is Sahara dust... Sometimes the dust can be so thick that it is very difficult for the captains of large vessels to see us. So, we must be vigilant to avoid a collision. There is also the Sargassum seaweed… to avoid the weed, fish change their course, so that in areas where we once caught fishes, they are no longer there.
“There is also the illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the Tobago waters and because of this, many of our fishermen are afraid to go out to sea, especially during the night, for fear of being abused or even kidnapped by pirates. We desperately need proper monitoring and surveillance of our maritime space and boundaries. So long as our waters are protected, we will feel much safer and this will also keep intruders at bay,” he said.
Despite the challenges though, Burnette will not give up fishing and the sea for anything else in the world.
And when he is on land, it appears that he is just as busy and passionate with another venture - teaching martial arts to members of the Police Youth Group in Canaan.