Fisheries have this habit of turning up when I least expect them. Another golden mean is that they will arrive when I’m feeling guilty about something, or I’m wondering if I should be feeling guilty about something. Whenever fisheries turn up, I get a kind of twitchy thing going on, where I feel I’ve done something wrong, even if I’ve been really good. And I have been good. Really, really good.Just so that is out there, folks.
It’s a bit like getting pulled over by the cops.There is a difference between fisheries and the cops though. Fisheries are still law enforcers but it is within the confines of boats and fish stocks and they are required to liaise with commercials and amateurs in a way that traffic coppers don’t have to.
I have heard that the local fisheries officers don’t like my book very much and it is probably more because my book sorta celebrated Old Salt flying way too close to the line, rather than my ongoing jape of hoping to one day marry a fisheries officer. When I dropped off an off-the-press copy at their office, one of the juniors grabbed it and flicked straight to the chapter Super Fisheries Officer Guy. “That’s Brad, isn’t it! Ha! He’ll never live this one down.”
Today I was burning off the bracken between my house and the shed. I’d finished that and was preparing for a drive into town, to upload marks for my student’s essays. A four wheel drive came along the bottom track, the one along the beach, and stopped at the chain gate.
‘Manji boys,’ I thought.
One man got out and went straight to my boat on the beach.
The driver walked up to the chain gate, and so I walked down to meet him.
Because this is what he does, this fisheries officer. He greets me from the headlights of his car at night at Pallinup, with his flashlight on the town jetty as we come in with a single undersized skippy in the catch, at dawn as we come in to the shore at Irwins Inlet … and now at the chain gate of my hermitage at Broke. Somehow, his presence unnerves me and yet it makes me feel relevant in the scheme of things.
Excellent. The return of Super Fisheries Officer Guy.
His offsider jogged up from checking my boat, my buoys and the size of my net.
“This is Ben. Ben, Sarah used to work with Old Salt.”
I saw something happen in the young man’s eyes. He stood well away from me as he shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you Sarah,” he said. “You just need some ID numbers on your buoys.”
“Been catching any?”
“No!” I laughed. “As a dirty amateur I’m only allowed three inch mesh and everything swims straight through it.” For a while we talked about mesh sizes and sharks, marron and pig hunters and yellow eyed mullet and licenses. It’s always like that, a gradual swapping of just enough information that both parties are pleased with their booty.
When they drove off, I thought, ‘Damn. Now I really have to be good.” Because Super Fisheries Officer Guy would be telling Ben all about how Old Salt schooled that Sarah Toa woman in the good old poaching ways and he knew that because she went and wrote a bloody book about it.