Friday, July 21, 2006

Tucker Crawford and the Hudson River

I remember a few things about Tucker Crawford, who I interviewed a few times in Verplanck, on the Hudson River, in the 1990s and who died the other day at age 80.

I remember that for a Hudson River fishermen, of which he was among the last, he seemed surprisingly small and scrawny.

I remember sitting in his living room on a beautiful spring day with all the windows closed and being awed equally by (1) the view of the Hudson from his picture window, (2) the photograph of him in a rowboat with a huge sturgeon slung across the gunwhales, and (3) the amount of cigarette smoke he managed to produce during the interview.

I remember that he looked much older than he was and that he had a sense of humor about it. When, on a visit in the early ‘90s, I asked him his age, he told me he was 64. My eyes opened wide and my eyebrows arched up. “Really,” I said, “you don’t look a day over 80.” He laughed.

I remember that he, liked all the Hudson River fishermen I’ve met, pronounced the name of the Hudson’s most commercially important fish “stripe-id bass,” instead of “striped bass.” I’ve asked around but no one I’ve asked can explain this pronunciation oddity.

I remember that he was extremely skeptical and distrustful of the government, which had closed the striped bass fishery because of PCB contamination, but wasn’t at all distrustful of General Electric, which had dumped a million pounds of PCBs into the river.

I remember that after the striped bass fishing ban, he got nailed by the law for illegally selling striped bass at Fulton Market.

I remember that he was fond of an amusing but ultimately irresponsible quote that he came up with: “The only PCBs in this river are Perch, Catfish and Bass.”

Commercial fishermen on the Hudson have been mythologized for decades by John Cronin, Bobby Kennedy Jr., Bob Boyle and others. I liked visiting and interviewing the fishermen both because it made it easy to see past the myth and because it made me realize that the part of the myth that was based on the fishermen’s mastery of near-ancient skills and immense knowledge of the river was true. They all did things and knew things that no one knows or can do anymore.

Crawford was one of the last. Here’s his obituary.


Blogger Sam said...

Thanks again for a great posting, Tom. You know I have a soft spot for fishermen who at one time were one of the keys to our country's great successes ... and maybe one of its greatest failures.

Sure, it is easy to mythologize about the Hudson River Sloop and fishing the days of old. But what the old-timers said about there being "so many fish you could almost walk on the water" is true.

I guess being an environmentalist is what keeps me interested ... but my question is how we can raise any fishery to "sustainable" levels when we don't have a clue what that word means. Sam

2:55 PM  

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