The fishermen stand tall in a St. Lucian-made fishing boat, designed for the sole purpose of net fishing. Their dark, lean figures provide a stunning contrast against the brilliant blue sky. For many on the island, fishing is their way of living. With no days off and their livelihood dependent on the sea, they work tirelessly using the techniques that have been passed on from generation to generation.
The process is simple compared to the methods used in larger commercial operations, but the results and beauty of the St. Lucian style of net fishing can not compare.
In the elongated, brightly colored boats unique to St. Lucia, one man runs the engine, another dumps out water by the bucketful, while the others toss strips of thinly shaved coconut bark into the clear blue-green water with the purpose of attracting fish.
If a school of fish is spotted, one or two of the men on board will jump out of their brightly colored boat into the water to scare the fish into their defensive position — a closely packed school. The fishermen who are now in the water splash around mimicking a very large fish or shark. If all is going according to plan and a large school is forming, those remaining on the boat will begin to toss the large intricately wrapped net into the water to surround the school.
The boat circles around the fish as the men in the water continue to splash, as playful children do, mimicking an attack or intruder. When the time is right, the men on the boat begin pulling in the net in a steady graceful motion. The years of experience show in this process. As the net size whittles down, the swimmers jump back into the boat and help in the difficult process of pulling in the heavy net. Sometimes, the bounty is large and other times, they may have gone through that entire process for only one, two, or no fish at all.
For the people on St. Lucia, sustainability isn't a trendy topic or a popular fad, it is a necessity and a way of life. Everything that is caught is used. Even the small fish that contain very little flesh are used to create a “fish broth” — a nutritionally dense stew of sorts that is very common in St. Lucia. Our water-taxi driver, who escorted us on this trip, spoke of the health benefits of this broth and seeing many fishermen reeling in dozens of small fish, we were quick to realize that this fish broth is a very popular dish on the island.
We were out in the early morning when the tropical air still had a slight coolness about it and already, by that point, the fishermen had been working for hours. Just as the sun was settling into it's mid-morning routine, the fishermen were met by other local villagers on the beach who had come to help pull the heavy boat to shore and inspect their morning's catch.
Seeing the birth of this cuisine — from sea to plate — gave us an even deeper appreciation of the freshness of the seafood we greatly enjoyed throughout our time on the island. For many on St. Lucia, life is simple, yet hard. They work to live, then enjoy their time away from the sea by eating the fruits of their labor and sharing it with their people. There isn’t this incessant drive for great wealth or desire for more, in its place are simplicity, joy, and a lot of great fish.