World Oceans Day 2021: Chuck Pinder

June 3rd, 2021; This interview was conducted via phone and transcribed and edited for clarity.

Since 2018, WildAid Marine has been working alongside The Nature Conservancy, The Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, and other Bahamian government agencies to strengthen the capacity of local marine enforcement agencies. To understand the importance of this work, we invite you to join us on a virtual trip to The Bahamas. We’ll meet community members, fishers, and ocean advocates who depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and whose stories highlight the need for strong enforcement and smart marine resource management. In honor of World Oceans Day, please join us in raising critical funds to support the implementation of the Marine Action Partnership for Sustainable Fisheries in The Bahamas.

My name is Chuck Pinder and I live in Spanish Wells, The Bahamas. I was fortunate to have two grandparents that were fishermen. Following in their footsteps, I added a seventh generation to that legacy. I have now been a commercial fisherman for 38 years, primarily focused on lobster (crawfish) diving. As an active member of the Bahamas National Fisheries Association, I also serve as a Fisheries Advisor to the Department of Marine Resources and have occupied that role for eight years.

How did you get started with this work?
My whole life has been connected to the marine environment and fishing. From the time I was a little boy, every Saturday, every holiday, every summer when I was not attending school, I helped my grandparents with their fishing business. I have fond memories of standing beside the road with my grandpa selling fish. In fact, he was the first person to sell directly to the citizens of Nassau at the Montague Boat Ramp, paving the way for ensuring the public had access to fresh, daily catch. The government eventually developed the area so fishermen could set up retail stalls. It’s now a very popular spot for the community and tourists alike.

What do you love most about your job?
When I was 20, it was all about “being all I could be.” Fishing is competitive and I wanted to be one of the best. Now at 54, I have evolved beyond that. I would say that I still enjoy what I do, and I am still competitive, but it’s so much more than that for me now. It’s about seeing what I can do to help ensure this kind of independent livelihood is supported by a sustainable industry.

Despite the poaching that we are all trying to control, the way we have managed and conducted our lobster fishery is a source of pride for me. Ensuring a viable future in this industry is what drives me these days.

Both of my twin sons are commercial fishermen on the same boat and have been fishing together since they were 17 years old. One of them is actually the captain and manages the vessel’s operations along with a sizable crew. I’m also a grandfather now, and one of my grandsons is showing signs of following the same path. I think a lot about the future of fishing and the ability of future generations to experience the same fulfilling things that I have.

What is one of the most challenging parts of your job?
It is not easy to go away and earn a living and to safely bring myself and my crew back to their families. It doesn’t seem to be well understood in our country that not everyone is cut out to be a fisherman. We are faced with constantly changing conditions while we are on, and in, the water. We are living on a boat away from our families for three to four weeks at a time, getting caught in unpredictable weather, and enduring long workdays. It’s tough to explain it in a way that resonates like it would if you were to directly experience it, but our job is physically demanding, and sometimes dangerous work.

So, I focus on safety, which has to come first. Recognizing that fishermen have to take some chances, it’s important to reduce the risk by doing things right. You can’t control everything, but you can be as prepared as possible to mitigate the outcome, like the time when one of my sons survived a shark attack.

In what ways do your job and livelihood depend on a healthy ocean?
My livelihood depends on a healthy ocean in every way. We do all that we can to ensure a healthy ocean. For example, we don’t ever discharge oil, and nothing is discarded while out at sea. Without a healthy ocean, we cannot support our families or guarantee a future for the next generation. The day will come when we have to hang up our dive gear and, hopefully, this heritage will pass onto younger fishermen. We should leave it better than we found it.

What worries you most about the future of our oceans?
As a commercial fisherman, from what I see, I think we need to protect our oceans from pollution and poaching. Where I live, I call it an “island paradise” and most of our local people take pride in making a living at sea. If we lose that connection to making a living from the sea because the ocean cannot support it, we will have lost more than just our livelihoods.

What will do more damage than anything else, in my opinion, is illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, especially industrial poaching. I have seen too many examples of undersized conch and egg-bearing lobster being taken by poachers and understand the negative effect it can have on our ability to provide for a reasonable standard of living. There have been some positive changes through our collective efforts to manage the threats, but a lot of damage has been done. If we don’t continue to improve our protection capability, we will lose the ground we gained and the visible rewards we share from those efforts.

What gives you hope for the future of our oceans?
Instead of the problem being hidden within the country, awareness is increasing. People are becoming more involved, there is now international attention on poaching and marine pollution, and all sorts of entities are joining the collective effort.

One of the best sources of information about the reality on the ground are the people that are on the water every day, the very same people that depend on marine resources for their existence. In order to be heard, fishermen have finally come together as a group. We now have a unified voice through the National Fishing Association and we are making some positive changes in terms of getting attention to the problems we are seeing.