It was 1972; five years had passed since Jim Murphy had launched his new 50-foot long steel commercial fishing boat. On top of boat expenses, he had a wife, a mortgage to consider, and a future to build. Fishing was going okay, but the Murphys were always glad of the steady income earned from Alice’s bookkeeping job.
Thus, when Jim was approached by someone looking to charter a fishing boat for lobster fishing at Clarion Island, Mexico, he was ready to listen. After much negotiating, the F/V Aurora was hired, with Murphy as Captain and Alice as First Mate.* The plan was simple: the company would provision the boat in the States, and then the Murphys would pilot it to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they would receive the necessary permits and pick up their crew. They would take the crew out to the Island and anchor. Each day, the crew would work the lobster traps from skiffs, and deliver them to the Aurora, where they would then be frozen in the hold. When the boat was full, the Murphys would take the crewmen back to shore and deliver the product into the United States.
The young couple left Morro Bay with stars in their eyes, headed off for several weeks of tropical weather, fresh lobsters and easy money. Shortly after their arrival in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, however, the stars began to twinkle out, one at a time.
First, the company’s agent advised them there had been some sort of a snafu with the paperwork, and they were delayed for a number of days. Meanwhile, the Mexican crew arrived and moved on to the boat. In short order, the Murphys discovered that the provisions supplied in the United States were not going to suit the needs of their Mexican crew. Years later, Jim still laughs at how much room a ton of bread took up, saying that the company had delivered more than a pallet full, most of which would remain in the hold, frozen, for the entire trip.
After waiting days for the permits, a LaPaz lawyer wrote up a “fancy” permit, all in Spanish, with a wax seal and ribbon, signed by well-compensated officials of Baja del Sur. The Murphys were told to go out to the Island and start harvesting, unaware that the Islands belonged to Mexico, not Baja del Sur. Off they went, glad to be away from the Mexican port and to finally begin working, albeit a little wary about the permit situation.
They made it out to the designated fishing grounds without any difficulty, anchored and the crew, equally happy to be away from port, began diving for lobsters, which were abundant. The first lobsters were brought on board the Aurora, and dressed in his insulated suit, Jim took them down into the 30 degree fish hold for freezing. The Mexican crewmen, unfamiliar with boat refrigeration systems, were shocked to see the lobsters immediately frozen solid. Jim and Alice’s next problem surfaced: none of the crew would go down into the hold again, for fear of being frozen solid, like the lobsters. Still, this was not an insurmountable obstacle, and they continued to work.
The days passed, the weather was gorgeous, the water warm, and the evenings pleasant. The fish hold, with a capacity of 20 tons of seafood, was beginning to fill. Despite their initial setbacks, everything was going according to plan, more or less, until a company employee who was with them on the boat mentioned to them that the Island was not the property of Baja del Sur, and their permit was invalid.
Despite having been on anchor for days, harvesting and freezing lobsters, Jim and Alice decided they could not bear the risks involved. Conceivably the Mexican government could not just seize their catch and the boat, but they could also put Jim and Alice in jail for poaching. They’d had enough of broken promises, it was time to make for the border.
Jim pulled the anchor and they headed toward the shore. After a lengthy discussion with their crew, a nice, sandy cove was selected. Jim nosed the Aurora in as close as he dared, and the Mexican nationals jumped ship, swimming home. It was a sad couple that returned home, a bit wiser for the voyage.
And that is why, if you look at Jim Murphy’s Faces of California Fishing profile, you do not see lobster listed among the species he’s harvested!