Thursday, February 05, 2009

by Robin

As soon as lunch was over, I got showered and dressed nicely for heading over to the Doubletree Hotel to listen to the discussion over our S. Atlantic fishery. My boys warned me that I didn't need a shower. Afterall, it was just "a bunch of fishermen". Out of the mouthes of babes.......

How smart are my children!! Here I was thinking of making a good first impression, almost job interview-like in my thinking. Then, reality started kicking in not long after fishermen started pouring in the door. We were early so we had a seat in an inner lobby area so escape the bitter cool air at the sliding doors. When I came back around to pick up my paperwork (attendance & agenda stuff), there was a line nearly out the door of men with plaid shirts, jeans with holes, worker rubber boots, wind-blown, salty hair and faces that hadn't seen a razor blade in 48 hrs. It was a little scary. At one point, a little brunette woman peaked through the shoulders of men and we instantly smiled as if to have a sigh of relief that the othe was not alone in this sea of stinky fishermen.

One man stood out in the crowd and I did end up pegging him right as "Dave" from our favorite fishing forum. He was clean-cut and well-dressed and while he had a beard, it didn't seem to have lunch in it. LOL. I also could see Jack's coworker heading for the door. John C was part of the husband/wife team that we buddy-boated with several months ago (Aug, I believe). We chit-chatted for a while but I knew that his goal wasn't to hang around with a woman with two kids in tow. So, after a while, I was on my own.

One of the seminars about Catch Limits started to begin and the lobby grew quieter. I grabbed up the kids, paperwork, books and pencils and we headed for the back of that room where they could lay across the floor completing 5-digit multiplication and reading. Can you say awkward? These guys literally stepped off the boat and here I walk in with kids, all cleaned up. I felt a little bit like that Jimmy Buffet song, "Sharks to the left, Sharks to the right, and you're the only bait in town." Honestly, though, nobody hit on me or even took a 2nd look but they must have wondered what in the world was I doing there. I had a couple read my pink cap that read, "Offshore Fishing".

I was amazed at the knowledge and arguments out of one of the older gentlemen. If I had seen him on the street, I would have pegged him for a begger with the bare bones reading skills, BUT, I was SOOOOOOOO wrong. Shame on me for judging his outside first. He was citing research and naming names. He held his own against the young, clean-cut somebody (councilman?) who was giving the talking points lecture. Earlier in the day, I had read Psalm 131 which spoke on not having a haughty heart nor lofty eyes. I decided to keep my mouth shut and just learn from the ol' salts. Most of them were crabbers & kingfishermen, some I had seen come into the docks in recent months.

When I realized the speaker was nearing the end of his PowerPoint presentation, I gathered my crew and we stepped out quietly. I ran into Dave and John C once again in the lobby. I was sitting on the fence about giving any sort of testimony in another room down the hallway. Dave reassured me that I would be in & out of there in two minutes if I simple read the outline he had created to simplify the amendment challenges and changes. I grabbed a copy, place the boys in the chairs in the hallway and then walked the "green mile" to the room where I took a seat quietly.

There were 4 other people in there. A room attendant working the recorder & laptop of info. The councilman who came with his very own name plate reading George Geiger. Then, there was a very quiet, unassuming young lady in the back corner of the room who listened intently and took notes occasionally. I'm taking a wild guess but possibly she was some sort of newspaper reporter. In the "hot seat" with the microphone on was an internet friend & fishing buddy of Jack's, JohnB. I had only briefly seen him at the docks once but knew his face from pictures of fish in his hands. He is the owner, or benevolent dictator as he likes to joke, of the fishing forum that we enjoy so much. JohnB and George G have met before today. They have a bit of a history and from my take of it, not a favorable one.

JohnB and Dave (fishing friends) journeyed all the way to N. Carolina to fight the SAFMC & George G a couple months ago. They had had rounds and rounds of words before. This day was nothing more than another round where neither contender had won, nor had they given in. The other JohnC and Dave joined in at some point at the back of the room. At one point, the mic was turned off and direct questions were asked. The gloves were off. Veins popped out. Blood pressures rose. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as I contemplating digging a hole in the proverbial sand and sticking not just my whole head in but body too.

What was I doing here? What was I thinking? Reading bullet points? Ummm, I didn't stand a chance. I didn't have a speck of knowledge at the level these two were professionally arguing. I was the coyote amongst two roadrunners and the ACME anvil was falling fast. What do I do? Slither out in front of my husband's fishing friends and coworker making a fool of myself. Or stay there, trying to speak about something over my head and make a fool out of myself. Either way, I feel like I was going to make a fool of myself and probably be watercooler fodder by next morning.

What did I do?? Close my eyes.

Yep, I closed my eyes and cried out within the confines of my soul for the Father's wisdom. Simple. Yep, simple came to mind. The title to Psalm 131 from earlier that morning. "Simple Trust in the Lord." Ok.... that was my plan. Keep it simple Robin. Wait. Simple what? "God, simple what?? You need to give me more than that." So, I took a deep breath as if to fake patience and peace. Then, He planted another thought in my mind. Months and months ago, I took a Contagious Christian class where one week we focused on telling "your story" in a couple minutes or less. The simple message of that week was the nobody can ever argue with your testimony-- your story. If Christ changed your life and you're a living testimony, then people can't seem to argue with that (as opposed to hitting them over the head with 100 Bible verses). I took that and applied that to fishing. I obviously couldn't fight my way out of a wet paper bag, so I was going to give my story, my eye-witness testimony and a little bit of Mama's common sense to the councilman.

After all three gentlemen were finished and thoroughly satisfied with agreeing to disagree and something about "you can have my seat in 2 years", I was up next. Fortunately, both Johns and Dave left the room together, leaving me with George G. Oh and unfortunately, a small gathering of other waiters had now filled the seats. I was still out of my comfort zone even with a game plan. How smart were they? How many would think I was stupid? Who would stereotype me as __________? (fill in the blank with whatever they wanted to think) I was stuck now. All eyes were on me and the microphone was turned on.

I had Dave's cheat-sheets in front of me and I began to follow them as if I couldn't remember how to state my own name and number of years that I had fished the East Coast. "Simple, Robin" kept running through my head. I started humbly noting that I didn't come nearly as prepared as the man before me. I didn't have facts and statistics, but what I was WAS "the wife of a fishermen, daughter of a fishermen and mom of two fishermen. I came to speak mostly on behalf of my children so they might have a future fishing." I skipped a point about Golden tilefish since I've never caught one. I object to black sea bass pots, saying something about it being good common sense that it was more harmful than good. I gave my story about how I had seen Red Snapper go from 15"-18" regularly to getting keepers regularly. I reminded him that in his previous argument, he admitted the data they use to make regulations is 5 years old, at best. I wanted to tell him that we're seeing an increase in size and numbers of fish. They need better and more accurate data, which was another amendment challenge.

I skipped a page on another amendment and didn't bother to argue coral and so forth. Most of those things, nobody had arguments about. I did want to touch on the last page that was filled with bag limits, size limits, area closings and seasonal closings. I went through most the basic points that were on the cheat sheet but felt I had lost the interest of the councilman, so I went back to speaking from the heart. We didn't abuse the fishing stocks. We don't use longlines (which need to be illegal for indescriminate killing), or nets (killing juvenile offshore fish while looking for shrimp) or pots (which kill indescrimately everything from other reef species to entangling whales & shark). We follow regulations and feel the recreational angler is being punished because we have the smaller voice & couldn't compete against the deep pockets of the commercial fishery. If we had to follow stricter rules, I wanted the commercial folks to be limited too. Otherwise, we were being punished for no good reason.

Afterwards, George thanked me for coming and my time was over. No arguments and no snarls. Just over. No applause and no movie will be made of my testimony. It really lacked the climatic ending I can only dream about in hindsight, but it was done. I did what I came for. The courage of a mother showed up in order to preserve a future for her children. Now that was something I could walk away proud for doing. I can only hope that one day my children will read the archives of this blog on some dusty external hard drive and see a woman who fought for her rights because she believed in something.

Thank you if you even made it this far in reading this. I don't expect many will, but then again, that wasn't the point of my writing this.

Happy Fishing!
Tomorrow will be a great day on the water, but I'll be singing for God.

PS: We're still waiting on a fish finder anyhow. :o(

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