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Interviewee: John Banyas

Role: Fish House Owner & Commercial Fisherman

Date of Interview: 3/5/06

Collection: In Their Own Words

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: John Banyas is a third-generation fisherman from Cortez, Florida. His grandfather, Neriah Taylor, was a boatbuilder in the community. John fishes for mullet and baitfish. He also owns a wholesale and retail seafood shop and restaurant, along with a boat haul-out facility.

Transcript: “I'm a third-generation fisherman from Cortez. There was a management process in place, gill net restrictions already as far as the size of the mesh and quotas, which was working well at the time. The biologists were happy with that and the results of it, then all of a sudden the net ban came along where they were throwing pictures of Japanese trawlers catching porpoises and turtles and offshore drift nets and stuff, which was blown way out of proportion of what we actually do around here. So basically the population just got brainwashed into believing that the commercial fishing industry was killing all this sea life for no reason.

You know on the amendment it was to regulate gillnet fishing and they say you can do it with five hundred square feet. That's five hundred square feet and a two-inch mesh, but nothing's going to stick in two-inch mesh and five hundred square feet is just, it's no net. You just can't catch fish in a five hundred-square-foot piece of net. With a nylon two-inch mesh they'll just look at it and laugh. It's not a viable means of catching fish, so they just give you gear that the rest of the population thought you can still manage and make a living with, but you can't do nothing with it. It's about a piece of net you would hang on your wall.

Well, the net ban was about eighty percent of our livelihood was just gone. Nobody could really do anything at that point, either that or you were automatically turned into a felon or a criminal. You know, just made an honest, hard-working fisherman turn into a criminal overnight. It was pretty sad to see that the state and the general population could turn their back on you. Because a lot of these fishermen, they've fought in the wars and they've paid their dues for freedom like everybody else did and then they just got shut down because of sport fishermen wanting more fish or developers wanting more land or...

The way you look at it now you figure, well, what good did it do us? It could have been just a well-managed fishery, but we've never had time to actually let that fall into place before it pretty much just got wiped out. Basically it's worse now than it was when we were gillnetting. To look around and you don't see, I don't see as many [trout?], I don't see as many redfish. This past season I was out looking at the potholes and everything and you don't see near the fish out there you used to, and the water quality really went to crap. Last year we had red tide about all year long.

If the water quality keeps going down, and all the fish just keep dying, there's not going to be much of a fishery at all. The population is just overwhelming the fishery and the bay. I don't know what they (fishermen) would do to survive. They can catch a little bit of bait, I guess that's what I've done since the net ban, but you can only sell so much bait. That won't support a whole community. There's like three of us able to bait fish out of the sixty or eighty fishermen that were here before, so if the water quality goes and the bait fishing goes, that's just about all that's left. We've lost three fish houses and two of the three are marinas and boatyards so it looks like it's slipping towards boat maintenance and repairs and dry dockage and storage. There's still an ambition with the people in the community to keep going any which way they can. They're always looking for something different or another means to catch fish or another angle, another approach. See what the next ten years brings and see what happens.”

To listen to John's interview, click here.