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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
Joanna- This is Joanna and I am with Darrell Poll, and we are
. talking about the history of St. Augustine shrimping, and how
it has developed and changed through time, and what all is
involved. Just go ahead and start off with the how did the
business start here, the families and all.
Darrell Poli- Thank you. The three families that began the
shrimping industry in North Florida, and ultimately St. Augustine
were the Salvatore, Versaggi, and my family, the Poli family.
The gentlemen came to originally Fernandina, settled there,
and began their efforts for developing a means of catching
commercial sales. That eventually led to their move to St.
Augustine where they resided, and developed their fleets, it
was a continuing process. From the 1920s to the end of the
1940s were probably the greatest years the industry had in its
growth and development in this area.' After the World War II,
the boats were ranging further and further away, and the industry
traveled Gulf waters, and down Central America, and into South
America. That's another story. The industry got its real start
as a true industry in Fernandina. More than any thing else that
I believe was in St. Augustine in part because of the families
settling here, and part because of the boat building as well.
So that is very quickly through the families established here.
Joanna- What about the boat building? Who all was involved
in that, and what was going on in that during that time?
Darrell Poli- Here again to understand this business of fishing
is that there were many individual businessmen that established
S the industry. Not only in fishing, but also in boat building.
So, there were a number of men that, primarily Greek, boat
builders that came to the area contracting to build boats for
the fishermen. They were particularly knowledgeable. They
brought talents that they brought with them from the
Mediterranean They adapted their techniques and ideas to the
industry that was here, and they became very popular throughout
the south eastern United States. Not only in the Atlantic,
but also the Gulf of Mexico Coast.
Joanna- They built ships for people all the way over there?
Darrell Poli- They eventually built ships for people all over
the world. They came to buy boats here because of the techniques
that were established through the boat yards here. One of the
largest and famous ones was a company called Diesel Engine Sales,
which was later a company by the name of DESCO, which was an
abbreviation of the words Diesel Engine Sales. There were,
I believe they went up into the thousands of boats that were
traveling waters all over the world in pursuit of shrimp. Shrimp
was a delicacy that was known in the Mediterranean that became
a highly apprised delicacy in the United States. As people
became more fluent there was shrimp cocktail which would be
served in restaurants in New York, and Boston, and Philadelphia.
It was a very big market. Also, as refrigeration progressed
the availability of seafood inland, where we could now go to
areas like Kansas City, and Chicago, shrimp became even more
valuable, and more in demand. It just wasn't a local seafood
product that could satisfy those needs, it had to go world wide.
We could go into maybe the mechanics of the seafood industry.
How do they actually catch these critters out there at the
bottom. If we had to start off with one point, we had to pick
on point because it is a cycle. As they start out in the rivers
and streams, and marsh areas that are in the protected waters
of the coast.
Joanna- Ok, we left off you were going to tell me about
shrimping, and how it starts. Could you tell us a little bit
about how the shrimp get to St. Augustine, and why they get
Darrell Poli- When we look at the southeast coast of the United
States we notice something that is very important, at least
from the fishing stand point that is very important. There
are a tremendous number of inlets, rivers, salt water marshes,
creeks, tidal areas where shrimp begin their life. Because
of that it is only natural that there is a large population
to grow, and eventually enough for us to catch. The particular
species, that is the most common and productive species in the
United States is called in industry terms the white shrimp.
He will come from the Carolinas all the way down to Cape
Canaveral in Florida. That is the range in which these shrimp
are caught. When they're off shore, you find them in areas
with mud type bottoms, which are generally free of obstruction
that leads to the type of fishing, which is trawling, to catch
the shrimp. Traditionally the shrimp in this stage will begin
in late August, early September to migrate'from the rivers and
marshes, through the inlets to off-shore waters. Now, that
will continue on until the first of January, sometimes February
depending on the weather conditions. That would be the most
accurate time for catching white shrimp. The means by which
they catch those is using a net which is a funnel type net.
Normally a boat will pull from two to four of those type nets,
on one boat. They will drag those nets within a twelve mile
range of the shore line. The time that they will spend out
at sea depends. Some boats will. spend just a day, where other
boats will spend anywhere from twelve to fourteen days.
Depending on the way that they are able to keep their catch,
either by ice which is when you keep stuff in an ice chest,
or by mechanical refrigeration which would be a freezer on board
where they could freeze them at. You talk about the shrimp
and how they are caught all along this coast, but what made
St. Augustine such a viable spot was the shrimp tend when they
come off shore, they actually travel south is what we see.
We see that the shrimp populations would travel south. This
is not to say that all the shrimp travel south, but because
of that tendency the are off of St. Augustine with its very
natural flat, smooth bottom, very muddy bottom, is a primary
where the shrimp will congregate and collect. When the shrimpers
first came to St. Augustine and began to experiment around here,
with their boats and their nets, they found that this was a
very productive ground. The shrimp would come out of these
creeks, there are a lot of creeks up here, and follow these
creeks out north off us, and the shrimp would wind up down here
in St. Augustine.
Joanna- What is that called when the shrimp go down to here?
Darrell Poli- The Literal Drift, is one thing we were talking
about. That is a current that helps to move them along. There
are other things that contribute too. Weather conditions
contribute also. First, we get what is called a northeaster.
It is thought, I don't know how scientific it is, that.it can
actually be a more powerful force. The shrimp, when they feel
the barometric pressure change, that makes them active. There
are also theories that they know that the storm is approaching,
and don't want to be washed ashore by the high tide, so they
move forward, and ultimately the tide, and wind and waves push
them in the opposite direction. If the storm is in the north,
then obviously they go south. So that is also one of the
theories. There are also some theories about water temperatures,
when it is very cold snaps coming through, and the water
temperature cools down, it is very cloudy that the shrimp
congregate together. They aren't as spread out over a large
area. These are a lot of theories, some may be true. There
may be other reasons why it happens. All of these things working
together, make these fellows do some things, and maybe they
will catch them, and maybe they won't catch them. Anyway, that
congregation of shrimp off the shore to the north and south
of St. Augustine, was one of the reasons that the fishermen
came here and settled here, and developed the industry. It
was a productive area from the start. That gives you a little
idea about why St. Augustine is doing fishing. You talked a
little bit about the boat building industry. Obviously boats
were very important to these guys to catch the shrimp. If you
had a better boat, then you may catch more shrimp, and make
more money. That is what the industry did. It became a highly
sought after knowledge. If you knew how to build a good boat,
and could improve on it, you're in good shape. As they develop
these boats, and made them more economical, the fishermen and
shrimping in St. Augustine became very popular. Particularly
as the industry spread into the Gulf Coast, people saw this
as a means of opportunity, so consequently they would go to
the boat builders and they would want a boat, and say 'Build
me a boat as quickly as you can.' So a lot of people got into
Joanna- Did they have boat houses, where they were made in
assembly line or something?
Darrell Poli- They did, and that is what made the industry
actually was that they converted to assembly line production
with one lined up after another. As they turned these out,
they turned out so many vessels at one point which is a lot,
because the size of the vessels were approximately 70 to 75
foot in length. They were turning out at one point probably
20 to 22 vessels a month. Which is a lot. Eventually, that
market became so saturated that it became the demise of the
boat building industry. There were too many boats, they were
built too well, they were going to last too long, so consequently
the demand for boats went down. There are still some boats
built, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, but those are of a
different nature. There is such a supply of vessels today,
and with the techniques of catching shrimp, we have way more
Stec ni uesa76
boats than are needed. So consequently...
Joanna- They don't need to build them anymore.
Darrell Poli- They won't for a while, but eventually that will
change. The technique while it has been perfected, it has come
to a place where there's not much else you can do to catch
shrimp, than we can right now. The materials like fiberglass,
you know where wood rots, and steel rusts, fiberglass is forever
almost. That is probably going to be the material of choice
in the future. You will probably see the fleet gradually change
over, and see more of the fiberglass vessels, and you will see
the wood and steel vessels, they will go by the wayside.
Joanna- Is that what the boats were made of down here? Wood
Darrell Poli- Wood, and then they went to fiberglass.
Joanna- Here? DESCO worked with fiberglass?
Darrell Poli- Yeah, they sure did. There were some other
companies that did some too. The economics have not yet given
it an opportunity to come back. It is anybody's guess when
that will happen. Probably, at some point fiberglass will be
the vessel of choice for this type of fishing anyway.
Joanna- About how many vessels would you say were made here,
and about what time period?
Darrell Poli- I would think around the late 1970's a survey
was done them of fishing vessels involved in shrimping which
is primarily in the southeastern United States, which is
primarily here, and the Gulf of Mexico, there was 5,000 vessels
engaged in that activity. It's techniques can and are still
continuing to evolve to make boats more efficient. There is
. a limited amount of amount of shrimp that you can catch. You
can only count on so much a year coming out of these rivers.
The need for that number of vessels for shrimp decreased. Let
me give you an idea, when we were looking at some photographs,
we saw some pictures of some small boats. These boats were
probably thirty to forty five feet in length. Now you are
looking at a boat that is almost twice that size, and you
probably catch anywhere from four to eight times the amount
of shrimp than you could with the smaller boat. So the economies
are still at work, so the number of vessels will probably
decrease, but the production will probably remain pretty much
a constant. I can't give you the figures, although there are
agencies that track that, and can tell you the amount of
production in the particular areas, United States wise of
shrimping. That is pretty much a level thing. The techniques
are very mechanical. We'll talk about the nets, and how they
use those. They are drug a long the bottom, and they travel
primarily in mud bottom areas. What they, in the language of
the fishermen, they travel in what are called slews. Like,
if you have been to the beach, and what they call a slew at
the beach, it is a depression in the shore, and where it gets
deep all of the sudden, and it will be that way for a ways.
Well, the shrimp will congregate in those areas, in those muddy
bottoms, because that is where they are protected, that is where
food is. That is where they want to be. If you are a fisherman,
and you find one of those, that's where you want to catch.
And, by and large, that is the areas where they want to be.
. They want to stay away from the coral or anything that would
catch on their nets. That's harmful to them, and plus they
aren't going to catch anything. They want to stay.out of that
area. The only thing that is really involved in the mechanics
of it, is pretty much the same as it was. It has been modified
over the years, and still changes, but as we've gone along where
the nets were first made out of cotton and twine, now they are
made out of nylon, which is a rot resistant fiber. They still
use mechanical wenches and cables to connect the nets to the
boat, and to hoist them on board. They still use tackle blocks
which go back to the beginning of man first beginning to sail
the seas. Those are still devices that they use on board, as
a means of bringing catch on board. Electronics has been a
big advantage to boats, because now they can navigate at night,
and in the fog. It is very precise navigation ways that they
have so their accuracy in finding those slews where the shrimp
are is more accurate than it used to be when they didn't have
electronics. That is the very broad brush approach to the
mechanical end of it. We could get more into the technical
aspects of it, but those are visual things that when you are
talking on tape it is harder to describe. If I were to tell
you what a pelican hook is, you would wonder what it was. It
is a term that didn't even come out of fishing, it came from
actually way back in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds. It
is a hook that is used for a specific purpose.
Joanna- What is it used for?
Darrell Poli- It is used for holding a line, and then wanting
to release the line quickly. Pelican hook is a releasing hook
that lets the line go free. Most everything in the fishing
industry, and in general anything you do with the marine
industry, as far as vessels are concerned, there's always change.
It is constantly never ending. Someone is always trying to
find out how to do things more efficiently, more safely, it
just an industry, and that is what it's true driver is. We've
seen probably the biggest industry, not so much on itself, but
it has been as we see the coastal areas become more heavily
populated, there is a lot of pressure on the fishing industry
from a variety of areas. One of the areas is the nursery areas,
right up and down the coast, of rivers and creeks and whatnot.
Before these areas were wild areas, nobody lived there.
Everything was just in it's natural state. Today, we have power
plants, we have pulp mills, we have developments, golf courses,
and all that competing now with those areas to take those over,
and life next to them. When you do that you get whatever, when
I say waste I do not mean that we are throwing a lot of garbage
out there, we have just altered the coast. What happens now
is when we do that, we use our resources that the shrimp is
under stress. You can only have so many people in so many areas,
and it seems that has happened. So now we have the recreational
end of it and those fishers saying, we think that commercial
fishing interferes with recreational fishing. That can be
up to debate, and on both sides there is a debate about it.
What's happened now is we have had a constitutional amendment
that was passed that further restricts how fishing will be done.
Joanna- That is a state constitutional amendment three, right?
Darrell Poli- Right. That recently passed. Now they've
restricted fishing in all Florida waters to certain conditions.
It primarily affects your fin fishing like your flounder, and
snapper, and grouper, and those type of fish. Salt water as
well. It does affect shrimping to a certain degree. It has
an issue regarding turtles. That is still out for debate.
The industry, I think has a pretty good handle on that, on what
happens with turtles. Turtles are very slow moving creatures
that travel through the water. They have addressed that with
some devices, and I believe they've done a good job on that.
They also reducing bycatch in their nets. They don't just catch
shrimp, they also catch fish, and a lot of other things. Well,
bycatch is primarily spots, croakers, blue crab, and just various
things that happen to be in those slew areas, some of which
are after the shrimp. A lot of them are after the shrimp.
What they are doing now is they are coming up with devices to
eliminate that. Which is not all bad, because it will make
the shrimp boats more efficient so they will catch just shrimp,
but by the same token too, some of that by product is sold too,
and that is going to be lost to them as an income. So, that
is one of the issues that they will deal with.
Joanna- How are they going to prevent those things coming in
if they are the same size?
Darrell Poli- Well, it is all mechanical. That is where I was
talking about if we had visuals, we could get into that, and
I could show you the devices that are used in the nets to help
eliminate they bycatch. There is another theory to that too.
Only in the United States do we have such waste, if you want
to call it that. In other countries of the world, everything
would be taken. There would be no excess by catch. Everything
caught would be consumed, and used for human consumption. Most
of what you catch in the ocean is all good. As a matter of
fact we protect turtles here. In Mexico, the Carribeans, in
Polynesia, where ever you go, turtle is considered a prime catch.
And it is. I mean if you go back far enough in time,
particularly in the Mediterranean where most of this stuff came
from, that was a high prized delicacy. Something you have to
understand about fishing is that it is a commercial venture.
Fishing is one of the easiest ways to buy a protein source with
very little investment. Return on investment, the capitol that
you make on fishing, initially in man's history was very quick.
You didn't have to go out and sow seed to make the fish grow,
the fish were there. He only had to devise a way to go out
and catch them. Once he did that and caught them, he could
catch a lot of them. That would feed a lot of people back at
home. So, it-was a very fresh source of food too, because
whatever you caught that day, you ate that day. With
refrigeration and all we became more mechanized. Then we were
feeding people, not just at home, but a few miles inland too.
So the techniques that we have developed, and the natural events
that have happened in society, and the technological advances,
affect other things and alter things in the fishing industry
too. We have probably reached in the whole southeastern United
States we've reached the maximum yield in probably the late
sixties, early seventies. And those totals are go up and down,
but there is an average in there. Now, we're a little bit
concerned that if development continues along the coast, that
some of the things that we've seen such as, not directly with
the shrimping industry, we're talking like the oyster industry
which are heavily dependent on fresh clean water in the bays
and in the rivers, those become more and more run off becomes
more of a critical nature, that puts more stress on the industry.
That sort of gives you a little bit on some of those issues
too. One of the reasons, what we are looking at when we look
at the question why is there a shrimping industry, and why will
there probably always be one.
If you look at this whole are in here, this is Mother Nature,
this is her background, this is her yard, so to speak. We can
try to duplicate it, but we can't duplicate it as cheeply as
she can. She have a way of providing this whole system works.
They call it an ecosystem, but it is just nature doing what
it does. The product as far as the fish, or shrimp, or scallops
or clams or whatever they are protected by that, by the way
the environment is. They grow from it, they regenerate and
they have a life cycle that is generally, basically twelve
months. Most of your seafood carries that.with the exception
of fin fish. Those turtles, sharks all those have much longer
lives. Most of the invertebrates they like shrimp, oysters,
those will all carry the shorter life time. So, that's a little
S bit there. I don't know if there is anything else.
Joanna- Yes, you said earlier when we were talking about the
way that they know how the shrimp will run is because they track
them. They tag them and track them. How do they track them?
Is it an electronic pulse, or just put a tag on them, and see
where they end up?
Darrell Poli- Yes. That is it. The University of Georgia
has been very big in that. They would tag shrimp, is a way
to do it, they would then release them in certain areas. The
would offer a reward for anyone catching them. To the fishermen
catching them, they would say if you catch one of these they
are worth five dollars. So, that guy would send the tag back
in, and report where they caught them. In most cases they would
actually send the shrimp back in. They had the means of doing
Joanna- Did they put them in a jar or what?
Darrell Poli- Yes, something like that. Really they had them
on ice so they were well preserved. They would check them out
for weight, and size, and that sort of thing. They came up
with some ideas on why they are where they are, and where they've
been, and how fast they grew since they were released. It's
a couple of things on shrimp. I think the shrimp is 40% water.
You do see, we don't do it here, we have some customs that are
a little bit different from elsewhere in the world, but you'll
see in cultures that will cook the shrimp whole, head and all.
There are places they eat the whole thing. There's nothing
wrong with that. He's all...
Darrell Poli- Here we head them, throw the shells away, devein
them even. We sanitize them pretty good. So, that is just
the way we happen to do it. The seasons, I can give you a little
introduction on that already. Primarily the heaviest season
is June throughout the first of January. We do have some closed
seasons, in April and May when fishing for shrimp off the Florida
coast is restricted to three miles off shore. You can't fish
within three miles of the shore line. But primarily, those
are the busiest times of the year. Actually there are shrimp
that are caught, the deep water shrimp are caught, which are
not dependent on coast line, so we don't get into those. There
is a fin fish industry, which are snapper and grouper, sword
fish and tuna, which are caught off St. Augustine, actually
the whole Southeastern United States which we haven't gotten
into, but that's a coastal industry that exists as well. The
changes that have been, there have been changes from almost
the very beginning.
Darrell Poli- When they first started catching shrimp
commercially, they used cast nets, put them in barrels and sent
them to New York.
Joanna- How do you catch shrimp in cast nets?
Darrell Poli- They would cast the circular nets, and they would
go over the shrimp, and they would catch them in the rivers.
It went from that to vessels trawling nets, to now to where
in some countries they are trying to develop, and have
successfully in some areas, commercial shrimp farming. That
has been tried here in the United States, and it's hard to do.
It is limited to the marsh land areas that we have. Recently
in the Orient they found that shrimp develop disease when they
are contained in an area. It is not disease that is harmful
to humans, but it is harmful to the shrimp. So, it gets back
to what we were talking about before how Mother Nature is the
best one at this. She can do it better than we can. Probably
we've seen for a while anyway, the basic technique of dragging
and trawling the shrimp is going to be with us for some time
to come. And shrimp is considered to have a finite amount of
product, so you probably won't see any big increase in demand.
Shrimp is primarily a food that is consumed at restaurants.
Not to many people prepare anything at home, let alone shrimp.
Joanna- I've done that with my grandparents in Pensacola.
Darrell Poli- You've done that. Well, it's not too hard to
do. There are not too many places in the States that you can
go inland or on the coast that you won't find shrimp at. It
helps to have good refrigeration, that helps to make it a viable
product as well. That's about it. That is probably all that
I can tell you in one sitting.
Joanna- One thing about the shrimping industry, they have the
shrimp farming and one problem was they get hungry the
canibalistic tendencies of the shrimp if they are not feed.
Darrell Poli- They do know about that though, so they keep them
well feed. That is not a problem because they do commercial
food, there is all kinds of work that is going on and continues
to go on with aquiculture. People do look to that as the way
of the future. Perhaps some day that will be accomplished,
some will claim that it is already here, others will tell you
that it's not. It is not that you can't do it, but the cost
of producing it can be very very high. When you try to duplicate
this environment out here, that's expensive. As a consequence,
we are a market economy and with prices established as they
are, what drives the price is supply and demand. If you have
the supply and you have the demand, then the prices equal out.
So for people to try to come in and do the acquiculture thing,
it has been more successful in areas such as clams and mussels
in those areas, and somewhat in softshell crab, than shrimp.
The shrimp industry has met with some success, but like I say
they have come up against some problems with diseases in the
confined areas. That is sort of a drawback.
Joanna- I had never known before that shrimp were canibalistic,
and that if they got hungry they would look to their neighbor.
Darrell Poli- Yes, if you get them to a confined spot, let's
say this room was all there was, and we were full of water,
we're three shrimp sitting here, and there was no food, after
* a while some one is going to go WUP! That may be taking it
to the extreme there, but that does happen. You wouldn't notice
that in the wild.
If you were to look at a shrimp, a shrimp takes on the
color of its habitat. That protects it. When they get in there
in a gray, mud bottom, which is what you see a lot, they have
sort of a gray-whitish color to them. They have the capability
of burrying in the mud and that is all for protection you see.
They can get away from fish that see them as a food source also.
That's one of the things that you see in other things in the
ocean, they have the means to change their color, or developing
spots to look like a piece of rock or a piece of the bottom.
Flounders are very, you can't see them very easily. Their
underside is very white, but their topside is generally the
color of their environment. Those are all natural protections
that they have. Was there anything else you wanted to know?
Joanna- You went into a lot of the history of this before we
started. I would like go into that a little more. Who was
Anthoy Poll that we talked about?
Darrell Poli- Anthony Poli was my grandfather's brother.
Joanna- And he was the person that started it here?
Darrell Poli- It was three of them.
Joanna- Was Anthony Poli the one that called his brother?
Darrell Poli- He was the one that called his brother. His
brother his name was Nazareno Poli, but they called him Nick.
That is what happened with a lot of the names being that they
were of European abstraction, they carried names that were not
common to here. So consequently, when a lot of them moved here
and built their lives here and finished their lives here, so
they Americanized in many ways and adopted names that were more
in keeping with what the culture was here.
Joanna- Where was your family from?
Darrell Poli- They came from a town called Agusta in Sicily.
It is still there, it is a big town. It is a seaport town.
As a consequence many of the people that came from there,
actually all three families that were primarily the start of
the industry were from that town.
Joanna- Did they know each other then?
Darrell Poli- I don't believe that they did. I think that when
they came here the, uh, Agusta was a big town. And so none
of them, I don't believe, actually had a fishing background
back there, but they were familiar with the fishing techniques,
and when they came here they used hard work and ingenuity to
develop it. They became experts at it.
Fernandina was the first stop that they made. At that
point in time, at the turn of the century, Florida was just
being discovered. Flaggler had just opened its hotels at the
end of the ninteenth century. In the late eighteen hundreds
he had been building his hotels. And so people were just now
beginning to discover Florida and come south. And transportation
was much easier. With the railroads were able to come down
so you could see Florida, and those trains also had to go back
so they could carry a product back with them.
Joanna- So your great grandfather's brother that was Nick Poli,
. and there were the Salvadors too.
Darrell Poli- There were the Polls, the Salvadors, and the
Versaggis. Those were the three families.
Joanna- Now, Anthony Poli, how many ships do you think he had?
Darrell Poli- I believe that he had as many as six.
Joanna- That's him in the photograph.
Darrell Poli- Yes, that is him. They would, as the industry
was going, some would build a lot of boats, and some would build
a few, some would one. They sort of went along with what they
thought they could handle. Also, there was a turnover in boats.
Actually there was a shortage of boats, because so many boat
builders could only build so many boats at a time. It almost
become profitable for some cases if someone had a boat and it
was getting older, to sell the boat, and buy a new one. They
could get the latest boat with the new horsepower, and all
that. That is just a natural thing that would occur in any
endeavor. I don't believe that at any one time, he had more
than maybe four or five boats.
Joanna- You said this in the picture was the Seahawk. What
was some of the other things that they would name them after?
Darrell Poli- Well, he had the Seahawk. He named the Matansas.
He also named a boat after each one of his daughters. He named
one Celeste, and he named one Josephine. In mentioning that
the boats were sold periodically, during what was known as
prohibition, which was when the manufacture and sale and
* consumption of alcoholic beverages was prohibited in the United
States, if you didn't make it here, then they brought it in
from elsewhere. One of the boats was, after he had sold it,
well the fellow that he sold it to took the boat, and started
to engage in, to use the term Rum-Running. The boat was
confiscated while he was trying to transport alcoholic beverages
illegally into the country. I remember it had been one of the
boats that had been named after my aunt, and she didn't play
that up too much. She wasn't too thrilled about that.
Joanna- No, I don't anyone would be too thrilled about that.
How did you say that the Mantasas got it's name?
Darrell Poli- It was named after the river here, the Matansas
river. I think it was like so many of the people of that time
they took names from either family or the environment as a
local, and they would name boats after that. We've had them
named for a family member. They have been named as describing,
one boat was named the Breadwinner. Becuase that what just
what it did. We also borrowed from history a little bit, I
don't know if it is the exactly the whole story behind it,
but he did one boat the Nin-, he named one boat the Pinta, and
he named one the Santa Maria.
Joanna- Is that Santa Maria still being used?
Darrell Poli- There was another boat that was built, those
particular ones. You have to understand, how does a boat get
its name? That is, for commercial boats and it is also for
pleasure boats to a certain extent, it is an activity that goes
under the coast guard. When you register your vessels you are
given a name, and no two boats can be given the same name.
There has to be some distinguishing between the two. When we
had that one, obviously that was the only one that could be
used. There was a vessel that was built later on, and it did
adopt that name, a wooden boat. It is still here I think.
Joanna- Yeah, I think it is because I think I saw the person.
Darrell Poli- You probably have seen it. Nobody else within
the continental United States can use that name. So, if I give
up the boat, and the name changes, then the name is free again,
and you can use it.
Joanna- So, when you sell a boat, the name can be changed?
Darrell Poli- The name can be changed. Or you can keep it,
whichever you want to do. You have to work it out between the
buyer and seller.
Joanna- Is the name of the ship really important to the people?
Darrell Poli- I think it is. I think it has some significance.
Otherwise they would call it like Boat 1, Boat 2, Boat 3, you
know. They did. You would see boats named all sorts of names.
A vessell was a personal thing to them. I think to most people
it is. There's something about the sole ownership of a vessel,
it's an enterprise, it has a lot of, sometimes it is overall
romanticied, probably more than it should be. It makes for
good reading sometimes. I hope this makes for good reading.
3,onna- Yes, thank you. So they had the different names. What
was involved in the family business after him? How did they
carry on the shrimping business?
Darrell Poli- My grandfather passed away when he was sixty.
He had two daughters and a son. An older daughter, a younger
daughter, and then a son in the middle. The middle son, that
was my father, that was Dominique Poli. This came about after
World War II. My grandfather was still operating boats at that
time, and my father stuck around when his father passed away.
At approximately that same time, he and his brother-in-law had
started a supply business for the vessels. With all of the
boat activity that was going on, supply was becoming very
important. So, they developed, next to where the boats were
docked, they developed a business there. They supplied the
nets, and the cables, and the blocks, and the tackle, and
everything else, and everything else and between that went to
keeping the vessels running. As a consequence, he couldn't
do both, so at that point seeing that it was the height of the
industry, they made the assumption that it was as good as it
was going to get here. They were doing really well with the
supply business, so they decided to follow that. That was just
a career move, decision that my father, and my uncle made, and
got into that business and continued on in that. My father
passed away when he was also sixty. I am trying very hard not
to keep that precedent. He and my uncle developed they the
business, and I came along after I finished college, and have
been with it since that time. Most people in this industry,
are scheduled to work around it now. We have been in the boats
some, but we're primarily in the supply end is where the interest
was. We've really stayed with that. Pretty much the industry
is characterized by the individual owners and operators. Meaning
that the person operating the vessel today is more than likely
the owner. It's not one that lends itself to fleet ownership
very much. It's very knowledge intensive, practical knowledge
intensive. Today he has to be a weatherman, he has to be a
mechanic, he has to be a cook, he has to be a deck hand. He
has to be a lot. He has to know how it all works, and how it
all fits together. From the time he leaves the dock until the
time it gets back, it's pretty much non-stop action and decision
making. People don't look at it, they look at it and they see
the romantic side of the boat. They see the rigging hanging
out, and the lights on the boat. But when you come right down
to it, it is work, and a lot of hard work. Romanticism is
removed pretty quick if you go out there. I suggest that if
you get the opportunity.
Joanna- We are trying to. We went on Fazio's boat one day,
but he didn't take us out. A couple of the groups have been
able to go out, but we haven't been able to find anyone here
to take us out. We're trying to set up to go out with an
oysterman, I think his name is Phil Cochran, he said he might
take us oystering one day.
Darrell Poli- You might want to, does it matter where you go
out, do you just want to go out of St. Augustine? I mean it
really doesn't matter where you go out. Mayport would be good.
You would probably have more of a chance there.
Joanna- Yes, I think that our group in Mayport was able to go
Darrell Poli- If you do get a chance, to find someone who would
take you out so it's not over night.
Joanna- Yes, someone offered to take us, but it would have been
for ten days. That would not have worked very well.
Darrell Poli- If you could find someone who could possibly take
you out for just a day, a lot of what we have talked about would
make more sense. Then you would actually begin to see from
the beginning to the end of the process, and you would better
understand what really goes on. Many of the difficulties that
people have, that I've seen, I'm going to tell you what I do,
but I am going to do it five miles away from here where you
can't see me very easily because I am working on a boat. What
happens many times, and difficulties that fishermen have
particularly when assumptions are made by individuals who are
not present when the activies take place, is that people make
assumptions. I see him when he left, and I see him when he
came back, but then inbetween we start trying to figure out
what he actually does. And this fellow says this, and this
fellow says this, and this fellow says this. Which when it
gets all taken together, maybe it doesn't come out clearly as
to what really transpires. So a lot of the issues, like the
turtle issue, become very much confused and off track. The
conclusions that are drawn are not necessarily the ones that
are actual. To give you an idea that some people who were of
the opinion, particularly a lot of people that move here and
have not been around this before, they will say oh dolphins
are caught in nets. Well, that was an issue that was in the
Pacific with the tune boats, but the nature of shrimp trawling
is that a dolphin would have to try to get caught. He would
want to get caught. The boats are just too slow for them to
be caught. So those are the kinds of things that only by being
around the industry, by being with it and observing it would
the true knowledge of what is this industry and how does it
really work. It's not like farming, where you can go out and
see the farm, and you can see the planting, and you can see
harvesting and that sort of thing. Fishing industry, by the
same token too, it is an industry that is even out of the sight
of the fisherman, in that it all takes place underwater. It's
taken a long time for these fellows to learn, but by the same
token there are still things that are being learned. I think
it is pretty commendable that you are undertaking this activity.
It's truly a part of history. It was an important industry.
And it was not only here, what you are doing here is a local
history, but it's a history that has repeated itself throughout
the world. There is a fishing industry almost everywhere you
go, and each has it's own history, it's own stories to tell.
It's a way of life. I think that draws the people that are
in it to stay in it. The people that are drawn to it, is why
they come to it is because it is a life that is different from
what you see just about anywhere else. It tends to be a very
self sufficient life style. You tend to see people in boats
because when they leave off shore, and going about for usually
a week, and all those things that happen to us on land happen
to them out there, and they have to take care of it out there
with very limited resources of what's at hand. Where as here,
when you get hungry and you want something to eat, we can get
in the car and drive to McDonalds. Or if we cut our finger
we go to the emergency room, or the emergency care unit. Out
there, they have to...
Joanna- Fix it themselves.
Darrell Poli- Exactly. It's a different, actually a little
philosophical here. That is pretty much the industry and the
type of life style that it brings.
Joanna- Would you go over the coins you showed me in the book?
Darrell Poli- You are talking about the script?
Joanna- Yes, the script.
Darrell Poli- That is something that is not peculiar to the
fishing industry, but it is something that they did use. The
fishing houses, as the traditional industry name was used, the
shrimp were brought in and processed and packeged for shipment.
The workers would be paid in script. Those were coins that
were made specifically for the individual shrimp house. The
coin was made to represent a specific amount of monetary value
that was paid for a certain amount of product or work that was
done by the worker. At the end of the day, they would bring
those script house there, and they would turn those in for the
equivilant of real currency. It's not a practice that is done
anymore, that went by the wayside many many years ago. On a
. historical note, that was not only here, but groceries stores
and other places did it. It was a common practice of that time
to issue script. St. Augustine held a lot of its colonial ways
a lot longer than some other towns and as a consequence, that
was a practice that was used in the industry. They used these
brass coins which were much easier to handle in the fish house,
and it was very wet and hard environment. So instead of handling
cash and paper money that would become soiled or destroyed,
they issued script. That was the use of script.
Joanna- There was one with Anthony Poli's name on it too. Did
he have his own shrimp house?
Darrell Poli- Yes, both he and my grandfather did. It was not
uncommon for people to have individual fish houses or to share
fish houses. Each one had their own script, because they would
be unloading different boats. When they would come in, it was
a very active procedure when a boat would come in. They would
be loaded down with shrimp, and they would have to move very
quickly because the product would have to be moved from a
refrigerated hold or an ice hold into boxes where they would
be iced further down, and they would have to get those out very
quickly. Eventually the trucks rolled away. I believe rail
was used at one time early on, and they would have to stop along
the way periodically to ice the catch down to keep it fresh
until it arrived in the northern markets where they finally
sent the product.
Joanna- Oh, so everyone had their own script. Who did they
get to coin this script?
Darrell Poli- That I am not entirely sure of, but evidentally
they had companies, it was a very common thing for companies
. to do this. There was nothing elaborate about it. Apparently
they had some little design and inscription on there, very simple
design, and the name of the person issuing the script and that
was about it. It might say on there Five Cents or something
like that. That is what they issued it for.
Joanna- They would just turn it in for they use it. Did they
have company grocery stores that they could use it at?
Darrell Poli- The fish houses, no they didn't, but that is where
the idea came from. I think they brought that idea from
elsewhere, and incorporated it into their activities. Although
I do understand that there were stores around town that issues
their own script, and that was to encourage people to buy at
Joanna- They would pay in cash, and get that as their change.
Darrell Poli- Pretty much. They could bring it back again,
and use that to buy more goods. Eventually one currency evolved,
and that's what is the acceptable means of exchange.
Joanna- It is kind of like the Mikey Mouse money. You pay a
dollar, and you get a dollar of Mickey Mouse money but you can
only use it in Disney World or the Disney store.
Darrell Poli- Well, exactly. That is exactly it.
Joanna- Just a comparison of what they are doing with it now,
where it has come to.
Darrell Poli- It was just a means, it was a way that they could
pay the people as they completed the work. Literally, they
would not wait to the end of the day to be paid, as they would
do the work, they would be paid on a regular hourly basis pretty
Joanna- That way they could say..
Darrell Poli- So a person could, if they finished their work
unloading the boat, in two o'clock in the afternoon they could
go home. There was not too much book keeping to do at that
point. It was a different society, a different culture at the
time, and that was one way affairs were handled.
Joanna- Another thing was the blessing of the ships. Have you
ever been a part of that? What all is involved with that?
Darrell Poli- That is not too involved, but it was a custom
that was established, again I believe that was a European custom.
The idea being that all of the fishermen came from religious
families, and the Catholic church was the predominate religion.
There was a ceremony established where the bishop of the biases
would bless the boats annually. Calling upon All Mighty God
to bless the boats for the year, and protect the crew. There
is a regular litany that is said. There would be, generally,
some activity surrounding that. It got to be pretty elaborate
at one point where they would, everyone attend church. It has
always been held, as far as I know, on Palm Sunday. They would
process from the church to a pier on the bay front, and the
boats would be outfitted in penants, and very colorful and
painted up. They would go through, and the bishop would sprinkle
holy water on the vessel, and pronounce it's blessing. That
was just considered a tradition that they all believed in and
all participated in. I've gone through it myself, although
it is nothing more than riding the boat through. When you are
younger, you really thought it was a big thing, and you liked
to do that. It seemed like everyone was focusing on you. You
felt special. It was an activity though. It continues on to
this day. Primarily in the beginning it was all fishing vessels,
today it is a minority of fishing vessels and they have allowed
other vessels to participate. Those have become the main
element. It is also now a social event, with a big art show
that goes on in the town. There are other activities, so it's
different. There's a lot of things in life that change, we
adopt new ideas.
Joanna- Yes, we do. There has been a lot of change here in
St. Augustine in the shrimping business, and I thank you for
sharing it with me.
Darrell Poli- You are welcome. I was glad to help.