“Soul Fishermen”

It was an awful sight, seeing these big, beautiful fish being brought onto the dock, sliced open with a knife, then their carcasses dumped in a heap on the rocky jetty. There was a huge pile of them, with a million flies, and the smell was really bad.

I stood there watching, beside this big, burly Mexican man. He was eating something out of a tin can. I couldn’t figure how he could have an appetite at such a moment. I looked over at him – his face was dark and weathered, baked by the hot Baja sun; his teeth rotten with some missing; his beard was black and scraggly with many bare spots.
“Horrible thing,” I said.
“Como? What?”
“It’s a horrible thing that so much is wasted.”
“Not wasted,” the man said. “Much money is made.”
“No, I mean the fish that are dumped.”
“They give them to the poor, the taco stands, and the dogs in the streets. But there is just too many. You have had tacos haven’t you?”
“I don’t mind catching them to eat. It’s the waste that is bad.”
“There are plenty fish in the sea. Que no?”
“Not for long at this rate. Is it like this every day?”
“Oh yes. Everyday. You Americanos like to catch fish. So long as there are Americanos from the north, and fish in the sea, there will be fish piled in a heap.”
There were many boats lined up just outside the small harbor waiting to come in. I watched as the next boat came in. It trolled up against the dock, easing in, and with a crane they began hoisting the fish onshore.
“The big ones, the marlins and the sailfish, are drawn up the hoist so they can hang it full-length. They weigh it and take pictures, lots of pictures. The nice ones are stuffed, and sometimes others are brought back to the hotel for a fiesta. But there are always too many,” said the Mexican man.
He continued to spoon food from the tin can into his mouth.
“Would you like to try,” he asked. “It is very good.”
He held the can to close to my face. I looked in and could see little smooth, round cylinder-shaped pieces of white meat and green chilies mixed in a dark red sauce. He grinned widely, displaying his rotten and missing teeth.
“Scallops ranchero,” he said.
“Thank you. But my stomach really isn’t right at the moment.”
He shrugged. Then, looking out at the boat which had just docked, he motioned with his head.
“See. You Americanos like to catch fish.”
There was a huge marlin, one of the biggest ones I had seen all day. The men on the dock were hoisting it up the weigh-bar. Below stood a young girl, maybe twelve years old at most, with light-brown hair and light skin burned pink from the sun. She had a large, sturdy fishing rod in hand, a big straw hat on her head, and she wore pink movie-star sunglasses.
“It’s a crime,” I said.
“A crime, Señor? What do you say?”
“It’s just not right. They’re such beautiful animals – majestic animals. They’ve lived long in the sea. They have been free to roam where they want, only to become fly food on these rocks.”
“Señor, they are soulless creatures."
“Soulless?”
“Si! They are not human. They have no soul. They are for industry.”
“Industry?”
“Yes, a great industry for the poor, and for those who would have little if not for the fish. We are happy that you Americans like to fish. You provide a great and needed industry.”
“You keep saying you Americans?”
He looked at me with a surprised expression on his face. “People here don't fish for sport,” he remarked, sharply.
A flash of light drew my attention back to the dock. Then there was a second flash and I saw the camera pointed at the young girl on the dock. She stood with her fishing pole in hand next to the large fish, four times her size, which was now hanging full-length, up-side-down, by its tail.
“That is decadent,” I said.
The Mexican man turned and looked at me curiously.
“Does it take long for them to die?” I asked.
“Long?”
“To kill them, to kill the fish?”
“No, not long. Before the fish is aboard, got to kill them right away.”
“Quickly?”
“Yes, with a club, or a gun if they have one. Most of these fishermen don’t have guns, so they use a club.” “A club?”
“Yes, beat it in the head with a club, unless it’s a fine fish worth stuffing. Have to kill it right away or it will thrash the entire ship.”
The Mexican man must have sensed my distaste for all of this. He continued to eye me, very seriously.
“It’s not like it’s a child or something, Señor,” he said. “They are fish. They do not have a soul.”
The picture-taking activity on the dock continued. Now the girl was being photographed with a forty-something-year-old man, presumably her father. Finally the camera was set aside. They dropped the huge marlin down from the weigh-scale and it hit the concrete hard with a muted thud. Three Mexican men pushed it, rolled it, off the dock and onto the pile of other dead fish heaped on the rocks below. Two scraggly looking dogs sniffed and gnawed among the pile. Then another boat trolled up and began to unload its catch.

Frank Scozzari

About Frank Scozzari

Pushcart Prize nominee Frank Scozzari resides in Nipomo, a small town on the California central coast. His award-winning short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines including The Emerson Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Tampa Review, Pacific Review, Eleven Eleven, South Dakota Review, Minetta Review, Reed Magazine, Berkeley Fiction Review, Ellipsis Magazine, The Nassau Review, and The MacGuffin, and have been featured in literary theater.