tampabay.com

Meet the fishermen

By TIMES WIRES
Published August 7, 2006


Would be eligible . . .

CHUCK SULLIVAN, 59. Owns 47-foot long-line boat. Catches enough grouper to earn $350,000 in buyout. "The future does not look bright." People "are trying to put long-liners out of business." Waterfront condos are replacing fish houses. "It's a shame. People come down here to eat grouper, and now they are bringing foreign fish in."

JACK GOLDEN, 70. Co-owns four long-line boats with the captains who operate them. Each boat could earn the maximum $350,000 buyout payment. Wants to leave grouper fishing, either through taking the buyout or by having his captains buy him out. Regulations "are killing us. Your profit margin is gone right to the dogs."

Would be eliminated . . .

HERMAN CONLEY, 78. Takes 6 to 8 grouper trips a year on a 36-foot bandit boat. Also fishes for snapper, amberjack, mullet and "anything that comes along that I can clean, bring in and sell." Air Force retirement provides most of his living, but grouper brings in $4,000 to $5,000 a year. "Without that, I can't afford to run the boat."

MAC NIPPER, 49. Owns 30-foot charter boat. Main income comes from stone crabs, chartering and diving for marine life. Brings in about $4,000 to $6,000 a year fishing for grouper. "I don't have my hands out. I don't want anybody to give me anything. Just give me the opportunity to work."

DIAMOND PARDOS, 64. Mainly dives to collect sponges, colony worms, soft coral, gorgonias and sea fans for aquariums, but sometimes fishes for grouper from his 25-foot boat. Worries that regulators will shut down marine life collection business. "I'll have no choice but convert my boat back to grouper fishing."

HAROLD WEST, 47. Owns 27-foot catamaran. Was full-time fisherman for 18 years until he started environmental consulting business seven years ago. Still takes occasional rod-and-reel trips and wants to return to grouper fishing when he retires. Federal rules require permit holders to earn 50 percent of their income from fishing-related activity. West and others dodge that by owning permits corporately, installing wives, children or friends with little income as the corporate agent.

JIM ZURBRICK, 56. Runs a 34-foot charter boat, mainly for spear fishermen, but makes quick rod-and-reel grouper trips when he has no clients, catching about 3,000 pounds a year. "We are all trying to make ends meet. Who's going to give me my $9,000 in grouper sales? In 10 years, that's $90,000. Imagine putting $90,000 in a 401(k). It's what I count on."

A proposed "buyout" would eliminate about 660 commercial fishermen who lack big grouper catches. About 340 bigger producers could then accept payments up to $350,000 to leave the fleet voluntarily. Here are a few people who would benefit or lose if Congress approves the buyout plan.