Tales of the Fish Patrol HTML version

White And Yellow
San Francisco Bay is so large that often its storms are more disastrous to ocean-
going craft than is the ocean itself in its violent moments. The waters of the bay
contain all manner of fish, wherefore its surface is ploughed by the keels of all
manner of fishing boats manned by all manner of fishermen. To protect the fish
from this motley floating population many wise laws have been passed, and there
is a fish patrol to see that these laws are enforced. Exciting times are the lot of
the fish patrol: in its history more than one dead patrolman has marked defeat,
and more often dead fishermen across their illegal nets have marked success.
Wildest among the fisher-folk may be accounted the Chinese shrimp- catchers. It
is the habit of the shrimp to crawl along the bottom in vast armies till it reaches
fresh water, when it turns about and crawls back again to the salt. And where the
tide ebbs and flows, the Chinese sink great bag-nets to the bottom, with gaping
mouths, into which the shrimp crawls and from which it is transferred to the
boiling-pot. This in itself would not be bad, were it not for the small mesh of the
nets, so small that the tiniest fishes, little new-hatched things not a quarter of an
inch long, cannot pass through. The beautiful beaches of Points Pedro and
Pablo, where are the shrimp-catchers' villages, are made fearful by the stench
from myriads of decaying fish, and against this wasteful destruction it has ever
been the duty of the fish patrol to act.
When I was a youngster of sixteen, a good sloop-sailor and all- round bay-
waterman, my sloop, the Reindeer, was chartered by the Fish Commission, and I
became for the time being a deputy patrolman. After a deal of work among the
Greek fishermen of the Upper Bay and rivers, where knives flashed at the
beginning of trouble and men permitted themselves to be made prisoners only
after a revolver was thrust in their faces, we hailed with delight an expedition to
the Lower Bay against the Chinese shrimp-catchers.
There were six of us, in two boats, and to avoid suspicion we ran down after dark
and dropped anchor under a projecting bluff of land known as Point Pinole. As
the east paled with the first light of dawn we got under way again, and hauled
close on the land breeze as we slanted across the bay toward Point Pedro. The
morning mists curled and clung to the water so that we could see nothing, but we
busied ourselves driving the chill from our bodies with hot coffee. Also we had to
devote ourselves to the miserable task of bailing, for in some incomprehensible
way the Reindeer had sprung a generous leak. Half the night had been spent in
overhauling the ballast and exploring the seams, but the labor had been without
avail. The water still poured in, and perforce we doubled up in the cockpit and
tossed it out again.
After coffee, three of the men withdrew to the other boat, a Columbia River
salmon boat, leaving three of us in the Reindeer. Then the two craft proceeded in
company till the sun showed over the eastern sky-line. Its fiery rays dispelled the
clinging vapors, and there, before our eyes, like a picture, lay the shrimp fleet,
spread out in a great half-moon, the tips of the crescent fully three miles apart,
and each junk moored fast to the buoy of a shrimp-net. But there was no stir, no
sign of life.