Commercial fisherman shares his views
Written by Ludington Daily News   
Wednesday, 13 July 2005 17:54
Tommy Battice was in a hurry Monday. The afternoon temperatures were creeping into the 80s and he had roughly 4,000 pounds of whitefish to haul to Charlevoix.

When he returned to the boat launch that sits in the shadow of a giant cross, he found most of the crushed ice he had purchased from Walters? Fisheries had already melted. The ice was on a flatbed trailer in insulated bins, covered with a variety of tarps and carpet remnants.

As he put on his yellow rubber overalls, Battice said he?d like to move his trap nets from south of Big Point Sable to north of the point, but he?s been pretty busy lately.

"When we?re not down here, we?re running around trying to get stuff to maintain our product better," Battice said.

Battice said the tribe maintains an account for commercial fishing expenditures.

"There?s two million dollars in there, but try getting money for five gallons of gas out of them," Battice said.

Battice said he could use some of the money for a refrigerated truck ? to run his catch to Charlevoix ? an ice machine and "a building where we can process our fish."

Battice said when he asks questions, he?s told: "Be patient, we?re working on it."

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Public Information Director Glenn Zaring said he believes the fund Battice is referring to is a Fisheries Trust established by the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority for research. Zaring said it is not an operational fund and that fishermen licensed by the tribe are independent businessmen.

Six months ago, Battice announced at the annual Sea Grant Lake Michigan seminar in Ludington that his fishing would be done north of the point. Since then, he has placed two nets south of the point and found that he?s getting roughly one third of the fish in each of those nets that he gets in his three nets north of the point.

There are other problems with fishing south of the point as well, he said. Strong currents and recreational gear that gets caught in the nets make maintaining those nets difficult.

"When everything is out of the nets, they float," Battice said. But it doesn?t take too many 10- and 12-pound downrigger balls to keep the net from floating where it can be repaired easily.

Battice said that aside from gear getting caught in the nets, he?s had relatively few problems with recreational anglers. He noted that the rumors of fishermen cutting the buoys off of nets last year were in error ? the nets he pulled that were "abandoned" still had the buoys attached to them. The buoys were weighted too heavily and had thick lines running to them. Battice said the currents caught the thick ropes, and the heavy weights took the buoys down and didn?t let them back up.

Battice and fellow fisher Bob Peterson did have one run-in with some suspected vandalism on their boat, though. Peterson took a squirt of hydraulic fluid in the face from a pinhole in a fairly new hose. A similar pinhole was discovered in another hose.

"Whoever did it knew what they were doing," Battice said. "Maybe it was a recreational fisherman who got caught in the net ? maybe he figured I ruined his day so he?s going to ruin my day."

Battice, who has been captaining his own boat since last year, said it?s harder to be a captain. He doesn?t have enough crew to fish, many days.

"One thing we?re trying to do is to get CORA (the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority) to let us put some of these people to work around here," Battice said. "To work on a boat you?ve got to be a quarter Indian. We?re trying to get a permit so there only has to be one native on, like the boat captain. Then I can get a crew."

Battice, who was found to have violated a November whitefish season closure by the tribal natural resources commission in January, said he?s likely going back to court to ask for an apology from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the return of the funds from the seized whitefish ? $1,141.90. He wouldn?t elaborate, except to say that the DNR overreacted.

"They acted like I had a boatload of cocaine," Battice said.

Battice and Peterson said they don?t mind fishermen trolling for salmon around the nets.

"It?s structure," Battice said.

But Battice said he rarely catches trout in his nets. He said he?s lucky to get five lake trout most days.

Peterson said it would be nice if recreational anglers raised their downrigger balls when they passed over the nets, or stayed outside of the buoys.

Battice said what little gear that was caught in the net off the Ludington State Park bathhouse was turned over to Little River Band Conservation Officer Art deBres, who will take it to Captain Chuck?s Great Outdoors.

As far as when one or both of Battice?s nets will move north of the point, he said it depends on the weather.

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