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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interview with Joe Tuttle, Restaurant Owner & Crabber
Linda.... This is Linda Udi interview Joe Tuttle on the second
of November at Six Mile Marina.
Tell us first what business you are in.
Joe: I'm in the crabbing business. I cook crabs for a living
and I have a restaurant.
L.i.nda: You don't own this restaurant.
Joe. Yeah, I do.
Linda. You do, o.k. You actually go out and crab yourself?
Joe: I crab and commercial fish. I catch crabs and sell the
crabs by the dozen and by the pound.
L.in.d.aa Then you come back and cook them and run this
restaurant? You do all this in a day?
Linda: Can you tell me a little more about how you accomplish
all this? When do you go out?
Coe Well you get up and you get the crab bait, put gas in
the bat, go out on the river and pull like 200-- 2-O crb pots by
hand. Out of 100 traps, you catch about 2- boxes of crabs. So you
figure you eateh three per box of crab today. sometime more,
depend: on thh sea: cr.. Since they started s-raing for water
y.r."ithc e-nd -tuff li-e tt they're killed all the water plant:.
The money' allocated from the.: University of Florida they did a
study on aquatic vegetation and how it hindered up the river. They
trte Cd cr- inr forC the \yanciths, so they got money from
.J..lhan.ee they went c, certain -5encies and they use that money
every year ,to sray water hyaneith What that does is it killed
ere t- crabe t. They i: in these hyancith and they blow
S ers the and plu th: Manatee: eat these. They
sprayed the hyancith: and killed the hyancith. and the crab has
bee- declining f.r the past 20 year, steadily going down. They
t ill Tprat. fo th. h--an ithc. 11
Linda' Why are they still praying?
7,' .,eec.usse of boat navigational purposes. Put th: .,anates.
... the h _-n eith. and people don't realize: how valuable the
hyanciths are in the river. They're getting this money ever; ycer
e--d i they don't u:e it they won't get it the next year. So, it's
li.e an overkill. What the government hac done is put a
restriction on crabbing thinking we're catching them all out, but
it's more than two things going on here. You got the hyanciths
going out the river and you've got the Manatees that eat the
hyanciths. Since they (Manatees) don't have any cover, they move
up and down the river and when they're moving from one place to
another that's when they get hit by boats. So you hurt the
Manatees and the crabbing industry and the only way the government
knows how to do stuff is to do a study when they had the problem
with the hyanciths. Now, there's no more hyanciths and they've got
a Manatee problem. It's also hurting the fishing industry. If one
person would go out and pick. up a water hyancith right now and
sha ke it, you'd look at all the Shrimp and the Crawfish and crabs
that live in just one plant. There's more to it than just one
agency saying that the crabbers arc hurting their own selves an-d
4'. nit t
they don't even realize it. They're that stupid. There's one
agency set up to kill off a plant and another agency's not even
looking at. There's nothing anybody can do about it because you
can't tell these people anything. It's really hurt the crabbing,
everywhere. I'm just talking about the northern St. John's River.
You're talking about the whole state of Florida, where hyanciths
used to be and stuff that lives in there. They're talking about
shading the eel grass. Eel grass, that's really no big deal. If
they can raft up certain parts of the river and just have hyanciths
in it and then move them so sunlight can get on them or just move
them to deeper water, then people wouldn't get at bass boat and run
it through the middle of a patch of hyanciths going sixty miles an
hour. It would slow boat traffic down a little bit. There's your
spced bumps, right there on the water. That's just from me, that's
just the everyday life, going on the river and looking to see what
D00- on!. And growing up since I was 12, 'm 30 years old now, I've
built a business on it and now I'm buying (crabs) from other
countrI i,-. I sec Georgia crabbers now are selling crabs here
cheaper than I can go out and catch them. My gas is higher. They
can ship them down here for 45 cents when I need to sell my product
for a dollar It 's something. That happened this year when they
ut mor: a : tle ring s in a t-ra.
Linda: A what?
Joe: A cole ring is a ring you put on a trap to let the
little crabs et out. The crabc aren't go anywhere if you put more
bilt in a trap. The mar-ct won't even take a small crab. Three 's
really no r a s-n.' t, put a cole -rin in a trap. The bio- degradable
n m : n Tht a piee of wood o whatever you can put
in t ,- ewratten a 4l aw there': a wz to get around it .
It 's mkin: h.:. commercial fisherman a smarter fisherman by putting
ra n:l in there, it doesn't y how thick ir *as to be, just a
certain chapel .
'7in.d_- WIt- El the purport . .... panIel?
l. i"f our- trap gctc cut off and it rinks to the
.... 1 "-o b .
the crab: will be able: to get out. tWhatever goes in will be able
to ret back out. That maker mo,-: scncc than putting latches and
stuff like that. When they did this net ban last year, and all of
this makes sense, what they're doing. When they' said net, they
didn't really explain what net was, so you're looking at a crabbing
industry, you know because it's a trap, it's a net, a gill net, a
hoot net. Well, they just said nets. They looked at it as people
say, string that up and put some turtles in it and say, "It kills."
And people will vote for it. What they do is get this stuff passed
in Tallahassee and then they add amendments to it. You vote on a
net ban. They're still netting in Georgia. If you net ban
something, ban it everywhere.
Linda. I'm a little confused here. How has the net ban
affected you as a crabber.
oe.. What they 're doing now, they're doing studies, just like-
this right here, and they're maDing uc put panels on our traps,
cole rings on our traps, and latches that break off.
Li.nd.. This was all a result of the net ban?
Joc: Yeah. That's just one of the things. ,ut that costs us
more to be able to trap. So if you're going to do that, do it in
Georgia, do it in South Carolina, do it in the whole United States.
So they're bringing their product here cheaper than we can go out
and catch it. So, it's hurt our economy. I depend more on the
restaurants now than I do on the crabbing. I used to have markets
I could scll to. I used to make deliveries. Now there's no more
deliveries because they're (Georgia) selling their crabs for 45
Li."da.1 Are you able to catch enough crabs to feed your
Joe:.. Uh huh. I'm doing that.
Linda: How many days week are you going out?
S e go out every other day because there aren't as many
Linda- Eiht ye ar ago., when you'd ,ut how many wc,-uld you
Scat c h '
Je,- eight years ago I'd catch a thousand pounds a day, every
day and could sell it. Th: market price eight year ago was about
7C cents a pound.
Linda And today., ou r:at h how much?
toeC Maybe three hundred pound. thr ee or fcur hundred
L_.n,, ,a market p;-ce today a'.
Loe It 1' about c1.00 pou- nd now.
i.:-d .... :o did you get ated crabbing w hen you dwere so
'c- We moNved down from south Carolina i )n' n -1 and got in
Linda.. Your whole family?
S,.T . .tarted c-.. .,in them. an .: ,i.'"in, era. boils and stuff lik
Li..nda: And you moved down to this area right here?
.._.a. Is your dad still doing it?
JPe: No, he's retired now. He doesn't do anything. H-e just
fishes for recreation.
L.inda.i. Would your mom help out to?
Joe'_ She's been here all along.
Linda:.. What did she do?
.oe:... She mostly ran the store. Sold bait and tackle and
ctuff like that.
Linda: Would you say that this area is a community?
Joe:. Yeah. There used to be a lot more crabbers but now
they've had to move from one place to another to find jobs and
stuff like that.
Linda: Is the community dying?
'..e I wouldn't say it's dying, they just had to come up with
an alternative to make money.
Li.nda.:.. In the past, when you were younger, or even now, were
there any kind of community activities or get together?
Joe. : No, not really. They'd have a crab boil or something
like that or a party. Somebody would have a party and everybody
would go to it. A birthday party or something.
Linda: Can you tell me about one you remember? What went on?
What did people do?
Joe_ When Palmo fish camp was open they had crab boils. All
you can eat for like three dollars. People would go to that. But
now the price of crabs are twelve dollars a dozen, cooked up. It's
made it a high dollar item, so you don't give stuff away when it
costs more money to get people together.
Linda. You mentioned birthday parties.
Joe: People would just throw a birthday party and have a crab
L- Linda-n For a specific person or a birthday party for
Joe: Just one person or two people.
Li.nda: And everybody in the community would come to it?
J.oe:... Yeah and you'd have a crab boil.
.nda...: Would everybody bring food or was food supplied?
Joe: Uually one or two people would go crabbing and cook the
crabe togthe.r. Then they'd ct a keg of beer and just have a
Linda, Was there anything elsc the community did?
Jo- Most everybody was a commercial fisherman.
Linda h at do you think i going to happen to your business
.oc- Not really. We 're putting in a floating dock. 1,500
f.t f floating dc.!:. G it's like one of the last big marina's
c.ing in. Hopefully. it 's going to bring million more tourists
tc. t. John's county. .o, what I want to appeal to more is the
restaurant business, putting in a bigger doc,, putting handicapped
ramps and stuff li-: that so people- can come, down and different
universities and study the creek. The fishing's better here than
anywhere ls.e. aaybe that 'll catch on and people will get involved
in the environment. Get in it and see why we can't do this and
that and live in the environment. The dock will be 1,500 feet long
and it will go out far enough into the creek where you can drive on
both sides of it with a boat. Plus it should be worth a lot of
money one day because we have 100 acres. Most of it is wetlands.
Li.nda:. How did your dad learn to crab?
Jo.e.. My grandfather was a printer. He made plates for the
government, money plates, he was an engraver. He commercial fished
on a small scale, selling Catfish for 50 cents a pound. When we
come down here we had to find other ways to make money besides this
because there's not enough traffic coming by the highway so he just
started crabbing. We started out with like 35 traps and a John
boat with a 20 horsepower motor on it. We would catch 2 boxes a
day out of 35 traps. That's when hyanciths were everywhere. There
wasn't that many crabbers as there is now. Now you've got bigger
boats, hydraulic drillers, electric pullers, electric items and you
can run more equipment.
Linda_ Do you still pull yours by hand?
Jo... Yeah, I still pull my crabs. I've got pullers. I do it
to stay in shape.
Linda: Are there any special sayings or expressions in your
Joe: Oh, crab talk?
Joge You can talk about peeler crabs. That's when a crab
goes in its molting stage and peels out of its old shell into a new
one. That's a molting stage, that's all it does. Softshells is
when it's in between its dormant stage, when it does this. And
then it gets hard again. You have a papershell which is when it's
Li...n.a...:.. Are there any expressions that the crab fisherman use
to describe what they do or describe what kind of a day it was?
Joe. Oh good day. But that's like everyday talk. It's
normal to us.
Linda: When you bring in your crabs, you actually, if you get
those soft1hell rab d o you ta. care of them you- relf?
Jo... W cook 'em. We catch our- softshell crabs and we cook
them and sell a sandwich for five bucks. If you catch a hundred a
d:y' then th.t'c pretty good money.
Linda. Can you thin-k f any interc-ting or funny experience
in L. t.... or .:.k with your parents
or while 1 you've been out crabbing?
J..- I had one yct _rdy. r=n into a beacon (laughter).
,tly b.: in do,.-wns ic the experience on the water. There's
n..thi: .. e. do e:c-t sit there and let the tide push back to
chore. It 3ie yo:u a lot of time to think. You wonder what the
hell you're doing on the planet Earth. Just analyzing yourself
'hich ;i.' the commercial fisherman s lot of time on the water
when you're just out there in .general. juct lo* -in at the
-- 4- -7 , .....J - a
nvi ronment vryday. This is a r et place. You think what'
goin-. to be her-e whcn you're gone thousand- years Trm now. It's
kind of T the din-Cur , .u want to be, a fte iC v r
with. You 'r looking across the water and you don't see anything
on the other side, so you think about space.
Linda. If you're out thcre alone and you break down, what dc
Joe.. Just sit there and wait.
Li nda : For?
J.oc: The tide to change or wind or another boat to come by.
You have to signal them.
Linda: How do you signal them?
Joe: Stand on the bow of the boat and wave your arms. You
don't holler because nobody will hear you.
Linda:- What do you like best about the business?
Joe:.. Freedom. There used to be a lot of freedom. But now
the government's getting involved in it. Now we have to have a
wholesaler 's license, a trip ticket machine. Everything you catch
and sell, they want a take on it. It's being regulated. Your
regulations on the traps, your money and everything else. You've
got to be careful now.
Linda: Is there anybody around to check you?
Joe_ Yeah. The I.R.S., the game wardens will check you no
matter how you pay your bills and how you come up with this money
and how you get these certain assets. I just got a credit and I'm
30 years old. I couldn't buy nothing else because I don't have a
credit card. I still don't have any credit. You pay cash for
everything all your life and that doesn't work good with the
Lin.da: Are there any trades or crafts that the people of this
area engaged in, in addition to their fishing, to augment their
salaries or incomes?
Joe:. You get a lot of carpenters, construction workers, stuff
like that. They can gct into crabbing as a part time thing. Get
off work and pull 50 or 100 crabs traps and then say, "The heck
with building." They just get involved in crabbing altogether.
The people of tired of getting told what to do. Commercial fishing
give you a lot of free time and at least you're working for
yourself. All you need is a boat and traps. But it's expensive
though, you've got spend s0 ,000 to get in now, which ics lot of
L"inda..- What does a trap cost?
Joc: A trap cot: about t went' dollars after it's rigged out
:ith rcpc, the '..at, you, h:- te. have Cinkable rope. You don't
have to, but it 'C pretty smart t do it because you won't have
.:.tra rp: in the .wter floating and the bot motor can cut it off.
You've get your hook:, your bungee cord to shut the door, then
you' v get to have a pressure washer bec -au- the cra:b will not go
in a dirty trap. Thy don't like to. You've gotta use fresh bait.
Linda How oftn do you have to clean your traps?
Joe- According to what the growth i Thic year we had a lot
-..f bW.ni .id in the river. Botanic aid comes from trees. It's
Just like t .nd with ll the r-ain we've h this year it flooded
-ll the wetla-nd_- so what harpens when the tide goc out is this
river is influence by the ocean. It flow north and it makes the
-rive turn real red nr d dark so the sunlight can't penetrate it, so
you don't have much growth.
The crabs won't cat nothing rotten either. Crabs are real
clean. People think you have to use rotten bait. A crab will hold
onto something rotten waiting for a fish to come by and then
they'll try to catch the fish. That's why their arms will break
off and they'll grow a new one. They're using crabs for the study
of cancer too because they can regenerate and grow another arm
which is kind of neat.
We were in the Ealing business too for a long time. And the
Eels are all gone now. You catch a few out there but it takes an
Eel seven years to get to market size. You can catch 'em out real
easily. They leave the river and they go to the Saragassa Sea
which is in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and then they come
back to the St. John's river. So Ecling was happening real good
here about 10 or 15 years ago. The Eels now are three dollars a
pound. Eack then we were getting 75 cents a pound.
Li..nda... Were people in this area eating Eels?
Joe. Nuh uh. We chipped them over seac live to Japan,
Switzerland, Holland, stuff like that.
We would go down to Titusville and pick up Horseshoe Crabs.
There again, Horseshoe Crabs went for about a quarter a piece, now
they go for 35 to 50 cents a piece. We'd get machetes and chop
them up. The Ecls loved the eggs in the head of the Horseshoe
Crab. The Eels would eat those eggs so you would chop it up and
put it in an Cel trap and the Eels would go in there after the eggs
of the Horseshoe Crab. They would also eat Blue Crabs. The Eel is
a predator, so we actually caught just about all of the Eels out of
the river because they were worth more money than the crabs at that
time so everybody slowed down on the crabbing and went feeling.
There's a few eelerc still out there.
Li-. nda Can you ree-il :ny characters in the community, now or
in our a-t.
m:....: .c Jack Kersey taught me how to crab. Then he killed
,himlf. He was a moonshiner for 35 years. He finally got caught
and get turned in or something. He went commercial fishing and
sta rted cabbing. He made good money at it. He was diabetic and
they cut n.: of his legs off They were gonna cut the- other leg
off. e just et a gun .and :etuck it in hi: head and blew his head
off. J~ack Kerse', he wa3 a good guy. He felt like if he couldn't
r educ e :ome:thin. or wan't worthy of something... He worked
there. he was a big guy, must have weighed 350 or 400 pounds. He
wn overweightt, ate to much, but he didn't drink or smoke. He just
id t t .. H: worked hard everyday. He- felt if he c--,ouldn't
. ... -, .e .. .. u. . .orthy/. Th7t ,, w c weird.
Then there was Claude Tillis, that': the area's father He
.we a r _tt,, good er ber rHd _n '"?, surgeon.
Lind:- He was a surgeon and he went to crabbing
Joe" '.e_, ,fter h: o.t out of the navy, he retired after the
.-rvic.. He got into the bar busincns and r- bbin part- time.
T- used to have th ca boil:.
,'hen I graduated ut of high sch.l I swore to God I'd nevr
-et into commercial fishing Damn. if 7 didn't jump into it. It's
been fun though
"i........ W...' Why, at the time, did you not want to get into it?
.... Cause I'd been doing it all my life, since I was 12.
This ic a mighty good business you know. I think if you just sit
around long enough, it's kind of like deer hunting, something will
walk: by where you can shoot it.
L.ind....... Are there community members that are known for
JoeQ.:p. Everybody tells stories.
Linda: What kind of stories?
J.o.e*. Just regular stories. They talk about everything,
everything you can talk about. It's everyday life in general.
Linda: They don't make up stories about the great catches or
thin!- that happened like that?
Jo Yeah, they lie. Fisherman are good liars. I think the
.......... -- I .
reason they do that is because they try to trick themselves. If
they keep hearing enough stories, they'll keep going on out there
and catching crabs.
I see a lot of people come and go in this business. People
get tired of it.
Linda.: They do?
Joe- Cause what I said earlier about the carpenters. They'll
think they want to get into it, and once they get into it full
boil, you get tired. You gotta go every day or every other day.
When we go, we pull up our traps and clean them up, so we'll put
them out tomorrow.
Lin da_ And then you'll pull them the day after?
Joe. Yeah. Like a one day layover because the water is
getting cool and there's crabs not on the ground as much. If the
water's hot, they burn up the energy. It's just like fish, that's
hy fish feed orn tide changes, they have te swim. hen they swim,
they burn up energy and they have to. at. That's all it is, wh-,
the tide change. People think it's some big theory.
Linda: Are there ever any conflicts between the fisherman,
ctealin_ each other's traps?
IJoe. Yeah, you have a lot of people that steal traps.
Picking up other people 's stuff, molesting the crab pot, it's
pickine it up and shaking the goodness out of it and putting it
ba... in the water with nothing in it.
-LiD' Are there certain people in the community that do
tht? who ever body knows does that? Or do you all just do that
_.:: You're rot supposed to touch anybody else's trap unless
t :t ....... un yo ur a There' ert.n territory: out
other: that people mark off as theirs. If y'ou invade their
t-rritory" they'll cut your trap: off. They jusct go by in the boet
with a machete and chop it off.
L.nd... C.c.. iht now, you know territories that you have to
.ind'.. Are those people wh.'ve claimed their own territories
...ell like,. members of the community?
Joe:...... Yeah. But they've been crabbing there for so long that
they wait for the crabs to come through their area and they catch
them there. They won't go anywhere else, they'll stay right there.
Me, I crab from Jacksonville down to about Racey Point, which is
Lind e Those of you who don't have your own territory, how do
you feel about those who do? Is it alright?
2Joe.. Nothing you can do about it. If you put your equipment
in there, you're gonna lose it. Take that person for what they are
and just stay out of it.
Linda:. How has the neighborhood changed since you were young?
'oT: I think its gotten better because there's not as many
people around here as there used to be. Instead of mobile homes
and trailer parks, you see more people with houses. I think it's
because they got into a steady job with a steady income. You
didn't have to rely on that natural resource for their income
because it's a wishy washy business.
L.i.ndda Do you have children?
Joe: Uh huh. I have a five year old son and hc goes crabbing
Linda: Are you going to push him towards staying in the
crabbing business? What do you see in his future?
Joe. I'm gonna let him do it. I'll let him know how hard it
is to get to this point. I'm gonna push him to go to school and
get a good education. But, if he wants to do it, I'll let him do
it. By that time, this business will be dead. It's done good for
me, I can't complain a bit. But that's because of where I'm
located and that nobody else can build another business around
here Cause the ways the rules and regulations are with the
government with wetland laws and stuff. This place was
grandfa-herod in. ce're just going; through a bi pc.rm.tting
process ight now. With, the development going on around us, this
place will be a valuable asset. You could ell it now and retire.
Linda: What's your little son do on the boat?
Joe He can crab. He's five years old, he can do it. He can
throw the trap overboard. pull the trap up, and break the bait
aznrt. His name is Mike. I named him after my grandaddy. He
doesn't like to go out there all the time and do it.
Linda: I'm going to ask you a few questions about your
family. How did you celebrate holidays or how do you celebrate
'-. 4I -
Jo.- TIhankgiving, Chri-tmas. Just like anybody else, I
be-licv.7 Christmas tree, the whole nine ors. On Thankgiving
we u don't a food
Joe- No, not that much. Zmoke Mrllet c. something like that.
Linda-. Arc there any bonds or traditions in celebrating?
Joe^ No, not really.
Li.'d .. .early d" you et up and o out on the water?
:.: y e ;0- o at "C r L ..t finiC,..
on-wring the te-lephne and e, ".thin; ':. we -t out cf her. by
rin: thC.t 'a about it